Why Yankees' Gerrit Cole likens AL East competition coming up to ancient warrior practices

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Gerrit Cole fires pitch vs. Indians
Gerrit Cole fires pitch vs. Indians

After the Yankees finish their series with the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, they will begin an AL East gauntlet to complete the regular season: a trio of three-game series with the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays.

So it isn’t the easiest of finishes, especially when there’s a heated Wild Card race including two of those teams in the Sox and Jays. But Gerrit Cole would rather look at it as a unique opportunity, one that a little history lesson can shed some more light on.

“Friend of mine was telling me a story about ancient warriors practicing each other or against neighboring cities of the best kind because if they weren’t practicing against the best that they could find, they may be surprised if a formidable army came out of somewhere and they hadn’t been practicing against elite opponents,” he said Wednesday.

“So maybe that’s similar to this situation where we’ve been playing against a lot of elite opponents in this division throughout the entire year. Sure, we’ve lost some of the battles. But we still have the war ahead of us.”

That’s certainly a way to look at the Yanks’ situation here. Yeah, you’d obviously want easier competition to help your case in the Wild Card race. But what happens when you get to the Wild Card game and have to play an elite opponent?

And those battles still left to play are the biggest ones of all for the Yankees. They get a chance to create their own destiny by facing off against the teams aiming for the same goal they want to accomplish.

To get there, they need to lock in at all facets of the game, and they’re off to a good start against Texas with a sweep on their minds Wednesday night. But Friday night in Fenway – with Cole getting the ball following one of his worst starts of the season against the Cleveland Indians – is when the pressure really begins. Only a handful of games left and players like Cole need to be at their best.

“I think you just got to approach it like you approach every other game,” he said when asked how he prepares for situations like the ones he’ll be in to close the regular season and potentially after that. “Not to say that some games or more important or less important than others, but my preparation throughout big postseason starts or big regular season starts or starts in the beginning of April, I just try to keep the same level of attention to detail and keep my same process that I always do.”

The Red Sox, in particular, are a team that Cole has had trouble with this season. Boston has given him a 5.06 ERA over three starts with a 1.56 WHIP as well. He had the one implosive start on June 27, allowing six runs (five earned) on eight hits, including three homers. But more recently, his back-to-back outings in July saw four earned over 11 innings with 19 combined strikeouts – numbers the Yanks like to see.

Having played them all season, Cole doesn’t necessarily think he needs to change things now to throw them off.

“I know my strengths [which] is certainly important,” he said. “I think there’s an element of ‘Try to hit it’ to really every pitch because you’re just always on the edge. But maybe using your strengths in slightly different ways remembering how your opponents have counteracted or blocked some of your blows earlier throughout the year. I think you just try to use those to your advantage. But you gotta stick to your strengths for sure.”

After the Sox, he’ll face the Blue Jays in that series, who he’s been better against (2.74 ERA over four starts). But say it comes down to the final game against the Rays to make it to the Wild Card: Cole gets the ball there. And if it doesn’t and a Wild Card spot is set, he’ll get the ball there.

One start at a time, though. It might be in the back of Cole’s mind, but he knows the Yanks need to focus on winning each game at a time and doing their part to make it to where they want to be.