As a prelude to the playoffs, the Yankees need to show they can beat the best pitchers in American League – even if it’s only once. These are the five pitchers I put in the “must beat during the regular season” category.
Even in a shortened five-game series and indeed in a seven-game series, the Yankees will be facing the best the opposition has to offer not once, but twice in the playoffs. The regular season is a dress rehearsal for facing those aces, and if nothing else than from a psychological and confidence standpoint, it is incumbent on the team to beat these pitchers at least once. In no particular order, here they are:
I put Charlie Morton of the Houston Astros at the top of the list only because his sting is fresh in the minds of the Yankees. Morton has just recently “found himself” as a big league pitcher, drifting between three teams over 11 seasons before finally finding a home in Houston.
The buzzword hitters use to describe the stuff Morton throws is filthy or nasty. He throws 99 mph bowling ball sinkers or a “heavy” ball that seems to hit your bat with a thud instead of a clonk. Naturally, if that makes any sense, and to add insult, his breaking ball is also among the best in the league.
How he was 49-71 in the National League, and now 18-7 since being signed by the Astros to a two-year $14 million team-favored contract is anybody’s guess. But when he comes up again against the Yankees, they need to figure out a way to beat him.
Slotted next is Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox. Sale has already beaten the Yankees once this season, a six-inning one-run effort on April 10 when the Sox were riding high. With sixteen games remaining between the Yankees and Sox, odds are Sale will make a minimum of three more starts against the Pinstripes.
To make an impression, the Yankees, I won’t say need, but to feel more comfortable should put two W’s on the board against Sale, with one totaling up to a pretty good shellacking. Sale’s career record against the Yankees is only 5-4, but that is deceiving when you look at the 1.73 ERA and 0.094 WHIP he has waged against his rival.
As with the Astros and Morton, if the Bombers can’t beat Sale, they are faced with having to find someone else in the rotation to beat in a hurry before Sale is on tap again. Facing the Sox, that means David Price and Rick Porcello, each of whom represents a formidable challenge themselves.
From here, we go to Corey Kluber who has pulverized the Bombers winning five of his six starts and tacking on a minuscule WHIP of 0.90 and 1.90 ERA. Fearless and filled with the trust of his stuff, Kluber has to be stinging from his two starts against the Yankees in the ALDS when he managed to last a total of only six innings, surrendering nine astonishing runs en route to the Bombers sending the Indians home for the season.
This one is more of a head game favoring the Yankees. And though Kluber has yet to face the Yankees this year, when he does, I’d hate to be the pitcher matched up against him. Kluber has shown he takes no prisoners when he is pitching. The pressure shifts to him, though, and the team can only add to their good fortunes by making a resounding statement during the regular season against Kluber.
Perhaps by design or otherwise, Kluber will not face the Yankees in their weekend set against the Indians.
The fourth must beat pitcher for the Pinstripes is (no surprise) another Astro and that’s Justin Verlander. The Astros won themselves a title last season when they said the hell to age and money, grabbing Verlander from the Tigers for a bag of peanuts.
The Yankees got a good taste of this future Hall of Famer in the ALCS when Verlander beat them twice, including a decisive complete-game effort that all but took the wind out of the sails of the Bombers.
A pitcher’s pitcher, Verlander surprisingly is only 6-7 lifetime against the Yankees, according to Baseball Reference.
The Yankees get a look at Verlander tonight as Jordan Montgomery looks to give the team a rebound from last night’s loss. Footnote: Verlander was outstanding but did not figure in the decision as the Yanks evened up the series with four in the ninth. Final decision: A draw,
Verlander, however, is showing no signs of slowing down and already has posted four wins against no defeats this season. Once again, this is all about making a positive statement for the Yankees.
Carlos Carrasco might seem like an afterthought as the fifth and final selection. But his career is on a trajectory that parallels Luis Severino. Carrasco is only going to get better, and his 4-1 start to this season, again like Severino, is proof of that.
Hurling for the Cleveland Indians, Carrasco takes the second spot in the pitching order for the Indians, following Corey Kluber. Only 4-5 thus far in his career starts against the Yankees, that was then, and this is now.
Like Kluber though, Carrasco is not scheduled to pitch against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium next weekend. Which is too bad because the Yankees would do well to have a taste of this guy before the two teams square away again in July.
Naturally, every game is essential. But the stakes are raised when the Yankees face any of these pitchers because the road to a 28th World Championship will lead through each of them.