It took until the bottom of the ninth inning in the final game of the regular season, but the Yankees are in the playoffs. Their 92-70 record was just enough to get them over the line and qualify as one of the participants in this year’s AL Wild Card Game.
The Yankees are no strangers to the Wild Card Game — this will be the fourth time they’ve played in it since its inception. They’ve gone 2-1 in the previous three appearances, with several of the current Yankees having taken part in the two wins. This time will be the first time the Yankees have faced off against their old enemy in one, however.
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox needed some late inning heroics to get in and avoid a tiebreaker game. They trailed the Nationals 5-2 after six innings, but scored three in the seventh and two in the ninth to eventually win 7-5.
As a result, the two will meet in Boston to play for a spot in the ALDS. The reason this game is in Boston is that the Red Sox held the tiebreaker, courtesy of winning the regular season series 10-9. The Red Sox quite notably won the first seven meetings between the teams, and it seemed like the Yankees were cursed to never beat them. However, the Yankees swept the final two series between the two, including once in Fenway, which featured a lot of Giancarlo Stanton heroics.
With a couple of nerve-wracking hours ahead of us, let’s take a look at the pitching matchup we’ll see when the two teams face off:
AL Wild Card Game (8:08 pm ET, ESPN)
Gerrit Cole vs. Nathan Eovaldi
Cole 2021 statistics: 30 starts, 3.23 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 12.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 5.3 fWAR
The Yankees’ plan to not send Cole out for the final game of the season ended up working perfectly, as not only is he available for a do-or-die game, but the Yankees’ do-or-die game is now for a spot in the ALDS and not the Wild Card game. The Yankees gave him all that money for spots like this, and here he is.
However, the Red Sox are one of the teams that have hit him the best this year, as in four starts, Cole has a 4.91 ERA and 1.500 WHIP and an .852 OPS against in 22 innings versus Boston this year. The Red Sox got him for one of his worst outings of the year back on June 27th, right in the midst of the “sticky stuff” hubbub. They put up six runs (five earned) on eight hits in just five innings. The other three Cole’s made against them this year range somewhere between meh and pretty good.
One player to watch against Cole will be Kiké Hernández. The Red Sox leadoff hitter has hit .455/.571/.909 in 14 plate appearances against him for his career. Boston will be hoping for Hernández to keep that up and set the table for the middle order, and if Cole can stifle him, it will help him massively.
Eovaldi 2021 stats: 32 starts, 3.75 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 9.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 5.6 fWAR
Since leaving the Yankees after the 2016 season, Eovaldi has mostly had the Yankees’ number. For his career, he has a 3.64 ERA in 71.2 innings versus the Yankees. It looked like he was going to do way better than those career norms this year, at least until September 24th.
In his first five starts against the Yankees this year, Eovaldi allowed just seven earned runs in 31.1 innings. The Yankees got him for at least seven hits in four of those five starts, but like they have so many other times this year, they couldn’t plate enough of those runners.
However, in his most recent outing against the Yankees, they got him for seven runs and knocked him out in the third inning in the opener of the eventual sweep at Fenway. On that day, the Yankees did an excellent job at being patient and selective and waiting for the right pitch to do their damage. Four of their seven hits off him came on at least the fourth pitch of the at-bat.
On the other hand, those seven runs account for a third of the ones he’s allowed in his past 10 starts, dating back to mid-August. Even including that game, Eovaldi has a 3.04 ERA in 56.1 innings across those last 10 appearances.
One Yankee player to watch against Eovaldi will be Gleyber Torres. With DJ LeMahieu missing the end of the regular season and then hitting the IL, Torres was tasked with leading off a couple times, and may also do so on Tuesday. While he’s OPSed just .543 against Eovaldi for his career, he went 3-for-5 with a home run and two RBI on September 24th and was one of the keys to knocking him out of the game early.