NEW YORK — The New York Yankees ascended to an American League East title by leading the majors with 254 homers, including 62 by slugger Aaron Judge.
The Cleveland Guardians rose to the top in the AL Central by finding other ways to win while ranking 29th with 127 homers.
On Tuesday, two differing offenses converge at Yankee Stadium when the Yankees host the Guardians in the opener of the American League Division Series.
The Yankees started strong, getting to 64-28 at the All-Star break, and then slumped for about six weeks before heating up down the stretch. They ended by going 20-9 as Judge hit 11 home runs in his final 30 games and also batted .380 (38-for-100).
Judge is entering his sixth postseason with the Yankees and final one before hitting free agency. So far, he is a .230 hitter (31-for-135) with 11 homers and 22 RBIs in 35 playoff games.
“Aaron and I have been together now for five years, and you know, every year we have had a realistic shot at this, and we feel that way now,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I mean, we are so focused on the here and the now and the present that that’s for another day.”
Cleveland advanced to its sixth postseason encounter with the Yankees after scoring its three runs via home runs in 24 innings in the wild-card round against Tampa Bay. Jose Ramirez hit a two-run homer in Game 1 on Friday, and Cleveland advanced on a homer by Oscar Gonzalez in a 1-0, 15-inning win on Saturday.
“It’s a hard way to win,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t, and we’re trying to prove that. We would gladly take three-run homers. It’s just kind of not really how we’re built right now.”
Overall, Cleveland is 26-6 in its past 32 games. The Guardians were four games over .500 through Sept 4. but pulled away and won the division by 11 games over the Chicago White Sox.
While Cleveland does not frequently homer, its 3.46 ERA was sixth in the majors. After getting strong starts from Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie against Tampa Bay, the Guardians are hoping to keep the trend going when Cal Quantrill makes his first postseason start.
Quantrill was 15-5 with a 3.38 ERA and ended the regular season by going 11-0 with a 2.95 ERA over his final 17 starts.
“He can shape the ball in many different fashions,” Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis said. “He sinks it, he cuts it and he uses his curveball. So he can be somewhat unpredictable at times, as opposed to maybe if you look back a couple years ago, it was more easy or easier just to prepare for a sinker. So I think he’s evolved into a much more well-rounded pitcher with his repertoire.”
Quantrill is 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in four career appearances against the Yankees. His lone start against them was April 23 in New York, when he allowed three runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Gerrit Cole is hoping for a better postseason than last year, when he allowed three runs on four hits in two-plus innings last year in the wild-card game at Boston. Because of the pandemic season, when he went 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in three postseason starts at neutral sites, Cole is making his first Yankees postseason start in New York.
Cole is facing Cleveland for the second time in the postseason. He faced them in Game 1 of the 2020 wild-card round, when he allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings of a 12-3 win.
Cole is 8-5 with a 2.93 ERA in 14 postseason starts and heads into this year’s postseason after going 13-8 with a 3.50 ERA during the regular season while leading the AL in both strikeouts (257) and home runs allowed (33).
“Obviously because it’s Gerrit Cole and because he came here and signed a huge contract, the long term, and the ace of this staff, the New York Yankees staff, nothing will ever be necessarily good enough,” Boone said. “But I think he’s had a very strong year.”
Cole went 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in two starts against Cleveland on April 24 and July 2.
–By Larry Fleisher, Field Level Media