How the Yankees Should Line-Up their Rotation for the Postseason
By Cary Greene
September 29, 2022
Just how should the Yankees line up their rotation this postseason? Shouldn’t the Yankees first wait to see who they’ll be playing in the Division Series before just rolling Gerrit Cole out to start Game One? Is Cole even the Yankees best starter these days? These are valid questions that should be brandied about.
It is beginning to look like the Yankees will play the winner of the Guardians/Mariners series. Seattle has owned Cleveland this season, winning the season’s series handily six games to one, so they certainly appear to be heavy favorites in a best-of-three series. The Mariners are 27th in MLB versus right-handed pitching, with a .227/.308/.391 team slash-line and a .699 OPS. Against left-handed pitching, the Mariners 23rd in the league (.232/.326/.382/.708).
Meanwhile, the Guardians are the 4th best MLB team against right-handed pitching, with a .714 OPS and .257/.319/.395 line and are distinctly worse against left-handed pitching (.241/.305/.346/.651).
There would appear to be some merit to the idea of lining up left-handed starters to face either the M’s or the G’s in a best-of-five Division Series. Of course, the only problem is the Yankees presently have only one left-handed starter, All-Star Nestor Cortes Jr., thanks to Brian Cashman’s decision to trade Jordan Montgomery and J.P. Sears at the Trade Deadline.
Subsequently, the Yankees Achilles heel is usually tough right-handed postseason pitching but this year, the Yankees are 17th in MLB against righties (.241/.324/.422/.746) and 18th against lefties (.243/.329/.442/.771) - so the Yankees offense doesn’t seem to be adversely affected by the “handedness” of a pitcher.
Based on the numbers, Nestor Cortes is the Yankees best pitcher this season. Granted, Gerrit Cole has tied a Yankees all-time single-season record for strikeouts this year, matching Ron Guidry and his magical 1978 season last night, but the comparison to Guidry ends there because Cole has given up twice as many home runs.
Cole is 8-5 in the postseason with a 3.49 ERA but he no longer has Spider Tack to rely upon, making him far more susceptible to quality postseason offenses than in previous seasons. Guidry was 5-2 in the postseason during his career, with a 3.02 ERA for what it’s worth.
If the Division Series were to go five games, the Yankees would probably be much better off starting Cortes in Game One, then potentially bringing him back for a decisive Game Five if needed. Hopefully, the Yankees do lead with Cortes, then Cole, followed by Jameson Taillon and Luis Severino if needed.
Severino could also be used in high leverage relief innings in the coming postseason, which could help provide a solution to what is presently a struggling back end of the Yankees bullpen.
Looking at who the Yankees may face in the League Championship series adds another potential reason to set the rotation up with Cortes leading things off in the Division Series. The Astros may well be a potential roadblock the Yankees will need to navigate around if they are to reach the World Series this year and Astros are much more susceptible to right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching. Leading off with a rested Severino, followed by Cole in a best of seven series is a shrewd move that the Yankees ought to strongly consider.
Then, in games three and four, the Yankees could potentially use Taillon and then Cortes and then come back to Severino and Cole if needed. Frankie Montas is also a question mark but a case could be made to give him a start against the Astros, if he’s available.
Adding one last wrinkle to what the most prudent Yankee pitching strategy needs to look like, is the fact that the Blue Jays are quite capable of beating the Astros in a five-game series – “if” they get that chance. The Rays though, they don’t match up well with the Astros. Should Toronto surprise everyone but me and wind up shocking the Astros, the Yankees will be wise to feature Cortes in Game One if he’s available because the Blue Jays destroy right-handed pitching - ranking second in MLB against righties, while being much more mortal against lefties, where they rank 11th.
If I’m Brian Cashman, I’d make the tough call and start my best pitcher in Game One of the 2022 Division Series. His name is Nestor Cortes, not Gerrit Cole. I’d do it not so much to recognize that Cortes is better, but more so based on the road to the World Series. The Yankees can’t win an AL Championship series if they can’t win the Division Series, so the mentality really needs to be to line things up properly, right out of the gate.
If the Yankees start Gerrit Cole first in the Division Series, it really may be a recipe for disaster.