Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber create the best pitching matchup in a Tuesday full of Wild Card Round Game 1s to begin the MLB postseason.
A start like this is why Cole was brought to the Yankees in the first place, and he has the experience to get the job done. On the other hand, Bieber, who likely will be named AL Cy Young winner this season, is looking to prove his dominance can come in the playoffs as well.
With their firepower on the mound, Game 1 in this series will be determined by which offense can figure out the ace they will face when they step behind the lines.
Here are the three keys to the Yankees coming away victorious on Tuesday night in Cleveland:
Be Patient with Bieber
The MLB leader in strikeouts is going to be extremely deceptive on the mound. All of his pitches have movement, as SNY’s Andy Martino pointed out on Monday. He isn’t too overpowering with his fastball sitting at 94.1 mph on average this season.
It’s that curveball which he uses just as much as his fastball – a new strategy for this season that’s worked. And looking at his spray charts this season, he actually likes to throw it on the right side of the plate and down. For lefties, that’s a backdoor curveball – you can expect sliders and cutters to be there, too. For righties, he’s not afraid to start that pitch at the batter’s hip and let it run back into the zone.
The Yankees will, then, need to be patient and not jump at the first pitch they see. Bieber will be sure to mix it up against this powerhouse lineup because he knows one bad pitch could mean a run on the scoreboard. A good eye equals a bigger pitch count for Bieber, and the Yankees certainly want to get him out of the game sooner rather than later.
Fastball location for Cole
Unlike Bieber, Cole doesn’t have that much movement on his fastball. Instead, he has one that averages 96.7 mph.
But nine of his 14 homers allowed this season have come on that fastball, a lot of it due to poor location. The Indians are a good fastball hitting team, too, one that can handle the high velocity especially when it’s in the middle of the zone.
That means Cole, who throws his fastball 53 percent of the time when on the bump, will need to not only move it left and right around the plate but elevate it as well. Get the hitter’s eyes moving all around, not just horizontally. This will only benefit that tight slider (which he loves to throw to righties) and curveball.
The Yankees don’t have one of the highest-paid bullpens in the league for no reason. Like Cole getting his $324 million contract, the bullpen is paid the way it is because of the postseason.
Of course, someone like Aroldis Chapman has a sour taste in his mouth after how last year’s playoff ended. But Chapman, along with Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino, haven’t been their real shutdown selves so far this season. Chad Green can also be added to that list.
If and when Cole comes out of the game, it is likely that it will be really close either way. This bullpen will need to shake off what happened in the regular season and lock in for this game and beyond.