The New York Yankees have advanced to the American League Division Series, where the pennant-favorite Cleveland Indians are waiting for them. 

The Cleveland Indians are set to host the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on Thursday evening, in what should be an entertaining series between two entertaining squads.

Cleveland enters postseason play after posting their fifth consecutive winning season and the best record in the American League, marking the sixth time in franchise history they entered the playoffs as the number one seed.

The AL Central was no match for them, as the Indians finished with a 17-game lead over the second-place Minnesota Twins, good enough for the club’s largest lead to finish a season since ending the 1999 campaign with a 21.5-game advantage.

The Yankees’ journey wasn’t full of the downright dismantling of their opponents like Cleveland’s, but their momentum established in late September is carrying them into October, making them prime candidates to pull off the upset.

New York went 91-71 (.562), their best record since 2012 (95-67) and reached that mark by winning nine of their last 10 series, 11-of-13 and 13-of-16. To kick off their 53rd postseason in franchise history, the Yankees took down the Twins in the American League Wild Card Game.

While they fell short of an AL East crown, their +198 run differential ranked second in the Majors to Cleveland (+254) and was their highest mark since +210 in 2011.

Led by an excellent mix of veterans and youth, the Yankees are looking to spoil Cleveland’s quest at back-to-back AL pennants. Can they do it? How can they? Here’s ESNY’s full preview and staff predictions for this year’s ALDS:

CLEVELAND, OH – AUGUST 03: Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Progressive Field on August 3, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Yankees 5-1. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Probable Starters: 

In this series, the edge when it comes to starting pitching clearly belongs to Cleveland. Led by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, the Indians’ rotation was the only rotation in Major League Baseball to record a strikeout-per-nine rate of over 10 and led the American League with a 3.52 ERA.

The Yankees, however, aren’t too far behind. Their rotation sits second in the AL in ERA (3.98) thanks to the reinforcement of Sonny Gray into the mix and has a quality bullpen backing them.

If Gray can show signs of the pitcher he was when he was first acquired by New York at the deadline (2.66 ERA in first eight Yankee starts) and Luis Severino bounces back after turning in a dud in the Wild Card game, they match up pretty well with Cleveland.

However, 17-game winner Trevor Bauer and a healthy Carlos Carrasco in addition to one of the better pitchers in the sport will make the rotation a strength for the defending AL champs this series.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 14: Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees hit a home run in the bottom of the sixth inning during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on September 14, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Yankees’ X-Factor: Gary Sanchez

The catcher’s position is a huge edge to have over an opponent in a postseason series and luckily for the Yankees, they have Gary Sanchez.

While shaky defensively (specifically with blocking pitches in the dirt), the 24-year-old ripped the most home runs by a Yankees catcher (33) in franchise history while serving as a spark-plug late in the season.

Over his final 55 games, Sanchez hit 19 home runs and had hit 12 with 31 RBI’s over his final 36. If he can get hot, which isn’t really that big of an “if,” there’s no saying what the Yankees’ offense can do as a whole even though they’re facing a dynamic Indians’ rotation.

At the very least, Sanchez gives the Yankees an advantage over Cleveland in the catching department. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez do a tremendous job in handling the pitching staff, but both lack the capability at the dish to take over a series.

CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 10: Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning at Progressive Field on September 10, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Orioles 3-2, (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Indians’ X-Factor: Trevor Bauer 

The Yankees are coming into this series confident and hungry. That’s not a good combination to face if your the Indians, but if Trevor Baur can shut them down in Game 1 with Corey Kluber looming in Game 2 and 5, the confidence will turn to panic.

Bauer closed out his regular season with a K/9 rate of 10, marking the sixth highest in the AL. His strikeout total of 196 also ranked seventh, as he was one of three Cleveland pitchers with 190-or-more punchouts this season.

Against New York, he went 2-0 this season while allowing just two earned runs over 13 innings of work (1.38 ERA). Bauer’s first start came on Aug. 4 at Progressive Field where he fanned seven batters en route to a 7-2 win and his second came at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 30, where he allowed one run on four hits in six innings.

It won’t be easy, but the Yankees have to take home field advantage away from the Indians and give them an uphill battle with a Game 1 victory.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 03: Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees celebrates after hitting a three-run home run against Ervin Santana #54 of the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium on October 3, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Key For Yankees: Big Bats

When comparing all the middle-of-the-orders in the game, it’s hard to find one that’s hotter than New York’s when they’re on a roll.

Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius changed the complexity of the Wild Card game with huge hits — Didi’s game-tying three-run shot, Judge’s home run and Sanchez’s double and go-ahead run scored — and with them knowing they have the ability to come through in an elimination contest, the confidence gives them an advantage.

The lineup is loaded with other weapons such as Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, and Todd Frazier, to name a few, but no lead is safe when the trio of Judge, Sanchez and Didi get it going.

CLEVELAND, OH – AUGUST 05: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees bats against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning at Progressive Field on August 5, 2017, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Yankees defeated the Indians 2-1. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Key For Indians: Silence The Judge

Sure, the Indians have a weapon in right field of their own in the form of Jay Bruce, but Aaron Judge was something else in 2017.

The 25-year-old established a single-season rookie record with 52 home runs surpassing Mark McGwire‘s record of 49 set in 1987 and also set a new rookie record in walks (127). Judge’s is 128 runs scored were most by a rookie since Mike Trout in 2012 (129) and second-most in a season by a Yankee rookie.

Furthermore, he made a statement by carrying what was a MVP-caliber regular season into the postseason with a superb performance in the Wild Card game.

He is a spark plug and although not the only source of production in that Yankees’ lineup, he is certainly a major component. Making his bat a non-factor in this series would be detrimental to the Baby Bombers’ World Series hopes.

CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 29: Andrew Miller #24 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning at Progressive Field on September 29, 2017, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the White Sox 10-1. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

Matchup To Watch No. 1: Bullpen vs Bullpen

When looking at both relief units statistically, it’s hard to depict which team has the edge.

The Yankees’ bullpen led the Indians’ in K/9, HR/9, WAR and wins, but trailed in saves, ERA, BB/9, and FIP. With that, you have to look at each individual.

New York added Tommy Kahnle and Wild Card Game hero David Robertson at the deadline to join the likes of Chad Green, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. Although the latter two have had their fair share of struggles this season, Chapman has turned it on at the right time while the rest get the job done without production from Betances.

As a mere example of how dominant they can be, the Yankees received just one out from Luis Severino in their do-or-die game on Tuesday night yet still got the win with 8.2 innings of one-run ball from the ‘pen.

On the other side, however, there is a just-as-dominant group of relievers led by Terry Francona, who did a masterful job in the 2016 postseason en route to a World Series appearance.

Andrew Miller is a scary fireman that can be brought in no matter the situation while Cody Allen fanned 24 batters over 18.2 innings of shutout baseball in last year’s postseason. Francona can also receive flexibility and length from the likes of Mike Clevinger and Danny Salazar.

Both managers have bought into the new bullpen revolution. And yes, expect both to take full advantage of the weapons they can deploy following their starters.

CLEVELAND, OH – AUGUST 06: Manager Terry Francona #17 of the Cleveland Indians watches from the dugout in the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field on August 6, 2017, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Yankees defeated the Indians 8-1. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Matchup To Watch No. 2: Terry Francona vs Joe Girardi

Both bullpens are scary, but making the difference will be the two calling the shots: Joe Girardi and Terry Francona.

Last postseason, Francona helped further the bullpen revolution with his usage of Andrew Miller and the bullpen — a trend that which Girardi has followed. The only difference is, Francona has done it successfully just a year ago and intends to do it again.

As for Girardi, he is the only current manager to lead his team to winning records in each of the last 10 seasons, has been to the postseason in six separate seasons since taking the helm and managed a beautiful game on Tuesday night in order to advance the Yankees into the ALDS.

Two winners. Two bullpen artists. Two difference makers. It’ll be a treat to watch them go head-to-head.

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 22: Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians follows through on a first-inning home run against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 22, 2015, in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Matchup To Watch No. 3: Francisco Lindor vs Didi Gregorius

Gregorius set a Yankees’ shortstop record in home runs and also drove in 87 runs while batting .287, but he’ll now have to go toe-to-toe with perhaps the best shortstop in the game.

Lindor slashed .273/.337/.505 this season with 33 homers and 89 RBI’s while also scoring 99 runs, which is the ninth-most in the AL. What sets him apart from Gregorius is his ability to get on base (.337 OBP vs .318).

While Lindor has the edge, both are in the upper tier of shortstops in the sport and are weapons that will undoubtedly make a difference in the series.

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 28: Austin Jackson #26 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates his eighth-inning home run as Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees looks on at Yankee Stadium on August 28, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Prediction: Indians (3-2)

This series is an intriguing matchup because you have the defending AL champions who just won 102 games, featuring a record 22-game winning streak, and a young team with all the momentum in the world clashing in the postseason.

Yes, Cleveland took the season series 5-2, but this isn’t the same Yankees’ team they faced back in August. Judge is back to his MVP form, Aroldis Chapman has things figured out and the rest of the 25-man roster is feeling confident following their comeback Wild Card Game win. If any team will unexpectedly throw the Indians off-track to take home a championship for the first time since 1948, it’s the Yankees.

It’s all about Game 1 for me (as mentioned, you don’t want to have to go 3-1 with Kluber waiting for you twice). Taking that can change the whole outlook for the series but the Indians have all the necessary components needed to stop the young Yankees.

It’s a shame that the two best teams in baseball (per run differential) have to square off this early in the postseason. Yet, this is the position we’re in. Indians in five.

Staff Predictions:

I would be so happy to be proven wrong but it’s hard to bet against the Cleveland Indians. Arguably the most complete team in the league, the Yankees will match them toe-to-toe but Cleveland’s strong starting pitching will be the deal breaker. The run was nice while it lasted but the Indians are built for the postseason.

If there is one matchup to look forward to in the LDS, it’s the Yankees and the Indians. On one hand, you have not-so-arguably the best team in the American League. On the other, you have a young, exciting ball club that matches up extremely well with their opponents. The Yankees will give the Indians a run for their money but they’ll have to wait another year to kickstart their next dynasty.

Back in March when I was writing for the Greedy Pinstripes, I predicted this very scenario. And in that prediction, I went with Cleveland due to their ridiculous starting pitching, bullpen, and offensive additions. I will go ahead and be the black sheep and pick the Indians in five.

Like the UNC Tar Heels, Clemson Tigers and the Golden State Warriors, the Indians are in the midst of a season-long redemption tour. After blowing a 3-1 lead in the World Series, with Games 5 and 7 in their building, even a historic 22-game winning streak during the ensuing regular season would be rendered meaningless if it’s not coupled with a title. This year’s team is deeper, more experienced and still dealing with the emotional wounds of last season’s heartbreak. In a perfect world for Yankees fans, this rekindling of a relationship with Terry Francona for the first time since 2004 would get better results than it did 13 years ago. But unfortunately, the Tribe is just better. Indians in five. Jose Ramirez will be the difference.

Despite having all the momentum in the world at the moment, the young New York Yankees will eventually fall to the more experienced American League-leading Cleveland Indians. Expect a lot of offense, some serious innings out of two of the best bullpens in baseball and the Tribe returning to the ALCS for the second straight year.

The Yankees will upset the Cleveland Indians thanks to the starting pitching coming alive and the offense staying red hot.