If you didn’t embrace the chaos that is 2021 New York Yankees and thought for a second we wouldn’t have to worry about our ace starting a potential one-game playoff coming off this team’s epic seven-game winning streak, then you simply haven’t been watching enough this season.
The Yankees still possess a one-game lead in the AL Wild Card picture after Wednesday night’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays — they have a one-game lead over the Boston Red Sox — but somehow many are fretting about next week already.
The chief reason the Yankees fell 6-5 to the Jays was because of Gerrit Cole’s performance. He allowed five earned runs — though we’d like to question one of those given Joey Gallo’s defensive gaffe in left field — on nine hits. He didn’t walk anybody, but the Blue Jays lineup tattooed him in the first few innings, and that was enough to sound the alarm.
It’s unclear if Cole is pitching injured, but he very much hasn’t been the same since suffering his hamstring injury against the Jays back in early September.
Is Gerrit Cole ready to start a one-game playoff for the Yankees?
Cole is now 2-2 with a 6.35 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in his last four starts. He did get the job done in Boston, but his only other encouraging outing came against the Orioles — a start in which he labored and lasted just five innings after throwing 108 pitches. He’s now gotten shelled by Cleveland and Toronto.
On Wednesday night, he seemingly couldn’t locate his fastball as efficiently as he usually does. He was gifting the Jays’ top sluggers with middle-middle heaters and they were punishing him. As for his slider, it just wasn’t totally there. Sound familiar? That happened two starts ago against the Indians.
He eventually came around and settled in, with his only blemish from innings 4-6 coming on an RBI double off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but George Springer, who scored from second, should’ve never reached base had Joey Gallo effectively communicated with Gio Urshela on his shallow pop up to left field.
Nonetheless, the next step in this climb to the top is surviving the regular season. But after that, the Yankees are guaranteed nothing more than a one-game playoff should they reach the postseason. A month ago, every fan would’ve unquestionably been on board with Cole facing one of the best offenses in the American League in a do-or-die game. In fact, if you didn’t, you may have been taken out back for a “talk.”
Now? We just really don’t know. Whatever’s happening right now is uncharacteristic and, assuming there’s no damning information not being disclosed, inexplicable. Cole is the obvious option to take the bump with such stakes on the line, but many Yankees fans couldn’t feel worse about their ace at the moment.
This was his final start before a hypothetical AL Wild Card Game, too, so he’ll have a sour taste in his mouth after having the opportunity to end the season on the highest of notes. Had the Yankees gotten even a decent performance from him on Wednesday night, they could’ve won this game, kicked the Jays down to a four-game deficit in the race, and maintained their two-game advantage over the Sox.
They would’ve been playing with the truest of house money on Thursday with the shaky Corey Kluber on the mound.
Instead, Cole’s outing mirrored that of a No. 5 starter. He wasn’t fooling anybody. He typical sharpness wasn’t there. And we’re back to wondering if he’s battling through an ailment (or two!) and whether or not that’s going to finally do the Yankees in should they make it past Oct. 3.
Maybe Cole was tipping his pitches. Maybe we’re taking this too far. But there has to be some level of concern, or else you’re not human.