The X-Factor Ace: It's Gerrit Cole's first postseason in Pinstripes

Gerrit Cole has played October baseball before. 

Photo credit: Yahoo Sports

No, I’m not just talking about his October- like performance he’s displayed throughout the month of September. While his time with the Astros might have been marred by scandal on the part of his coaches and teammates, he has extensive experience playing in the postseason with his former squad. It’s part of what the Yankees paid for. 

However, even with big expectations as the former ace in Houston, there is no pressure in October quite like Yankee pressure. In a postseason that is different from any other, that comes after playing through a season that began a little more than two months ago and is tainted with the sadness of not having fans in the stands, it’s easy to forget that this postseason will be different for both the Yankees and for Cole -- as a result of their joint venture. So, it’s a historic berth for everyone, but why? 

In case anyone wants to remember these misfortunes, the Yankees have fallen short in the postseason in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Yes, Aaron Boone led them to over 100 wins last year, but even 100 wins does not a World Series championship make. If your team can’t get past the ALCS, it doesn’t matter how many wins it logged in the regular season. Yankees fans and staff alike can pin these misfortunes on a number of factors: the Astros cheating, failure to win the division in 2015, 2017 and 2018, exhausted taxi squads after a laundry list of injuries, inexperienced management by Boone, too much analytical, harsh management by Joe Girardi. But one factor that remains common throughout all of the recent postseason falls of the Yankees is inconsistent starting pitching. 

Luis Severino, while not a factor this year thanks to Tommy John surgery, choked in 2017 in the Wild Card game, redeemed himself in the ALDS, and then really redeemed himself in the 2018 Wild Card game. CC Sabathia slowed down in his last seasons in Pinstripes. Masahiro Tanaka, with the exception of the 2015 Wild Card game, has proven time and again that October is his time to shine -- but #TanakaTime can’t be every day. 

The potential X-Factor for the Yankees in the postseason is an ace starting pitcher, and some will tell you that they have the best in the game ready to go this October. In all of the above ghosts of playoffs past, there was no ace pitcher on the roster of the caliber of Cole. In four previous postseason appearances, Cole touts a combined 2.60 ERA, a record of 6-4 and 78 strikeouts. That’s over the course of just seven different series. 

On the 2020 season, Cole touts a 2.84 ERA, a record of 7-3, and, in spite of the shortened season, 94 strikeouts. He heads into the postseason on the heels of an outstanding September, of which he pitched seven innings for three out of his four starts. His ERA for the month is 1.00, and he recorded 34 strikeouts. In a postseason matchup, the potential to go seven innings and strikeout a side is of prime importance. Keeping the bullpen healthy and saving bullpen pitchers for future games will help the Yankees throughout the postseason. 

The only question that still begs answering is: does Cole have what it takes to answer the postseason expectations that come with being a Yankee? In his first postseason matchup in for the Yankees, he will face Cleveland’s ace Shane Bieber, who has a 1.63 ERA with 122 strikeouts on the season and won the pitching version of the Triple Crown. However, he has just three years of regular season experience, and no postseason experience. It will still be an entertaining matchup, but Cole knows what it means to keep a clear head in a playoff situation. Severino entered his first postseason in Pinstripes as an ace without experience. Cole’s confidence, competitive intensity and experience will be potentially greater assets than the strikes he throws.    

In the midst of one of the most unusual MLB seasons in my lifetime, it will be easy to forget that what Yankees fans have been waiting for is about to be fulfilled. But make no mistake: Cole wants to win it all.


Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson
 

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