With Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer at home, and Justin Verlander recovering from Tommy John surgery, the two best pitchers in this year's postseason are arguably Shane Bieber and Gerrit Cole.
On Tuesday, we'll get to see them both pitch -- against one another.
Bieber versus Cole is the headliner of a first day of 2020 postseason baseball that's chock-full of intriguing matchups. The game is also the last of the four, set for primetime as the sports world watches.
The meeting pits the $324-million man, Cole, against Bieber, the guy who completed the triple crown for the first time since Johan Santana in 2006 by going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 122/21 K/BB ratio over 77 1/3 innings. Cole was very good in his own right, posting a 7-3 record with a 2.84 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 94/17 K/BB ratio in 12 starts in his first year in the Bronx.
If we all agree the starting pitching will be stout, Game 1, then, will likely come down to which offense can find a way to score some runs against the other team's ace. Runs were hard to come by down the stretch for the Indians, but they scored eight runs in the season finale against the Pirates and still boast two of the game's best offensive players, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, along with solid complementary pieces like Franmil Reyes, Carlos Santana and Cesar Hernandez.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are healthy at the right time, but facing a pitcher like Bieber can expose a lot of rust. Will Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton be the difference-makers they have the ability to be? The way that lineup stretches with those two in there -- pushing Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, etc., (seriously, this lineup doesn't quit) further down in the order -- makes facing them a tall order for anyone this postseason.
This writer thinks the Yanks have the edge for that reason. But man, what a great game to cap off the first day of the playoff slate.
Best of the Rest
No slouches themselves, the starters for the other three games promise a buffet of tantalizing performances earlier Tuesday.
If one wanted to take issue with the assertion that Cole and Bieber are the two best starting pitchers in this year's postseason, you could take up the case for Lucas Giolito, who's set to start the game's second day when the White Sox face the A's. Opposing Giolito will be Jesus Luzardo, who pitched very well in a Wild Card loss to the Rays last October and is one of the game's brightest young stars.
Giolito, of course, threw the season's first no-hitter when he struck out 13 Pirates in a nine-inning, 101-pitch affair on August 25. After a rough season debut against the Twins, the 26-year-old allowed more than three earned runs in just one of his final 11 starts en route to a 3.48 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 97/28 K/BB ratio in 72 1/3 innings of work.
A sneaky pitchers' duel possibility opens the day when Zack Greinke and Kenta Maeda square off. A week before Giolito accomplished his feat, Maeda was three outs away from no-hitting the Brewers before a leadoff single in the ninth scuttled his bid. Maeda finished his first season with the Twins, abbreviated as it was, with a 2.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 80/10 K/BB ratio in 11 starts.
Greinke needs no introduction. Neither does his postseason experience, which spans 11 series across six different seasons, totaling 16 starts in all. This year he had a 4.03 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 12 starts, but the 36-year-old can't ever be counted out, even with the odds seemingly stacked against him and his Astros teammates this year.
Last and, well, yeah, kind of least is the Blue Jays at Rays matchup that has Matt Shoemaker taking on Blake Snell. Shoemaker is a surprise Game 1 starter after the Jays spent big money to bring on Hyun-Jin Ryu this past offseason, but clearly manager Charlie Montoyo sees something he likes in the matchup. Snell, meanwhile, is healthy and rounding into form after an injury-plagued 2019 season. He carried a 3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 63/18 K/BB ratio in 50 innings this year.
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Wednesday Smorgasbord on tap
Tuesday's menu is much more than an amuse-bouche, but it does serve as a precursor to a Wednesday dance card that will feature all 16 playoff teams in action.
Monday brought some interesting nuggets about those games, which will include the first game of all four of the National League series. Starting that game for the Cardinals against the Padres will be Kwang-Hyun Kim, who was tapped in liue of Jack Flaherty for the Game 1 honors. Kim earned the honors with a 1.62 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 39 innings of work in his first year in MLB. Flaherty, meanwhile, will be saved for a potentially deciding Game 3, with veteran Adam Wainwright going in Game 2.
Elsewhere, Sandy Alcantara, who drew the Opening Day start for the Marlins, will also be the team's starter for their first postseason game in 17 years. He'll be followed by Pablo Lopez and the dynamic Sixto Sanchez as the Fish try to repeat the magic of that 2003 club.
The best matchup of the day will probably happen between the Reds and Braves, when NL Cy Young hopeful Trevor Bauer takes on Braves de facto ace Max Fried. The series is a tale of two teams' rotations trending in opposite directions, with the Reds getting a healthy and effective Sonny Gray back just in time for October while the Braves will need young pitchers Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright to take on big roles if they're to advance.
Strap in for a full day of baseball on Wednesday.
National League Quick Hits: Marlins president Michael Hill said Monday that Starling Marte (ear) should be ready for the playoffs. Marte suffered a left ear contusion when he got in the batting helmet by a pitch in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Yankees, but he has cleared MLB's concussion protocol and is likely to be the Marlins' starting center fielder in Wednesday's Wild Card Series opener at Wrigley Field. The 31-year-old batted .281/.340/.430 with six home runs and 10 stolen bases in 61 games this summer between Arizona and Miami ... Reds manager David Bell confirmed Monday that Archie Bradley (back) is healthy leading into the postseason. Bradley didn't pitch over the final week of the regular season, partly due to lower back tightness, but he was apparently available on both Saturday and Sunday. “It was good knowing that he could have pitched, but he didn’t,” Bell said Monday. “It worked out even better just to give him those days. He’s going to be good to go." ... Brewers manager Craig Counsell said the team is still assessing Daniel Vogelbach's right leg injury. Vogelbach tweaked something while running out a grounder in the ninth inning of Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cardinals. The hope is that he will be able to DH in Wednesday night's Wild Card Series opener versus the Dodgers and right-hander Walker Buehler, but it's up in the air at the moment. The left-handed-hitting Vogelbach proved to be a tremendous early-September waiver claim for the Brewers, slashing .328/.418/.569 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 19 games down the stretch ... Brian Goodwin (groin) is expected to be ready for the Reds' Wild Card Series against the Braves. Goodwin sat out of Sunday's regular-season finale after making an early exit on Saturday due to right groin irritation, but it doesn't seem to be an overly serious issue. "Everything from the trainers say that he would be on track to be available to play on Wednesday," manager David Bell told reporters on Monday.
American League Quick Hits: Eloy Jimenez (foot) ran on the field Monday and later told reporters that he feels "much better." Jimenez acknowledged that he "couldn't even walk" after suffering a mid-foot sprain on Thursday, which led to him missing the final weekend of the regular season, but he seems like a possible DH option for the White Sox in Game 1 of their Wild Card Series matchup against the Athletics. There are some interesting decisions looming for manager Rick Renteria. Oakland is throwing left-hander Jesus Luzardo on Tuesday ... Josh Donaldson (calf) took batting practice at Target Field on Monday. Byron Buxton (head) also participated in some elements of Monday's team workout. Donaldson sat out the final two games of the regular season after experiencing cramping in his right calf on Friday, but it looks like he has a good shot to be in the Twins' starting lineup for their postseason opener Tuesday afternoon against the Astros. The veteran third baseman put up an .842 OPS with six home runs in 28 games this summer ... Leury Garcia (thumb) will hit in a simulated game Monday in Oakland. Garcia has been sidelined since August 10 because of a left thumb sprain that required surgery, but the White Sox are leaving open the possibility that he could be ready for their best-of-three Wild Card Series against the Athletics, which begins on Tuesday afternoon. White Sox manager Rick Renteria said he looks good physically ... Byron Buxton (concussion) participated in Monday's team workout at Target Field. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli declined to get into specifics about Buxton's status for Tuesday's postseason opener versus the Astros. "We just want to learn as much as we can before we move forward and put anything in stone," said Baldelli, "but it was a relatively good day." Buxton missed the final two games of the regular season after displaying mild concussion symptoms following a hit-by-pitch to the head on Friday ... Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo suggested Monday that Rowdy Tellez (knee) could be ready for the team's Wild Card Series matchup against the Rays. Tellez missed the Blue Jays' final 17 regular-season games because of a right knee strain, but he took full cuts in a live batting practice session on Sunday and could provide the club with a big boost at DH -- or even just as a bench bat -- if he is physically up for the task. There will be a decision coming Tuesday ... Josh James (undisclosed) will be available for the Astros' Wild Card Series matchup with the Twins, per manager Dusty Baker. James was placed on the injured list Friday for undisclosed reasons, but everything is apparently cleared up now and he should be in the Astros' bullpen for Game 1 on Tuesday afternoon in Minnesota despite all of his issues with command during the regular season. The talented 27-year-old right-hander finished with a rough 7.27 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, and 21/17 K/BB ratio in 17 1/3 innings ... Martin Maldonado (knee) said he's healthy leading into the Astros' best-of-three Wild Card Series against the Twins. Maldonado sat out the final two days of the regular season after feeling something in the back of his knee on Friday, but it's obviously not overly serious. The 34-year-old should be behind the plate for Houston on Tuesday, coming off maybe the strongest offensive regular season of his 10-year major league career ... Yankees manager Aaron Boone indicated that James Paxton (elbow) hasn't officially been ruled out from returning this season. Paxton played catch during the Yankees' workout on Monday in Cleveland as he works his way back from a Grade 1 flexor strain in his left arm. Still, Boone said they were looking more "towards the end of the postseason," so they surely aren't counting on him ... Shohei Ohtani still wants to be a two-way player moving forward. Ohtani made his return to the mound this year following Tommy John surgery, but he made it just two starts before being shut down with a forearm/elbow strain. He was limited to DH duties after that, but scuffled with a .190/.291/.366 batting line and seven home runs over 175 plate appearances. His playing time became more limited down the stretch, so he's going to enter 2021 as a real wild card. "I feel the exact same way about being a two-way player as I did in the past," said Ohtani. "I just need to get past me being able to throw without any worries or any setbacks, and once I get through that point, I think everything's going to fall in place." The Angels parted with Billy Eppler on Sunday, so the new general manager is going to have to make some important decisions from the jump.