When a casual Yankees fans or baseball fan is asked about Gerrit Cole and his postseason reputation, a similar sentiment is repeated. He has a bad track record. He gets lit up in the postseason. Cole is an ace in the regular season but a shell of himself when the calendar turns to October.
This of course is a logical fallacy. It’s one that was pinned to Clayton Kershaw for years and to many good starters that face good hitters (which is what happens often in baseball). Cole’s poor reputation tends to omit his Game Two NLDS start against the St. Louis Cardinals. It also seems to omit the strong games he had with the Houston Astros in 2018 and 2019, before he signed with the New York Yankees.
However, after Tuesday night, a lot of fans will be forced to take a second look at the reputation they have given their ace after the 4-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians in Game One of the ALDS.
Cole gave the Yankees 6.1 innings and only allowed one run. He walked one batter while surrendering four hits and tossed eight strikeouts. It was a game that you’d expect from the ace of the staff and it’s exactly what the Yankees got.
A Breakdown of Cole’s Night
What’s interesting about the postseason is the changes made by the starting pitchers. Cole often relies on his fastball but in Game One, leaned into his breaking pitches.
Cole’s pitch selection in Game One: 101 pitches. 46 fastballs. 26 curveballs. 24 sliders. Five change ups.
The fastball still played a major role is Cole’s dominance but it wasn’t his bread and butter. Instead, it simply was mixed into his arsenal.
Cole’s start didn’t begin great, specifically with him allowing the first run of the game. In the third inning, a 2-0 fastball left over the heart of the plate was pulled by Steven Kwan and taken to the short porch. The Guardians had a 1-0 lead and suddenly it looked like Cole was having another one of those bad starts.
Fortunately, that was the only hiccup on the night. The Yankees took the lead and Cole settled in and took care of an otherwise helpless Guardians lineup. The fastball-slider combo, mixed with the curve gave him a triangle to attack the strike zone with the breaking pitches punishing the batters for the majority of the strikeouts.
When Cole left the mound, two things stood out to anyone watching the game. First off, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, one that gave the impression that the fans weren’t expecting him to carry the Yankees but he did. The other noticeable thing was the momentum created by the Yankees ace.
The game didn’t feel over with the team still needing eight outs. However, with a three-run lead, all it took was the bullpen to close out the comfortable lead. They did.
Takeaways From Yankees 4-1 win
Cole carried the Yankees on the mound. However, the lineup still needed some runs, at least more than one. They got that from Harrison Bader and Anthony Rizzo, with both hitting home runs to power the lineup. They also got a spark from Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who hit a triple that allowed him to score on the sacrifice fly. However, the win brought a spotlight to certain facets of the Yankees that for better or worse will play a pivotal role in their success.
Judge Goes Hitless, Get Used to it
Aaron Judge went to the plate four times in Game One, batting in the leadoff spot. He walked once (which oddly enough, allowed him to circle the bases), and struck out three times. Anyone who watched the Yankees this year was expecting Judge, the likely AL MVP, to play a big role in the Yankees success in the postseason. So far, he hasn’t.
This might come as a surprise for fans but it shouldn’t. In the postseason, teams will not only pitch around Judge, but they will also pitch at him, specifically, looking to attack him where he struggles. Judge wants fastballs over the heart of the plate and in the inside part of the strike zone, pitchers will give him anything but that. This isn’t an outlier. The postseason always sees good pitchers not just pitch around great hitters but methodically attack them.
This game was a reminder that good hitters can and will be taken out of games. It’s the great teams that can compensate for that. For the Yankees to make a run at the World Series, they’ll need an answer for when Judge is struggling or simply not relevant in a game. So far, they have proven to have those answers in the batting order.
Yankees Fielding Has Field Day
This game was mostly defined by Cole’s stuff on the mound. However, it’s easy to forget about the impact the field behind Cole and the rest of the Yankees pitchers had on the game. In multiple innings, the Guardians would find a runner on first base only to see the inning ended on a double play. Likewise, plenty of line-drive hits became outs with the outfield this team has assembled, particularly in recent weeks with Bader in center field.
The front office emphasized fielding in the offseason and at the trade deadline. A good field is essential to the team’s success and a postseason run. In Game One, the strong field was not only on full display but also compensating for the bullpen’s miscues. Essentially, the fielding allowed the Yankees to close out the game.
Yankees Get Help From Guardians
The Yankees handled Game One with a decisive victory. However, a lot of the success has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Guardians lineup isn’t good and, in the postseason, it’s been awful. Through three games, one of which was 15 innings, the Guardians have scored four runs.
The Yankees are facing a weaker opponent. One that can catch them napping but one that they should defeat. That said, the Yankees can’t take the success in this series with the thought that this translates to a World Series title. That will be determined by their upcoming matchups along with this one.
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