Mother Nature has announced her presence in the Yankees-Guardians American League Division Series.
With nasty rain in the Bronx on Thursday night, Game 2 was moved back to Friday at 1:07 p.m. Apart from the unfortunate implications that will have for fans who will be at work during Friday’s game, there’s also the baseball implications that could leave their mark on the series.
For one, the Guardians will now most likely be unable to bring back Game 2 starter Shane Bieber for a potential Game 5 on Monday. That’s favorable for the Yanks, as Bieber looked dominant against the Rays in the Wild Card series. Game 1 starter Cal Quantrill (who was unremarkable) would be on regular rest for Game 4, which could also belong to middling right-hander Aaron Civale. The erratic Zach Plesac is also in play to pitch in some capacity. But in his final nine starts of the regular season — which were interrupted for a month after Plesac punched the mound in reaction to giving up a home run, causing a fracture — the 27-year-old owned a 5.36 ERA.
That’s all hypothetical, though. Friday will bring a real-life baseball game, with a few lingering questions spawned by soggy weather.
HOW WILL THE STARTING PITCHERS REACT?
Nestor Cortes has not pitched since the first day of October. While he was unbelievable in that start (7.1 innings, 12 strikeouts, one hit and zero runs against the Orioles), that was also nearly two weeks ago, and was in a much tamer Yankee Stadium than the one he’ll inhabit on Friday afternoon.
Cortes seems well-suited to face the Guardians’ very shallow lineup, but no pitcher in the world is really used to taking 12 days off between starts. Bieber will now be working on six days’ rest, something he did twice during the regular season. He made six total starts with six or more days of rest, and in those games, the former Cy Young winner barfed up a 4.64 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, both well above his season averages. Cortes, meanwhile, thrives when well-rested. Over his five starts with six or more rest days, he had a 1.01 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.
No matter how they perform, neither pitcher will come right out and say that the rainout affected him, but it was undoubtedly in their mind as they sat around for an extra day.
BULLPENS NEED WORK
The Guardians’ bullpen is more taxed than they’d like. They had to use the entire unit to take down Tampa Bay on Saturday, and after using three relievers in Game 1 against the Yankees, 24-year-old closer Emmanuel Clase plus youngsters Sam Hentges and Eli Morgan are the only true relievers who have been resting since they left Ohio. Morgan, who made 18 starts last season and one this year (against the Yankees, coincidentally) is now in a great position to give the Guardians some length should Bieber’s outing get cut short.
Hentges was the long relief hero in that clincher over the Rays, handling the 13th through 15th innings and striking out six to earn a very unlikely first postseason win. With an extra day to chill, he’s likely now available for Game 2. Cody Morris, a rookie righthander with just seven MLB games on his Baseball-Reference page, was left off the roster for the Wild Card series. He’s on the ALDS roster, though, and as someone who has not pitched at all since the regular season, Morris presents an interesting but unproven weapon for his manager.
Terry Francona explained Morris’ absence from the Wild Card roster by saying he wanted it to be a “little more veteran” and contain “a little more experience”, but with an injury to fellow reliever Nick Sandlin during the Rays’ series, Morris is here now. Being thrown into the zoo-like environment of Yankee Stadium in the playoffs would be a big ask of Morris, but the fact is his arm probably feels a lot better than some of his teammates’ do.
For the Yankees, the Thursday postponement allows another day of recovery for Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes, who each pitched in Game 1. Loaisiga’s 12 pitches were the most of that group, though, and if the deployment is any indication of Aaron Boone’s trust hierarchy, we will probably see all three very soon. The Yankees’ bullpen is in great shape, but it’s worth noting that nobody besides Loaisiga, Peralta and Holmes have pitched since Oct. 5, something that seemed to affect the Astros’ bullpen command on Thursday.
With Jameson Taillon moving to the pen, he, Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt can each be called on for multiple-inning outings during the series if needed. Taillon and German are also strong options to start Game 4 or tag team it until passing things to the high-leverage arms, which could open things up for Gerrit Cole to take Game 5 with Cortes following him in relief.
GOOD DAY, SUNSHINE?
The forecast for Friday shows sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s at first pitch. Cleveland earned the second-most wins of any American League team during day games, putting up 40 matinee victories. By winning percentage though, they are worse when the sun is out. The Guardians’ 40-31 day game record (.563 winning percentage) is a slight dip from their night efforts (52-39, .571 winning percentage).
The Yankees went 33-19 (.634) in day games and 66-44 (.600) in night games. The idea of playing a day game — which comes with the incentive of, the quicker they can beat the Guardians, the quicker they can board their flight to Cleveland ahead of Saturday’s Game 3 — may excite these Bombers. Of course, that incentive does apply to both teams, as players and coaches alike will want to get their heads on the pillow as soon as possible on Friday night.