Boy, how the tables have turned since the last time the Yankees faced the Guardians.
Just three weeks ago, the Yankees were well on their way to winning four consecutive series to open the 2023 campaign. Now they find themselves slinking home with their tails between their legs. After dropping three straight to the Rangers, New York is in last place with no real remedy to improving their situation while Aaron Judge remains out. Runs are already a rarity for the current lineup, and may be even harder to come by facing a normally stingy Cleveland pitching staff.
Monday: Domingo Germán vs. Cal Quantrill (7:05 pm ET)
Domingo Germán gets the series opener and is coming off the worst start of his season — six runs on three home runs against the Twins. He’s actually been one of the best pitchers on balls out of the zone — he has the 26th-lowest xwOBA (.238) on such pitches while placing in the 93rd percentile for whiff rate and 92nd percentile for chase rate. The problem is when he comes over the plate — he’s got the 15th-highest xwOBA (.423) on pitches in the strike zone. The key then for him is consistently nail that first pitch strike before feeding hitters a steady diet of curveballs that have thus far garnered an elite 38 percent whiff rate and 32 percent put away rate. In five starts, Germán is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA (79 ERA+), 5.48 FIP, and 33 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Germán will face a pitcher who has taken quite a different route to get to essentially the same place as the one he occupies through five starts. Cal Quantrill has pitched the same number of innings and has struggled equally in the run prevention department, but has struck out half as many batters while doing far better at keeping the ball in the ballpark. He pitches to soft contact — evidenced by placing in the bottom decile in strikeout, whiff, and chase rates — and the Yankees batters will have to be extra focused on elevating the baseball as he attacks with sinkers and cutters. In five starts, Quantrill is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA (80 ERA+), 4.68 FIP, and 15 strikeouts in 25 innings.
Tuesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Tanner Bibee (7:05 pm ET)
His career-best scoreless inning streak may have come to an end in his previous outing, but there is no doubt that Gerrit Cole is locked in to start the season. Everyone around the organization — himself, his teammates, and coaches — all credit fastball command for this early dominance. Indeed, his four-seamer grades out as the best pitch in baseball by Statcast’s Run Value metric at 10 runs better than average as he finds the edge of the zone almost half the time with it. Through six starts, Cole is 5-0 and sits second among qualified starters with a 1.11 ERA (391 ERA+) and 1.7 fWAR, pitching to a 2.08 FIP with a 44 strikeouts in 40.2 innings.
Cole will face Tanner Bibee, who will be making his second big league start. The 24-year-old rookie righty sparkled in his MLB debut, earning a victory against the Rockies with 5.2 innings of one-run, eight-strikeout ball. The Guardians drafted him out of Cal State Fullerton in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB Draft, no doubt enticed by a 60-grade slider that already places in the 89th percentile in both vertical and horizontal movement vs. average. A top-100 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus, Bibee has added velo to his fastball in pro ball, which now operates at 95mph and can dial up to 99.
Wednesday: Clarke Schmidt vs. Shane Bieber (7:05 pm ET)
It’s probably safe to say at this point that Clarke Schmidt is not a viable starting pitcher, but the Yankees will continue to call on him while their preferred starters work back from injury. He’s been a hard contact magnet since his debut in 2020, his 46.8 percent hard-hit rate tied for seventh-highest among starters with at least 100 balls in play over that span and the highest of any Yankees starter in the Statcast Era. Opposing lineups have scored at least three runs off Schmidt in each of his six starts, which isn’t surprising considering he finds himself in the bottom five percent of the league in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate. In six starts, the beleaguered Yankees pitchers is 0-3 with a 6.84 ERA (64 ERA+), 5.52 FIP, and 32 strikeouts in 25 innings.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, he’ll have to square off against Cleveland’s ace in the series finale. The Yankees almost eked out a win against Bieber the first time they faced him this year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of his performance. He gave up two quick runs in the first but then settled for six more scoreless innings allowing just two further hits, and figures to face a far less threatening lineup on Wednesday night. In six starts, Bieber is 2-1 with a 3.11 ERA (138 ERA+), 3.63 FIP, and 26 strikeouts in 37.2 innings.