CLEVELAND – No one knows.
Bottom line, nobody knows a thing when it comes to the 2020 MLB playoffs.
And the Yankees, among the streakiest teams of the season – both good and bad – fit into the unknown category perhaps more than any of the 16 clubs trying to win the World Series
So which Yankees team will show up at Progressive Field Tuesday night for Game 1 of the AL best-of-three, wild-card series against fourth-seeded Cleveland?
The team that looked like one of the best in the sport during a 16-6 sprint out of the gate or the team that right after that went into a 5-15 slide? The group that rebounded from that skid to win 10 straight? Or the unit that, after seeing that streak snapped, finished the year losing six of its last eight?
"A really talented one, and one that's excited to play for a championship," Aaron Boone said, when asked exactly that question Monday afternoon as his team went through what would be a rain-shortened workout at Progressive Field. "We're excited to be here. We're excited to be in the postseason. We know we're up against a great opponent, obviously, and another great starting pitcher. So we're excited to go out there and compete and play against the best. And, hopefully, we can get off to a good start."
The pitching matchup is as good as any in the first round of games – in either league. For the Yankees, it’s Gerrit Cole, signed by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner over the winter to a record nine-year, $324 million contract. Cole went 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA this season, including 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA in his last three starts, all with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate (that will be the battery in Game 1 and likely will be for every Cole postseason start). He’ll face Cleveland righthander Shane Bieber, the presumptive AL Cy Young Award winner after going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA.
"He's been locked in from the beginning. I think we all love good pitching matchups, so I'm excited," Cole said with smile. "Should be a good one."
As should the series overall. Yankees fans might think the kind of hot/cold streaks their team put together was unique to their team, but the reality of this 60-game year is plenty of clubs rode a similar roller coaster.
Cleveland, for example, got off to a ho-hum 10-9 start, went on a 16-6 tear from there to get to 26-15 before promptly losing eight straight, its playoff hopes at that point in peril. Cleveland went 9-2 down the stretch to finish 35-25.
"We’re in control of our destiny," Boone said. "Everyone starts even right now. We’ve been through a lot, everyone’s been through a lot to get to this point, and we have an amazing opportunity to go compete for a championship. Looking around the room, we have all the equipment necessary to go realize that goal if we play well. That’s an awesome opportunity that sits in front of us. I know our guys will relish that. We get to start with a great opponent."
As for the fairness of the best-of-three wild-card round – up from the one-and-done of past years – with every game away from home, Boone wasn’t going there.
"It's 2020," Boone shrugged. "We are grateful as athletes, as coaches, as employees to be working at this time of year, to be able to get through the season and to be in a postseason situation. There's a lot of people that we're grateful to: Major League Baseball, the people that have supported us along the way – the security guards, the bus drivers, the trainers that have been through so much. The fact that we're here getting ready to start postseason, yeah, it's a little unconventional, obviously, like nothing we've experienced before. [But] We're grateful for this opportunity."