Slugging Yankees meet red-hot Guardians in ALDS

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.