The Yankees’ 2022 postseason odyssey begins tonight as they host the Cleveland Guardians in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. New York accomplished their first major goal of the campaign in capturing the division with 99 wins, earning them a bye to this round while the 92-win Guardians swept the Rays in a Wild Card Series showdown to earn their spot. The real test begins today, with the judgment of the Yankees’ season boiling down to their success in these playoffs.
Gerrit Cole was named the Game 1 starter, a move which was always the logical but also correct decision. He is still the Yankees’ ace and is the best pitcher in baseball on his day. He weathered a down year by his lofty standards, going 13-8 in 33 starts with a 3.50 ERA (111 ERA+), 3.47 FIP, and an MLB-leading 257 strikeouts in 200.2 innings to break Ron Guidry’s single-season franchise record of 248 set in his 1978 Cy Young Award-winning campaign.
Much of the trouble for Cole arose from an inability to make adjustments mid-frame, leading to a big inning that undid the work of an otherwise stellar outing. He struggled more than any pitcher with the long ball (an MLB-leading 33 served up), often with runners on. Most of these home runs came on fastballs that caught too much of the plate as Cole tried to bully his way back into counts, or on hanging sliders/cutters that backed up when his mechanics fell a fraction out of whack.
Luckily for Cole, he has dominated the Guardians in recent matchups, including his 13-strikeout gem in Game 1 of the 2020 AL Wild Card series, seven innings with one run against 11 strikeouts in April 2021, and 6.2 scoreless with nine strikeouts April of this year. So I expect him to lean on what worked in those outings as he looks to do the same tonight.
Cal Quantrill faces off against the Yankees ace in just his second taste of postseason baseball. (Coincidentally, his only other appearance came during that 2020 Cole ALWCS gem, when he recorded the final out for the Guardians.) Unlike the two other starters the Guardians have named for this series — Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie — Quantrill is not a strikeout pitcher, instead focusing on inducing weak contact. Sitting in the top 30 percent of the league in walk rate, chase rate, average exit velocity, and hard-hit rate, Quantrill thrives on commanding both sides of the plate.
The 27-year-old right-hander throws a sinker in the mid-90s and a cutter in the high-80s over 80 percent of the time combined, so the Yankees hitters may look to hunt one and eliminate the other. In his lone start against the Bombers this season, Quantrill went 6.1 innings, giving up three runs on six hits and a walk with only two strikeouts in a game the Yankees would eventually go on to walk-off on a Gleyber Torres single. On the season, Quantrill went 15-5 in 32 starts with a 3.38 ERA (113 ERA+), 4.12 FIP, and 128 strikeouts in 186.1 innings.
The Yankees named a strong lineup for their postseason opener, and it’s hard to say that there are any surprises with selection or order. Aaron Judge leads off as he’s been doing for the last month, and there’s surely a fear factor involved for Quantrill having to face the best hitter in baseball right off the bat. Anthony Rizzo’s lefty bat in the two-hole breaks up a righty-heavy lineup, and he’s followed by a resurgent Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton. We’ve seen the way that pair has carried the team in the playoffs before, and they appear to be hitting their stride at the perfect time.
Oswaldo Cabrera has looked like a legitimate major league hitter as his reps increased, his sweet lefty swing getting plugged in at fifth. Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jose Trevino, and Harrison Bader round out the bottom of the lineup, and the elite defensive contributions from Donaldson, Trevino, and Bader may prove vital against a Guardians offense that’s built around putting the ball in play.
Cole will face a high-contact, low-whiff Guardians lineup that lives and dies by the batted ball. Andrés Giménez (140 wRC+) and Steven Kwan (124 wRC+) are bat-to-ball fiends while sluggers José Ramírez (139 wRC+) and Josh Naylor (117 wRC+) provide the pop. Naylor has hurt Cole the most in their recent matchups with a pair of home runs, so I expect him to navigate around the first baseman while attacking the rest of the Cleveland order.
How to watch
Location: Yankee Stadium — Bronx, NY
First pitch: 7:37 pm ET
TV broadcast: TBS
Radio broadcast: WFAN 660/101.9, WADO 1380