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Yankees fans would rather face the Guardians in the ALDS over the Rays

A majority of the Yankees fanbase views the Cleveland outfit as the least initimdating opponent.

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Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across Major League Baseball. Each week, we send out questions to the most plugged-in New York Yankees fans, and fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.

The regular season has drawn to a close and the postseason is upon us. For a little while there, it looked like the Yankees would limp into the playoffs, potentially squandering a 15.5-game lead in the division at one point. However, fueled by Aaron Judge’s home run pursuit and an injection of youth, New York finished the 162-game slate on a high note, winning 20 of their last 28 to establish positive momentum heading into this core’s most important postseason.

Their opponent in the ALDS will be decided over the next three days, as they will face the winner of the AL Wild Card matchup between the Cleveland Guardians and the Tampa Bay Rays. Given the Bombers’ recent history against the Rays, it’s no surprise to see the majority of fans would rather face the Guardians in the ALDS. This poll was conducted before the final seeding for the Wild Card was set, which explains the Mariners’ appearance in the results (the Blue Jays had already clinched a separate series by then).

There are pros and cons to facing either of the Guardians or Rays in the ALDS. This is undoubtedly one of the weaker Rays squads in recent years, but they’ve shown a knack for drawing upon their devil magic to get the better of the Yankees many times. The Guardians meanwhile are no slouches, but apparently do not strike the same fear into the hearts of Yankees fans. Despite the presence of José Ramírez and Andrés Giménez in addition to a solid trio of starting pitchers and potentially the best bullpen of any playoff team, fans nonetheless view them as the more beatable team.

Kyle Thele

The results of the next poll are both surprising and completely predictable at the same time. Disillusionment with Gerrit Cole after he failed to live up to the billing as one of the best pitchers in baseball has caused a significant portion of the fanbase to turn against the ace of the staff. In a vacuum, it’s hard to complain with the season he just compiled — 3.50 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and an MLB-leading 257 strikeouts in 200.2 innings. However, in the context of his expected performance, it’s hard not to be a little worried each time he takes the mound. He led baseball giving up 33 home runs, too often with runners on. The risk of a blowup outing in a series where one game could be the difference between advancing and going home means that Cole has been unseated as the pitcher fans most want to start Game 1 of the ALDS.

That distinction belongs to Nestor Cortes, and it’s richly deserved. He emerged as one of the legitimate top starting pitchers in the league, and finished the season with the lowest ERA (2.44) for a Yankees starting pitcher since Ron Guidry. He’s been the Yankees’ most dependable starting pitcher, with more games tallying double-digit strikeouts (four) than giving up more than three earned runs (three). More than any other pitcher in the New York starting rotation, you know what you’re going to get from Cortes on a given night, and that certainty is a more desired in Game 1 than Cole’s volatility with higher upside.

Kyle Thele

Now, we move into our Aaron Judge segment of the program, with surveys aimed at national fans (not just Yankees enthusiasts).

Kyle Thele

Fans around the country were polled as to which team Judge would end up signing with over the winter. They overwhelmingly agreed that he would remain with the Yankees, with his hometown San Francisco Giants a distant second. Judge bet on himself last winter, turning down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer, and I can’t come up with a more successful bet in a walk year. He may have added $100 million or more to his earning power with this historic season, the question is whether the Yankees are willing to increase their initial offer by that magnitude.

Kyle Thele

It’s a bit unclear as to the question that yielded the results above, though it was probably something along the lines of “Has Aaron Judge’s 2022 campaign changed your opinion of your favorite team potentially signing him?”

After becoming the AL single-season home run king and accruing four more wins than the next-closest hitter, it’s a bit baffling that less than half of MLB fans would want Judge on their team more than when asked preseason. Sure, there’s his age, injury concern, and the massive deal it will take to sign him. However, I’d expect one to make an exception for the literal best player in baseball.

Kyle Thele

To a certain extent, an 11.4-win, 62-homer season will be an anomaly regardless of the lens you view it through. Only two other players in the history of the American League have hit at least 60 home runs in a season, and only 16 players have accrued more value in a single season in MLB history.

That being said, I think the spirit of this question was aimed more at determining the repeatability of Judge’s feat in any of the years of his next contract. To that end, I can understand why more than half of baseball fans are skeptical that Judge can repeat this season in the future. It would be foolish to bank on him doing this year in and year out, but if anyone in baseball could approach repeating his performance from this year, it would be Judge.

Kyle Thele

This question was a doozy and one I’m still trying to wrap my head around. More than two-thirds of baseball fans felt that Judge’s season was more impressive because we possess more granular analytic measures that reflect his true talent. As if hitting 62 home runs to break Roger Maris’ 61 year old record wasn’t enough. I don’t know about this one — even if all we had was batting average, home runs, and RBI, I’d say finishing second, first, and first in the league is pretty dang impressive. I don’t know, maybe the fact that modern analytics allow us to more accurately compare player to player means that we have a fuller image of just how head and shoulders Judge looms over everyone else in the sport.

All in all, a rather intriguing set of poll results from questions covering the Yankees potential ALDS opponents, the debate over their Game 1 starter, and a quartet of Judge-themed prompts. Yankees fans are least afraid of the Guardians and feel substantially more confident in Cortes starting Game 1 over Cole. Turning to the national poll results, MLB fans are confident that Judge will return to the Yankees this offseason, but will not match the heights of this season again.

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