Embed from Getty Images

Down to their final 15 games, the Yankees have to win, regardless of who they’re playing.  After a mortifying loss to the Orioles last night, the team sits a half-game out of the last wildcard spot.  This upcoming series with Cleveland is the second-to-last of the Yankees’ “soft” series before they finish their season with back-to-back-to-back series against their divisional and playoff rivals, so they need to make the most of it.

Their Story So Far

Prior to the season, the major projections had the soon-to-be Guardians finishing at a little over .500, second or third in a relatively weak AL Central field.  With 18 games left to play, they are two games under .500 (71-73) and a distant second in their division, 11 games behind the White Sox. 3-7 in their last 10, Clevland’s playoff hopes are not mathematically dead but for all intents and purposes their season will end with the regular schedule.

Overall approximately league-average on both sides of the ball, excitement for them comes more from individual potential than team performance.  Three-time All Star José Ramirez is having a predictably good year, with an .887 OPS and 33 home runs, and 25-year-old DH Franmil Reyes has also put up a solid season (.257/.329/.543, 133 OPS+ with 29 HRs).

The Cleveland pitching took a blow earlier in the year when reigning Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber hit the 60-day IL with a rotator cuff injury. However, Cal Quantrill has blossomed as the erstwhile ace in his absence, especially in the second half, posting a 3.16 ERA as a starter after spending much of the first half of the year primarily as a reliever, and Aaron Civale has been consistently good all year, with a 3.76 ERA and an excellent 2.2 walks per 9 innings. 23-year-old closer Emmanuel Clase has racked up 23 saves and an 0.973 WHIP, and rookie first-rounder Tristan McKenzie has shown potential in 21 starts with a 10.5 K/9 ratio.

Injury Report

Player Position Injury Injury Status
Shane BieberSPShoulderOut until at least late September
Nick SandlinRPShoulderOut until at least late September
Wilson RamosCKneeOut for the season
Josh NaylorRFAnkleOut for the season

Spotlight: Cal Quantrill

Yankees fans of a certain age (my age) may remember Cal Quantrill’s father, Paul, as part of a 2004 three-headed bullpen monster that Michael Kay christened “QuanGorMo” (Quantrill, Tom Gordon, and Mariano Rivera combined to throw 263.2 innings that year).  Baseball fans somewhat older might remember any number of other things about the elder Quantrill’s career, which spanned from 1992 to 2005.

Cal, who was 9 when his father retired, has been considered a potential future star since high school; the Yankees, in fact, selected him after his senior year in the 26th round of the 2013 draft.  He declined to sign and attended Stanford, where he underwent Tommy John surgery his junior year but was still selected eighth overall by the Padres in the 2016 draft. He made his major league debut in 2019 for the Padres, struggling in 18 starts to a 5.16 ERA.  His usage was limited in 2020, as he mostly pitched as a reliever between the Padres and Cleveland, to whom he was traded midseason.  

In 2021, however, the 26-year-old seems to have found his groove. He spent almost all of April and May pitching out of the bullpen (throwing to a 2.03 ERA in 17 games before his first start) and was moved to the rotation at the end of May.  After a rough first month, Quantrill has blossomed in the rotation since July, going 6-1 with a 2.18 ERA and holding opposing batters to a .200 average.  His best start of the season came on August 6 against Detroit, where he went 7 shutout innings, allowing only 4 hits and striking out 10.

Quantrill is a primarily sinker-slider pitcher, with an above-average chase rate who tends to pitch to softer-than average contact.  His fastball sits mid-90s, with mid-80s breaking stuff and good command. The Yankees won’t face him in this series, as he started Cleveland’s last game against Minnesota on the 15th, but his breakout this year certainly positions him as one to watch in the American League in 2022 and beyond.

Projected Lineups

The following is the projected Cleveland lineup via RosterResource.

  1. Myles Straw, CF (.286/.378/.381, 110 OPS+)
  2. Bradley Zimmer, RF (.235/.342/.351, 91 OPS+)
  3. Jose Ramirez, 3B (.258/.348/.539, 138 OPS+)
  4. Franmil Reyes, DH (.257/.329/.543, 133 OPS+)
  5. Bobby Bradley, 1B (.224/.316/.468, 111 OPS+)
  6. Harold Ramirez, LF (.266/.303/.404, 91 OPS+)
  7. Yu Chang, 2B (.211/.245/.397, 72 OPS+)
  8. Roberto Perez, C (.133/.240/.310, 49 OPS+)
  9. Andres Gimenez, SS (.187/.257/.280 , 48 OPS+)

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 7:05pm

RHP Zach Plesac vs. RHP Corey Kluber

Zach Plesac has pitched to a 4.45 ERA this year and has been consistently average for Cleveland all season, with a precisely 100 OPS+.  In his last start against Milwaukee, he gave up two earned runs in six innings, striking out three.

Corey Kluber’s post-injury struggles continued last week against the Mets, as he gave up four runs on five hits in four innings.  Since returning from the IL in late August he has not pitched more than four innings nor thrown more than 80 pitches in a single start.

Saturday, 1:05pm

RHP Aaron Civale vs. RHP Luis Gil

Aaron Civale has been one of the most consistent pitchers for Cleveland all season, with a 3.76 ERA over 17 starts.  He got rocked in his last start, however, surrendering 7 earned runs in 3 innings against Milwaukee.

Luis Gil experienced his first real clunker as a major league pitcher in his last start against Minnesota, giving up five runs in six innings to take a no-decision as the Yankees came back to win the game.  He did, however, strike out eight and walk only one, a big improvement from his previous start against Toronto where he issued seven walks.

Sunday, 1:05pm

RHP Eli Morgan vs. RHP Gerrit Cole

Rookie Eli Morgan will be making his 16th major league start on Sunday.  He’s struggled throughout the season to the tune of a 2-7 record and a 6.03 ERA; his last start against Milwaukee was no exception, as he gave up seven earned runs in 4.1 innings, striking out only two.

Gerrit Cole returned last week after being pulled early from his start against Toronto with hamstring tightness, and it was business as usual on the Cole Train.  His outing, while a bit shorter than usual, was characteristically good, as he surrendered one run in five innings with seven strikeouts. Cole has a 1.35 ERA in 6 starts since returning from the COVID IL in August.

Bullpen Status

PlayerThursday Wednesday Tuesday
Emmanuel Clase11
Nick Wittgren
Bryan Shaw21
Blake Parker7
Alex Young
Justin Garza
Sam Hentges7
Francisco Perez
Trevor Stephan25