First pitch of the ALDS is set for 7:37 p.m. ET tonight. The Guardians are rolling with virtually the same lineup they went with in Game 2 of the Wild Card, but with Myles Straw and Austin Hedges swapped at the bottom of the order. Will Brennan gets the start again at designated hitter and Oscar Gonzalez goes in right field.
Cal Quantrill and Gerrit Cole will face on the mound for the opener. On paper, it’s a less than an ideal matchup for the Guardians. Quantrill is good, and at times looks great, but Cole is an elite of the elite, even if in a down year. He has still put up outstanding numbers (200.2 IP, 3.50 ERA, 90 ERA-, 22.7 KK-B%), but that’s a relatively weak year for a perennial Cy Young contender. Only 3.3 fWAR? Are you even trying, Gerrit?
Luckily for the Guardians, most of Cole’s issues have come lately — it’s not like he was off to a horrid start and is hitting his stride into the playoffs. Quite the opposite actually. Over his last five starts, Cole had a gruesome, spooktacular 5.22 ERA over 29.1 innings. He allowed 17 total earned runs and more home runs (9) than walks allowed (8). He’s had a couple of other bad implosions this season, but nothing quite so prolonged as the final month or so of the season.
He’s rested now, though, so if something didn’t feel right or his arm just had a few too many miles on it, he has had a week to figure it out. I wouldn’t count on him coming out with “gives up three home runs to the Red Sox” type stuff in Game 1 of the ALDS. What you can expect from Cole is a high-velocity fastball and a crushing slider and a curveball that have some of the highest spin rates in baseball.
Something new for Cole this year is a 92 mph cutter that looks an awful lot like his slider until it’s too late to notice the difference. He’s only thrown it a little over 200 times this season (6.4% of his total pitches), but it’s been a putaway pitch right on track with the rest of his putaway pitches. Guardians batters are middle-of-the-road against cutters, so if Cole gets sick of pumping his four-seam fastballs for strikes he could switch it up and catch some Guards off-balance.
As for the Guardians, you know Cal Quantrill. You love him. Well, he might give you heartburn, but you love him all the same. Quantrill, like a lot of this Guardians team, is as old-school as old-school can be. He features a 94-mph fastball (which would have been mythical speed just a few decades ago), along with a cutter, changeup, and curve.
Quantrill, who last pitched on Oct. 4, finished the regular season with a 3.38 ERA and 42.1% groundball rate. His strikeout numbers weren’t gaudy, and his walk rate wasn’t microscopic, but he prevented hard contact — and more importantly — runs. He took a cutter that was basically a new toy in 2021 and turned it into a true putaway pitch in 2022.
If Quantrill is going to make this work against the Yankees lineup, he’s going to have to avoid Aaron Judge at all costs and keep everyone else on the ground. He excels at getting batters to chase and make bad contact, but that’s something the Yankees don’t do very often. They ranked 24th in baseball at swings outside of the zone (31.1%), and 18th in contact on outside pitches (62.8%).
One thing that Quantrill does great (that I don’t think we’ve discussed here despite covering him all year long) is deceiving the spin of that aforementioned cutter. There’s a notable difference between the spin-based and observed movement of his cutter. In other words (in an extremely simplified way), it doesn’t move how you think it should if a batter manages to track its spin.
That deception is part of the reason his cutter whiffs batters 23.8% of the time, his second most whiff-heavy pitch. If the Yankees refuse to chase buried sliders and curveballs, maybe they get twisted around on a confusing cutter, instead.
Only one way to find out.