Yankees Playoff Preference: Cleveland Guardians or Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS?

Alexander Wilson
gerrit cole, yankees
Aug 26, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) walks to the dugout after the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are just a few days away from facing off against either the Cleveland Guardians or Tampa Bay Rays next Tuesday in the first game of the ALDS.

Cleveland defeated Tampa Bay on Friday afternoon 2–1, enjoying a fantastic performance from starting pitcher Shane Bieber. Bieber lasted 7.2 innings, allowing three hits and just one earned run, striking out eight batters. Luckily for the Bombers, he likely won’t be available on Tuesday if Cleveland pushes past the Wild Card round.

Either way, the Bombers will have an advantageous Game 1 at Yankee Stadium to start the ALDS, a game they must win to set the tone and further their leverage. However, let’s discuss whether the Rays or Guardians are the preferable matchup against the Yankees — looking into individual player performances against both teams.

The Yankees would prefer to get the most out of Aaron Judge:

If we are going to take a look at player statistics against both teams, let’s start with superstar slugger Aaron Judge. This season against the Rays, Judge is hitting .299 with 20 hits, six homers, 12 RBIs, and 12 runs scored in 19 games.

In other words, he’s been absolutely fantastic against Tampa Bay, dominating them on all fronts. Across 19 games, he only went seven without recording a hit, but still managed to get on base in four of those contests.

Over a smaller sample size against Cleveland, Judge hit .235 with four hits, two homers, three RBIs, and five runs scored over six games.

As for the team’s top pitchers, let’s start with Gerrit Cole.

Against the Rays this season, Coles hosts a 1.07 ERA with 35 strikeouts in four appearances. He’s been absolutely electric against Tampa, meaning they could be the preferable matchup. Over two starts against Cleveland this season, he also features a 1.42 ERA with 15 strikeouts. Against either team, Cole has a good chance of performing well based on his numbers, so that should suggest he might get the start in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Taking a look at Nestor Cortés’s numbers, he features a 3.28 with 15 strikeouts over four appearances against Tampa Bay this year. He did make two appearances against Cleveland as well, hosting a 2.19 ERA and 14 strikeouts over two appearances.

Overall, it seems as if Tampa Bay may be the more preferable matchup for the Yankees, especially since Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow will be unable to pitch the first two games of the series. They will likely have to wait until Game 3 to restart the rotation, so the Yankees will have a sizable advantage in the back end of the Rays’ rotation and bullpen.

Looking at their team stats, the Guardians ranked 7th in batting average at .245, and Tampa ranked 17th at .239. Regarding home runs, both teams are below average, with the Guardians ranking 29th and Tampa Bay 25th. As for their collective ERA, Cleveland ranked 6th in the league and Tampa is 4th, suggesting they have been a bit more consistent in that area.

By the looks of it, the Rays are much more favorable opponents, simply because they have plenty of information and experience playing against them. Cleveland is a young team that has just entered center stage, so the Bombers may have a bit more trouble stifling them.