The rainout of Game 2 on Thursday and rescheduling to Friday throws a bit of a wrench into the pitching plans for the Yankees and Guardians, as the teams face the prospect of playing four games in four days — with flights to and from Cleveland — should the series advance that far. The clinical 4-1 victory in Game 1 becomes all the more valuable for the Yankees as both teams try to piece together the pitching puzzle in the coming days. Nestor Cortes still faces Shane Bieber today, and Luis Severino takes on Triston McKenzie tomorrow, but the situation gets more interesting after that.
It has to be said that the Guardians’ starting rotation is hurt significantly more by the rainout than the Yankees’. Cleveland can no longer start Bieber on short rest in a potential Game 5 clincher, as the rescheduling of his start to today would leave him on only two days’ rest should the series go the distance.
The Yankees on the other hand have options for how to handle prospective Games 4 and 5. Gerrit Cole will start on regular rest in Game 4 — a team should throw everything at winning the game in front of them, and that means starting their ace and Game 1 starter in a Game 4 scenario. They could have tried to get cute and save Cole for Game 5, starting Jameson Taillon or Domingo Germán in Game 4. This would theoretically position Cole to start Game 1 of the ALCS should the Yankees clinch in four games or fewer, but the priority has to be on the series in front of you.
Of course, the rainout does mean that Cortes likely pitches in only one game this series, which is a bit of a blow considering he is the only lefty starter on staff — Cleveland had a 104 wRC+ against righties and 84 wRC+ against lefties this season — and dominated the Guardians in two starts, allowing three runs across 12.1 innings with a 14:2 strikeout to walk ratio. Aaron Boone has hinted at using him as an opener or for an inning in relief in Game 5 if it gets there, but there are no promises.
As for Cleveland, being down 1-0 in the series and only having Bieber for one start means they are forced to use a fourth starter in the series should they extend it beyond three games. Aaron Civale probably gets the nod, though Zach Plesac is also an option.
Civale pitched only 97 innings this season after missing a chunk in the summer with a wrist injury and the end of the regular season with forearm inflammation. His 4.92 ERA is bloated by seven terrible starts to open the season, and he pitched much better down the stretch. He did face the Yankees twice, surrendering six runs in three innings on April 24th and then four runs in six innings on July 2nd, so the Yankees hitters should have a good plan if they face him. Plesac meanwhile did not face the Yankees this year, and while his ERA (4.31) was a bit better than Civale, he strikes out far fewer batters. His late-season injury from punching the mound probably did earn him much goodwill in the clubhouse, either.
On the other hand, the Cleveland bullpen is much better situated to weather the rainout than the New York bullpen. While it’s true that potentially playing four games in four days means the Guardians do not get to roll out their three-headed monster (Emmanuel Clase, Trevor Stephan, and James Karinchak) in as many contests, the Cleveland relief corps as a whole is a stronger, more complete unit than New York’s. Guardians relievers strike out more and walk fewer batters, and the separation between the two clubs becomes even more stark when you remove the performances of the relievers (Michael King, Chad Green, and Scott Effross — just to name a few) no longer available to the Yankees through injury.
It’s because of those injuries that the Yankees bullpen appeared to be the most concerning unit on the team heading into the playoffs, and the rainout only exacerbates the situation. Without King, Green, and Effross, and with Aroldis Chapman quitting on the team, the Yankees have to intricately manage the pitch loads of their remaining relievers to get the group through four games in as many days should the need arise. Ron Marinaccio would have been key here too, but he won’t available until the ALCS at the earliest.
A large part of workload management boils down to performance — every single one of these players needs to go out there and pitch lights-out to avoid having to use more relievers than is absolutely necessary. That means guys like Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáisiga, Wandy Peralta, and Lou Trivino will be heavily relied upon to carry the brunt of the load, and will have to pitch the series of their lives. It also means lower-leverage arms like Lucas Luetge, Clarke Schmidt, and Miguel Castro may see their roles increased, and they may find themselves in situations normally reserved for the higher-leverage arms in a fully healthy bullpen. The odds of relief appearances from Taillon and Germán surely increased as well, though someone would have to be considered the “bulk guy” in a potential Game 5.
Both teams are forced to ask a lot of their pitching staffs in the coming days, with pitch efficiency becoming a critical factor. I’m excited to see how it all plays out.