That was ideal, was it not? The Yankees clobbered Cleveland in Game 1 of this best-of-three series, 12-3. The offense was all over Shane Bieber and Gerrit Cole mowed down his opponent. It’s not like the Yankees needed to blow out Cleveland to feel comfortable, either. In fact, this one felt over after Aaron Judge’s two-run blast on the fourth pitch of the game. An early lead with Cole on the hill against a scuffling Cleveland offense? Just what the doctor ordered. Let’s break it down.
The bats took Bieber off his gameplan immediately. The Yankees’ offense may have been frustrating and inconsistent during the regular season, but that was far from the case tonight. Intimidated by the presumptive American League Cy Young winner? Not a chance. The Bombers took a 2-0 lead four pitches into this one. It completely took Shane Bieber off his game. DJ LeMahieu led off with a single and Aaron Judge followed with this:
That was quick. Bieber had come out firing all fastballs and the Yankees made him pay immediately. The right immediately shied away from his heater thereafter.
Bieber threw 27 fastballs the rest of the game, or 26.7 percent of his final 101 pitches. He’s not necessarily a fastball dominant pitcher as he used the pitch just over 37 percent in the regular season, but still. The Yankees scared him off the pitch.
Cleveland’s ace had a chance to settle down after a scoreless second and two relatively quick outs in the third inning. But instead, the Yankees’ relentless offense made him pay. Bieber fell behind Aaron Hicks 3-0, got it to 3-2, but then walked him. Up came Luke Voit:
Not a fastball, but rather, a cutter right down the pipe. Voit made him pay to give the Yanks a 3-1 lead.
The Yanks tallied a couple of more runs against Bieber in the fourth. Brett Gardner jumped a first pitch fastball for an RBI double and DJ LeMahieu delivered an RBI single up the middle against a heater too. The Yankees may not have seen Bieber’s fastball much, but when they did, they pounced. And they weren’t done jumping on Bieber’s fastball there. Gleyber Torres delivered the knockout blow in the fifth.
That was the end of Bieber’s night. 4 2/3 innings and 7 runs for the starter with a 1.77 ERA this season. Welp!
The offense didn’t let Bieber capitalize on his curveball, either. As impressive as it was to see the Yankees punish Bieber’s sporadically thrown fastball, it was also great to watch them not flail at too many of Bieber’s curveballs. Opponents had a .095 batting average, .143 slugging percentage, and 51.5 percent whiff rate against his yakker this season. Tonight, it’s not what they did when they put the ball in play (1-for-6), but rather, what they did against it otherwise.
Sure, Bieber racked up four Ks on his breaking ball, but that doesn’t tell the story. They whiffed on 7 of 18 swings (39 percent) against the curve, well below his regular season rate. They also fouled it off 5 times. Plus, Bieber was only able to nab 3 called strikes on it. It simply just wasn’t his typical putaway pitch this evening.
Overall, Bieber went to his curveball on 36 percent of his pitches this evening, 10 percent higher than in the regular season. That would have been a decent plan tonight had his curveball been fooling Yankees’ hitters. Instead, the offense was locked in. They hunted fastballs while spoiling Bieber’s curveball.
Lest we forget about Gerrit Cole. The offense really stole the show from Gerrit Cole tonight, who was brilliant in his own right. After the bats staked him with a 2-0 lead, Gerrit set in the tone in the bottom half of the first. A 1-2-3 inning including two strikeouts on 13 pitches. You knew it was on from there.
The only real trouble Cole faced this evening came against Josh Naylor (!?!), who came over in the Mike Clevinger trade. Naylor went 3-for-3 against Cole including a mammoth solo homer in the fourth inning. That came after Naylor doubled off the center field wall in his first faceoff with Cole.
Cleveland’s other run against Gerrit was a bit fortunate, but also gave Cole his biggest test of the night. The Yankees were up 3-0 and Cole had gotten to two outs with a runner on second in the third inning. César Hernández was up and the scalding-hot José Ramírez was on deck as the potential tying run. Hernández dribbled a grounder past Cole to Torres for an infield single, a batted ball that had a .210 expected batting average. Up came Ramírez.
Cole bounced back to strike out Carlos Santana on three pitches to escape further damage. Naylor may have hit a homer in the next inning, but Cleveland never really threatened against the Yankees’ ace.
The Yanks’ $324 million man racked up 13 strikeouts in 7 innings. He threw 105 pitches and probably could have gone one more inning if necessary, but given the 9 run lead, there was no need to push it. If 13 strikeouts didn’t say it already: Cole had everything working. But in particular, this was the best fastball we’ve seen from him in 2020.
Cole’s fastball got hit a little harder than usual this year (.327 wOBA, 24.7 whiff rate). Last year, those marks were .254 and 37.6 percent. Tonight? Cole’s fastball looked like that 2019 version. Of the 55 he threw, Cleveland batters swung-and-missed 35 percent of the time. He did allow a couple of hard hits against the pitch (namely doubles by Ramírez and Naylor), but he also garnered three pop outs and a soft line out. Dominant.
His curveball was really working too. Of ten swings against it: five whiffs, three fouls, and two balls in play. The highest exit velo against it was 85.2 MPH. Very, very good. Also good? Five called strikes on it. Remember, Cole had some trouble throwing the curve for strikes earlier this season.
The slider and changeup were very effective too. He generated five whiffs on ten swings against the slider and another whiff on two hacks at the changeup. Neither the slider or changeup had an exit velocity against above 90.5 MPH.
Again, everything was working. A masterpiece, just as we had all hoped.
- The decision to start Brett Gardner over Clint Frazier sure worked out. He scored twice and had three hits: an RBI double, a two-run homer to give the Yankees an 11-2, and a single in the ninth. Clint was great in the regular season even with a slow finish, but Boone’s decision to play the hot hand certainly made the manager look good. Don’t worry, Frazier is still the team’s left fielder next season. I don’t know what they do tomorrow, though.
- How did Kyle Higashioka do? He certainly didn’t hurt the Yankees tonight in place of Gary Sánchez. Higgy had a single in four trips to the plate, though perhaps the most notably play was a throw he sailed into center field in the third inning on a wild pitch. A better throw might have nabbed Delino DeShields at second base and ultimately keep a run off the board that inning. Didn’t turn out to be a big deal, of course.
- Luis Cessa pitched the eighth and ninth innings and allowed one run. Nice job by him to save the bullpen for tomorrow.
Game Two is at 7:08 p.m. EDT tomorrow. If we see the version of Masahiro Tanaka we’re used to seeing in the playoffs, the Yankees will wrap things up tomorrow and advance. Carlos Carrasco counters for Cleveland. A very good pitcher in his own right, but I can’t wait to see what the Yankees’ offense has in store after this evening. Have a good night everyone.