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New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays: Gerrit Cole vs. Steven Matz

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The Yankees send their top gun to the mound tonight to cool off the red hot Blue Jays.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees enter tonight’s action eight games in the loss column behind Tampa Bay in the AL East. For some perspective, Cleveland has the ninth-best record in the AL and they’re only eight games behind the Yankees in the loss column, so let’s table all discussions about the division until … well, next season, and focus on the Wild Card race. The onus would be on the Rays to absolutely collapse for there to be any hope, and it’s honestly so unlikely that it’s not worth considering.

The Yankees have won only two of their last nine games and one of the wins required extra innings against the hapless Orioles. They still currently hold the first Wild Card spot but barely, holding only a one-half-game lead on the Boston Red Sox (who lost their own disastrous game yesterday). To make matters even more tenuous, the Yanks have only a 3.5-game lead on both Seattle and tonight’s opponent, the Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, the same Toronto Blue Jays who’ve won eight of their last nine games by a combined score of 56-32, and who pounded the pinstripes yesterday afternoon.

Yet as white-knuckle as this season has been — and appears it’s going to be — Gerrit Cole has consistently given us reason to exhale throughout 2021. The Yankees hope he can do it again tonight, as he’ll be on the mound in the Bronx to face the Jays.

Cole has been phenomenal for New York this season, leading the AL in FIP, strikeouts, strikeout percentage, K%-BB%, opponents’ OBP – and if you’re a fan of wins, his 14 victories lead the league, too. He also ranks in the top five in the AL in WAR, ERA, ERA+ and opponents’ OPS+. Cole’s also been on a particular tear of late, notching 39 strikeouts against only 4 walks in 24.2 innings over his last 4 starts.

As we saw yesterday, Cole will certainly have his hands full tonight against the Jays. Toronto is the reason I laugh and shake my head when fans try to explain the Yankees' relative lack of power this season due to changes in the baseball. The Jays are on pace for 250 home runs in 2021 (more than they hit in 2019 and at a higher rate than 2020), lead the AL in both SLG and OPS+, and are third in runs per game. Even though it’s a team that likes to swing from the heels, they have the second-lowest whiff percentage in the AL, and if they’re not beating up the pitcher of your favorite team, are pretty fun to watch.

When Toronto takes the field, they’ll send lefty Steven Matz to the mound. The former Met has rebounded nicely this season for the Jays after a horrid 2020, and he’s pitched well of late, allowing only 4 earned runs in 22 innings over his last 4 starts. There aren’t too many secrets with Matz, as he’s thrown his sinker more than half the time and he typically throws it in the zone. He doesn’t strike many batters out and he doesn’t walk many batters, so expect to see a good number of balls in play tonight.

Matz will be facing a Yankees lineup that’s been as hot as an ice bath lately, scoring only 3.5 runs per game over their last nine. Frankly, given their collective performance in the batter’s box over that stretch, it’s amazing they’ve scored that many. In those nine games, only two Yankees (Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo) have a wRC+ above 100, and Gleyber Torres has struck out in 31 percent of his plate appearances – which doesn’t even make the top three highest K% on the team since August 28th. (Luke Voit, Rougned Odor, and Joey Gallo are the only Yankees creating more breezes around home plate lately than Gleyber if you were curious.)

The lineup looks a little different tonight with Brett Gardner in left field and Aaron Judge in center field, presumably to keep Giancarlo Stanton in the mini-golf putting green-sized right field at Yankee Stadium. Kyle Higashioka gets the start behind the plate with Cole pitching and Andrew Velazquez (I think he’s from the Bronx) gets the start over Torres at shortstop.

How to watch

Location: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY

First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET

TV broadcast: YES Network, SNET

Radio broadcast: WFAN 660/101.9 FM, WADO 1280

Online stream: MLB.tv

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