The Yankees’ 2022 campaign has been a story with three acts. The first involved an unforeseen juggernaut running roughshod against the rest of the league en route to one of the best starts in MLB history, 52-18 on June 23rd after a dramatic walk-off victory against the hated Astros. A no-hitter at Houston’s hands two days later set the tone for an ugly chapter over the next couple months. They might have been the fastest team in baseball to reach 70 wins, but in those eight weeks, they went 21-30, including a 3-14 stretch at the beginning of August.
On August 21st at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees salvaged a 4-2 victory in the finale of what could’ve been a four-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays. That was where these two teams left off, and from there, Aaron Boone’s ballclub embarked on a final run that hasn’t been as glorious as the unbelievable start, but has seen a stark improvement over the miserable post-All-Star funk. Since beating Toronto that day, New York is 20-10 and despite a bad West Coast swing and the 15.5-game division lead shrinking down to 3.5 on September 9th, they’ve mostly righted the ship. The roster is healthier, the at-bats are more consistent, and it’s not exclusively The Aaron Judge Show.
And so we’ve reached the final regular season series of the year between the Yankees and Blue Jays. Both are bound for the playoffs, but New York can punch its ticket straight to the Division Series round and secure the AL East crown with one win in Toronto. Even if it doesn’t come tonight, they need just one W in the next three games. The Yankees have won seven in a row. The time is now to wrap up this division title — and for Judge to keep making home run history, as he’s still sitting on 60 homers.
Note: Official pitching matchups were still not announced late on Sunday night at the time of writing, but based on normal rest and available starters, it’d be surprising if the Yankees and Blue Jays deviated from the pitchers below (aside from one exception).
Monday: Luis Severino vs. Kevin Gausman (7:07 PM ET)
Luis Severino made his long-awaited return from the 60-day injured list on September 21st against the Pirates and looked like he’d fully recovered from the lat strain that derailed his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. In 16 first-half starts, the right-hander pitched to a 3.45 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 1.07 WHIP, and 27.2-percent strikeout rate. All systems were go on the 21st, when Severino threw five innings of two-hit, one-run ball, walking just a single batter and fanning six Pirates along the way. He was limited to 64 pitches then, but with just one more scheduled start before playoff time, expect New York to push him a little further.
Severino already has his hands full with an intimidating Blue Jays offense, and his mound opponent won’t make the matchup any easier. Simply put, Kevin Gausman is the best starter in the American League by several metrics. Thanks to a league-leading 1.82 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 163 post-Tommy John innings at age 39, Justin Verlander is the favorite to win his third Cy Young Award, but Gausman has him beat in FIP (2.37), strikeout rate (28.2 percent), walk rate (3.9 percent), and FanGraphs WAR (5.5). The man shoves.
The free agent addition has been everything that the Blue Jays could’ve dreamed of when they signed him away from the Giants, though if the Yankees are looking for hope, he has coughed up at least four runs in half of his last eight starts. Is this a little arbitrary? You bet. Did he pitch quite well in the other four starts, including at New York on August 19th? Yup! But it’s something, and as previously noted, the Yankees are playing better than they did in mid-August.
Tuesday: Jameson Taillon vs. José Berríos (7:07 PM ET)
Kudos go out to Jameson Taillon because in his last time out, he recorded his best start since peaking in early June with his perfect game attempt against the Angels. On September 22nd, he spun six shutout innings of four-hit ball, allowing a single walk while fanning eight Red Sox batters. We probably can’t fairly expect that against a tougher lineup in Toronto, though. Taillon’s most recent showdown with the Blue Jays was August 15th, when he yielded three runs on six hits in five innings.
It’s one thing for the Yankees to be uncertain about Taillon making their playoff rotation, but it’s quite another for the Jays facing the same dilemma with Berríos. They extended their 2021 trade deadline prize for seven years last November, and his first full season with Toronto has been rough. Even tossing out his nightmarish Opening Day, he has a 5.05 ERA, 4.57 FIP, and a 1.38 WHIP in the 29 other starts. Berríos’ strikeout and homer numbers are his worst since his rookie season of 2016. The silver lining for Toronto tomorrow is that his best start of the second half came against the Yankees on August 18th, when he allowed two runs (one earned) over 6.2 innings, striking out nine.
Wednesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Mitch White? (7:07 PM ET)
The quickest way to sum up the frustrating brilliance of Gerrit Cole’s 2022 is reciting the following two facts:
1) On Wednesday, Gerrit Cole will probably break the Yankees’ longtime single-season strikeout record of 248, set by Ron Guidry during his legendary 1978. He is four K’s away and has fanned an impressive 55 batters in his last 38 innings of work.
2) Gerrit Cole leads the American League in homers allowed with 31, including seven in his last three starts. Batters might struggle to hit him, but his capacity for coughing up a game-breaking homer anyway should not loom so large.
TL;DR — Cole strikes out a million but has to stop giving up massive dingers. Please.
As for the Toronto pitcher, Mitch White would be on track to start, but the former Dodger has not been good at all since coming over at the trade deadline. He has a 7.39 ERA in eight games (seven starts), and opposing hitters have an .834 OPS against. White has surrendered at least three runs in each of his last five outings, and he was even briefly demoted at one point. Unfortunately for Toronto skipper John Schneider, he might not have another option unless he wants to roll the dice on the beleaguered Yusei Kikuchi (perhaps with an opener), who has been shifted to a bullpen role.