NEW YORK YANKEES VS CLEVELAND INDIANS
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Thursday, at Cleveland, 7:38 p.m. (FS1); Game 2, Friday, at Cleveland, 5:08 p.m. (MLB); Game 3, Sunday, at New York, 7:38 p.m. (FS1); x-Game 4, Monday, Oct. 9, at New York, TBA (FS1); x-Game 5, Wednesday, Oct. 11, at Cleveland, TBA (FS1).
Season Series: Indians won 5-2.
Rivals in the 1940s and 50s, the Yankees and Indians meet for the fourth time in the postseason and first since 2007 when Cleveland won a best-of-five Division Series in four games. Cleveland also beat New York in a 1997 Division Series. New York won the 1998 AL Championship Series. ... The teams split four games at Progressive Field this season and the Indians swept a three-game set in the Bronx in August — wins 5-7 on their 22-game winning streak. ... Indians manager Terry Francona is very familiar with the Yankees after spending so much time with the rival Boston Red Sox. ... Series matches two of baseball's deepest, most versatile bullpens. ... Dating back to 2014, the Indians have won nine of 13 at Yankee Stadium. ... Against New York this season, Bauer went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and Kluber was 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA. Kluber is 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven career starts against Yankees. ... Indians hit 10 homers against Yankees, with Lindor, Ramirez and Santana belting two apiece. ... All-Star OF Michael Brantley, who made Cleveland's postseason roster despite missing 50 games after Aug. 8 with an ankle ligament injury, batted .357 (5 for 14) with a homer and two RBIs against New York this season. ... Lindor batted .259 and struck out nine times. ... Miller was on the disabled list and did not pitch against the Yankees this season. Cleveland acquired him at the 2016 trade deadline from the Yankees for four players, including outfielder Clint Frazier. ... New York went 51-30 at home, best in the AL, while the Indians were 49-32 at home and 53-28 on road.
Yankees: One year into a youth movement, the Baby Bombers blossomed fast under 10th-year manager Joe Girardi and returned New York to the postseason perhaps ahead of schedule. Not often are the Yankees a surprise winner, but this group already has exceeded early expectations. Led by Judge, Sanchez, Severino and a cast of productive veterans, New York (91-71) improved by seven wins over last season and finished with its best record since 2012. ... Severino got only one out in the wild-card game against Minnesota and left trailing 3-0. But the bullpen saved the Yankees, with four relievers combining for a record 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. Gregorius tied it with a 3-run homer in the bottom of the first, Judge homered in his playoff debut and Gardner also went deep as New York rallied for an 8-4 victory, its first postseason win since 2012. ... Once the Yankees jumped out to a strong start and showed they were legitimate contenders, general manager Brian Cashman got aggressive and dipped into a deep farm system for July trades that netted Gray, Robertson, Kahnle and Todd Frazier. The imposing bullpen is loaded with power arms that can shorten a game, and the bench is a real strength if needed. ... New York was unable to catch rival Boston for the AL East crown, but the team played some of its best baseball down the stretch and went 20-8 in September to secure the franchise's 53rd postseason appearance. Dodgers are second with 31. ... Yankees scored 858 runs, an increase of 178 from last year and second in the majors behind Houston (896). New York also topped the big leagues with 241 homers. Judge and Sanchez combined for 85, most by a pair of teammates 25 or younger and one more than Milwaukee's Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in 2007. ... Judge hit .329 with 30 home runs and 75 RBIs before winning the All-Star Home Run Derby, then slumped to a .179 batting average with seven homers, 16 RBIs and 67 strikeouts in 151 at-bats through Aug. 31. He hit .311 with 15 homers and 32 RBIs in September, putting himself right back in the MVP conversation.
Indians: It's championship or bust. After getting tantalizingly close in 2016, Cleveland will attempt to end a 68-year World Series title drought, the longest active dry spell in baseball. ... Indians pushed Chicago to 10 innings in Game 7 of the World Series last year before losing to the Cubs, who ended their 108-year wait. ... Following a sluggish start, Indians (102-60) grabbed control of the AL Central on June 26, went 55-20 after the All-Star break and ran away to a second straight division title. They were unstoppable down the stretch, reeling off an AL-record 22 consecutive wins, baseball's longest streak in 101 years. ... Francona preached to his players to "win today" and the Indians did just that, winning 33 of their last 37 regular-season games to finish with AL's best record and second-most wins in franchise history. ... Kluber has anchored the league's deepest pitching staff, which led the majors with a 3.30 ERA. ... Kluber, a favorite to win his second Cy Young Award in four years, won't start the ALDS opener as Francona wants him available to pitch a potential Game 5 on four days' rest. ... Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer combined for 53 wins and 687 strikeouts. ... Ramirez has become one of baseball's best all-around players in virtually no time. He led the majors with 56 doubles and tied Miami's Giancarlo Stanton for the lead in extra-base hits with 91. ... In just his second full season, Lindor is on the verge of superstardom. His 33 homers were the most by a middle infielder in club history and his enthusiasm is infectious. ... The addition of Encarnacion gave the Indians' lineup more pop and a bona fide run producer. The former Toronto slugger has driven in at least 100 runs in five of the past six seasons. ... With Brantley slowed by an ankle injury, Bruce was acquired in August and brought more power and a veteran presence on and off the field. ... Brantley is on ALDS roster primarily as a pinch-hitter.
— Setup Scenario. A four-time All-Star, Betances struggled with his mechanics and control down the stretch, leading Girardi to have a quick hook in the late innings. The 6-foot-8 righty walked seven over his final 9 2/3 innings and finished with 44 walks, up from 28 last year. He didn't pitch in the wild-card win, but the Yankees probably will need Betances to deliver at some point against Cleveland.
— Center Stage. Kipnis came up as an outfielder before becoming a two-time All-Star second baseman. When rookie Bradley Zimmer broke his hand, and with Brantley and Brandon Guyer slowed by injuries, Francona gave Kipnis a chance in the outfield and he has held his own in center. Runners will test his right arm (he started the year on the DL with a shoulder issue), but Kipnis tracks the ball well and is athletic enough to make plays in the gaps. Still, everything hit toward him will leave Cleveland fans holding their breath.
— Extra Bases. Sanchez had 16 passed balls, tied for the big league lead with Yasmani Grandal of the Dodgers. New York threw 53 wild pitches when Sanchez was behind the plate, second-most among major league catchers behind Jonathan Lucroy (58 with Texas and Colorado).
— Big Weapon. The 6-foot-7 Miller was magnificent in last year's postseason, striking out 30 over 19 1/3 innings and winning ALCS MVP award. The left-hander made only 11 appearances after Aug. 2 because of right knee issues that twice forced him to the disabled list. Francona hopes he doesn't have to rely on Miller as much as he did in 2016. Francona has another option against lefties in Tyler Olson, who did not allow a run in 20 innings over 30 appearances.
— Special Season. These Indians have the look and feel of a destined team. They have undeniable chemistry, confidence, All-Stars galore and in Francona, a manager who knows how to win in October. The goal from Day One wasn't to win the AL Central or have a record winning streak, but to get back to the World Series and finish the job.
BOSTON RED SOX VS HOUSTON ASTROS
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Thursday, at Houston, 4:08 p.m. (MLB); Game 2, Friday, at Houston, 2:05 p.m. (FS1); Game 3, Sunday, at Boston, 2:38 p.m. (FS1); x-Game 4, Monday, Oct. 9, at Boston, TBA (FS1 or MLB); x-Game 5, Wednesday, Oct. 11, at Houston, TBA (FS1 or MLB).
Season Series: Astros won 4-3.
These teams meet in postseason for first time after ending regular season with four-game series at Fenway Park. Astros took three of four. ... Series features highest-scoring team in AL, with Houston piling up 896 runs. Red Sox ranked sixth with 785. ... Red Sox skipper John Farrell led Boston to 2013 World Series championship in first year as manager of team. ... Houston manager A.J. Hinch is in postseason for second time after leading Astros to 2015 playoffs in first year with team. They lost to Kansas City in ALDS that season in first playoff appearance since reaching 2005 World Series. ... Sale will make playoff debut in Game 1. The left-hander became first pitcher in AL to reach 300 strikeouts since Pedro Martinez 1999. ... Houston has a pair of aces after picking up Verlander on Aug. 31 to go with Keuchel. Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP, has been at his dominating best since the trade and will start Game 1, with Keuchel going in Game 2. ... Price returned after two months on the disabled list and worked out of the bullpen in his last five appearances of season. Pitching the former ace in relief could be a boost to Red Sox in postseason. ... Reddick, who played for Boston from 2009-11, missed the last week of the season with back injury but is expected to be healthy for playoffs. ... Springer and Barnes were college teammates at nearby Connecticut.
Red Sox: Making 23rd playoff appearance. ... Have won World Series eight times. ... Won consecutive AL East titles for the first time after finishing last in the previous two seasons. ... Farrell became the first Red Sox manager to win three AL East titles, having also guided the team to the division crown in its World Series championship year of 2013. The Red Sox also finished first when winning it all in 2007 under Terry Francona. ... Won 93 games for second straight season but late run by Yankees kept Boston from clinching division title until second-to-last day of season. ... Red Sox moved into first place on Aug. 1 and never trailed again.
Astros: Making 11th playoff appearance. ... Won the AL West for first division title since winning NL Central in 2001. ... Astros took the division lead early and never trailed, topping second-place Angels by 21 games. ... Struggled in August with 10-17 record before getting back on track in September by going 20-8. ... Astros are looking for first World Series title. ... Houston's 101 wins were second in franchise history and most since team won 102 games in 1998. ... Won 100 games just three years after losing 100 for third straight season. ... Front office didn't make any major moves at July 31 trade deadline but came through on eve of Aug. 31 deadline for players to be available for postseason when general manager Jeff Luhnow nabbed Verlander from Tigers. Also, team picked up Cameron Maybin off waivers to add depth in outfield and he'll make playoff debut in 11th major league season. Adds another threat to run after finishing second in AL with 33 stolen bases for Angels and Astros.
— Farrell Factor. The Red Sox manager brings more postseason experience to this series than Hinch after leading Boston to its 2013 championship and reaching the playoffs last year.
— Lefty Woes. Not much could stop Houston's powerful lineup this season. But the group was somewhat slowed by left-handed pitching, which could be important in facing a rotation with three lefties. Houston led the AL with a .283 batting average against right-handers but was third against left-handers at .278.
— Healthy Hanley. If the Red Sox could get a good series from Ramirez it would be a boost to the lineup after he struggled through a subpar season while dealing with injuries. He's had discomfort in both shoulders through most of the year but seems to be getting better and his playoff experience could be valuable to a team with plenty of young players. He's a career .333 hitter with one homer, seven doubles and 11 RBIs in 57 postseason plate appearances.
— Beltran's Back. The veteran switch-hitter hasn't been great in his return to the Astros, batting a career-low .231. But fans in Houston still remember his outstanding 2004 playoff performance for the Astros and hope he can conjure up some of that magic this season despite being 40 years old. Beltran, an October star for several teams throughout his long and illustrious career, was traded to Houston in June 2004 and his work that postseason remains one of the best playoff performances in history. He hit .455 with four homers and nine RBIs in an NLDS win over Atlanta before batting .417 with four more homers and five RBIs as Houston was eliminated by the Cardinals in the NLCS.