By Joe Pantorno
If you’re into high-scoring games, Yankees, Indians might not be the Wild Card series you want to watch — at least for the first two games of the best-of-three tilt.
Tuesday’s Game 1 features what could very well be the best pitching matchup we’ll see all postseason as the Yankees’ big-money ace in Gerrit Cole faces Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, who is the favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award this year.
Cole’s first year in the Bronx wasn’t nearly as dominant as his stellar 2019 campaign with the Houston Astros, but he put together quite the finish, prompting manager Aaron Boone to admit that the righty is “pitching his best baseball.”
In his final three starts of the season — following a three-start stretch from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 in which he posted a 5.63 ERA — Cole allowed just two runs in 21 innings of work (0.86 ERA) with 24 strikeouts while opponents batted just .139 with an OPS of .368.
Tuesday night is the reason Yankees brought in Cole and paid him such an exorbitant salary ($324 million): To outduel another premier arm in what is a must-win game amidst a best-of-three series.
While Cole has been inconsistent this season, Bieber has been a steady force in Cleveland, and the best pitcher in the American League.
In 12 starts, he won the American League’s pitching Triple Crown with a league-best 8-1 record with an AL-leading 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts. He didn’t allow more than three earned runs in any of his outings and recorded double-digit strikeouts in eight of them.
He’s the first pitcher to win the AL pitching Triple Crown since Johan Santana did so with the Minnesota Twins in 2006.
“You know me, I’m not going to get caught up in this stuff,” Bieber said (h/t Mandy Bell, MLB.com). “But I guess I would just say [I’m proud of] consistency. It’s been nice to be able to go out there and have that consistent confidence going in, day in and day out.”
While the onus is on Game 1, Wednesday’s Game 2 will also provide an appetizing pitching matchup between the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka and Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco.
Carrasco is coming off one of his finest seasons as a pro, posting a 2.91 ERA and 82 strikeouts. He’s allowed just two earned runs in 11 career postseason innings.
As for Tanaka, his playoff numbers are even better despite some of the inconsistencies shown during the regular season.
While his career regular-season ERA is at 3.74, Tanaka owns a 1.76 ERA over eight career postseason starts, yielding just nine earned runs in 46 innings of work.