On the same field where their magical 2016 postseason ended on November 2 in a light rain and extra innings, the Indians will open the Division Series on Thursday night against Judge and the New York Yankees, who rallied to beat the Minnesota Twins in the AL wild-card game.
Beyond statistics, a position-by-position analysis of the matchup suggests each team can claim an edge in several aspects of the game.
James rallied behind the Indians all last season and even took to his media platform "UNINTERRUPTED" in earnest after the team suffered a crushing defeat in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Cubs.
Offensively, the Yankees (91-71) finished second in the AL in runs scored (858) while Cleveland was third (818).
During the regular season, Bauer was a standout performer at home, going 10-4 with a 3.93 ERA with 116 strikeouts against 25 walks allowed in 103.0 innings of work in 17 starts at Progressive Field. Cleveland led the majors with a 3.30 team ERA and a 2.89 bullpen mark.
"This is kind of why you play the game", said Gray, who will be opposed in Game 1 not by Indians ace Corey Kluber but by righthander Trevor Bauer, who posted a 2.42 ERA in his last 12 starts, including 1.38 in two against the Yankees.
NL Wild Card: Colorado Rockies vs Arizona Diamond Backs, both didn't have much expectations coming into the season but both managed to surprise.
It's not loser-go-home in the American League Division Series openers, but the Game 1 victor in a best-of-five series has gone on to win 71 percent of the time.
The Astros had the AL's best record on August 31 when they added Justin Verlander to a rotation that already featured fellow Cy Young Award victor Dallas Keuchel. Made a decision to go into Fire Sale Mode, and he's been even better since the trade, looking as dominant as any time in his multiple Cy Young winning HoF career. Ramirez has become one of baseball's best all-around players in virtually no time. His 33 homers were the most by a middle infielder in club history and his enthusiasm is infectious. He'll be used initially as a pinch-hitter, but it's possible he could play in the field.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Indians listed as the series favorites over the Yankees in the 2017 ALDS. Girardi is going to have a quick hook and depend on his litany of relievers. Most of this team is returning from previous year. So there is potential to cash in early on the value of a wild-card team. Still, everything hit toward him will leave Cleveland fans holding their breath.
The Indians are back, but there's now a 6-foot-7, 280-pound baseball-bashing behemoth standing in their way.
Bauer is well aware of the damage Judge can do, but is just as focused on the rest of New York's lineup.
We either have no faith in them or we have all the faith in the world.
Betances also keeps batters from making solid contact on the ball - only five balls hit against him were classified as being hit on the barrel, giving him the fifth-lowest rate in the majors among pitchers throwing at least 1,000 pitches during the regular season.
"As you saw us getting into the second half and the important games we want to play in, you saw everyone kind of turning that switch back on".