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ALDS breakdown: Indians

ALDS breakdown: Indians

The only good news for the Indians about their recent head-to-head play against the Yankees is that those six games (all losses) came earlier in the season, before the Tribe's play skyrocketed it toward the American League Central title.

During those pair of three-game sets (April 17-19 in New York and Aug. 10-12 at Cleveland) the Indians were dominated in all facets of the game.

The offense hit an anemic .228 with only 15 extra-base hits -- 11 doubles and four homers. The Yankees had 14 homers alone in the series.

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Travis Hafner missed the August series, but fared well in April, smacking out eight hits and a walk in 13 plate appearances, including a homer and a pair of RBIs. Victor Martinez, (6-for-18) with a homer and seven RBIs, also was a major offensive cog in the season series.

But other Cleveland mainstays were shut down by a Yankees staff that logged a 2.67 ERA despite its own woes. Sean Henn, Kei Igawa and Chase Wright, all pitchers who won't get a sniff for the Yankees in the ALDS, logged wins.

But to beat the Bombers, guys like Grady Sizemore (4-for-22), Ryan Garko (3-for-20) and Casey Blake (5-fro-25) all must significantly improve their in-season numbers against the Yanks.

The Indians can take heart in the fact that they were the sixth-best hitting team overall in the AL this season with a .268 batting average. Their 179 homers, 804 runs scored, 777 RBIs, .343 on-base percentage and .429 slugging percentage were all in the upper echelon of the league.

Key late-game matchups
• When it comes to big late-game at-bats against the Yankees, you're usually talking Mariano Rivera, and Hafner has never had a hit off him (0-for-4).

• Ditto Sizemore, who has gone 0-for-4 against Rivera. But there is hope because Martinez is 2-for-7 with an RBI.

Indians Secret Weapon


Perez
The left-handed Rafael Perez might be a key to beating the Yankees. He's the only one on the staff who hasn't allowed at least one earned run against the Yankees.

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Indians Achilles' heel
Closer Joe Borowski blew back-to-back saves against Seattle during the last week of the season, and though he's saved 44 this season, he's also blown eight.

Indians manager: Eric Wedge
This will be the first time in the playoffs for Wedge in his fifth managerial season, all with the Tribe. He must mix and match his bullpen well to stop the Yankees' potent offense, which can be done.

Indians intangibles
They don't have a lot of big names or a high payroll (compare their $61.6 million to the Yankees' $200 million, for instance). But big money doesn't always buy big heart, which the Indians have.

Three reasons Indians will win
• CC Sabathia, who hasn't faced the Yankees since 2004, is a different pitcher these days -- a much, much better one.

• Sizemore (.280, 24 homers, 78 RBIs) will emerge as the big-time superstar he already promises to be on a national stage.

• Paul Byrd, a 15-game winner, will come up with a big Game 4 start at Yankee Stadium.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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