What Is Wrong with Gerrit Cole?

The Yankees' ace has rarely pitched like one this season

Gerrit Cole wasn’t good again on Monday night against the Rays. Actually, he flat-out sucked. He might not have sucked the way someone like James Paxton is capable of sucking, but for who he is and what he is supposed to be, he sucked.

I didn’t think I would ever have to give Cole the “Ladies and gentlemen” treatment on Twitter, but in the first inning of his eighth game as a Yankee, I had to. Cole began the game with two quick outs, and then unraveled, allowing a line-drive single and a home run to former Yankee Ji-Man Choi, who hits against Cole and the Yankees as if he’s David Ortiz, and who Cole said about following the game, “I don’t really have an answer on him at this point.” In the first game of a three-game series against the Rays, representing the Yankees’ last chance to get back in the division race, and with Tyler Glasnow going for the Rays, Cole lost the game in the first inning. It was his worst start of the season and it came when the Yankees needed him most.

The next inning, Cole let the light-hitting (and I mean light-hitting) Kevin Kiermaier take him into the second deck in right field, and he would give up a fourth run in the fifth. While Tyler Glasnow was busy no-hitting the Yankees into the sixth inning, Cole had already been done for the night for more than an inning after putting 12 runners on base in five. His final line: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 2 HR. That’s a line I didn’t think I would see from Cole as a Yankee. At least not until the final couple of years of his contract.

Cole walked four batters for the first time since Sept. 12, 2018, and nearly all contact the Rays made was barreled, as 10 of the 15 balls they put in play had exit velocities of at least 95 mph. After getting lit up in Atlanta last week for five earned runs and three home runs, Monday’s start against the Rays was the second straight start in which Cole only lasted five innings. It was the third time in as many starts that he has failed to record more than 15 outs against the Rays (in 2019, he only failed to record more than 15 outs in four of his 33 starts), the toughest opponent the Yankees will see in the regular season and their only competition for the division.

Cole’s ERA (3.91) is now just slightly better than J.A. Happ’s (4.05) and hitters have a much better average against him (.224) than Happ (.188). His ERA isn’t a product of bad luck or unfortunate circumstances as his 4.83 FIP suggests his ERA should be even worse than it is. He leads the league in home runs allowed (12) and has allowed more than Happ (4), Masahiro Tanaka (3) and Jordan Montgomery (3) combined in 19 less innings. Worst of all, he has yet to win a game against the Rays this season, pitching to this line: 16.1 IP, 20 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 6 BB, 27 K, 5 HR, 4.97 ERA, 1.595 WHIP. A win every fifth day was supposed to be a given and as close to a guarantee as there is in the league with Cole, now even a “quality” start isn’t a given with him, as he has produced only four in seven starts with his other start on Opening Night being cut short due to rain.

Am I worried about Cole? Not really. The problem is the answer to that question should never be anything other than “No.” In fact, that question should never have to be asked. If anything, I’m worried he’s not healthy by the way he has pitched. In eight starts, Cole has gone from challenging Jacob deGrom as the best pitcher on the planet to a five-inning, 100-pitch pitcher who allows a home run every 3.8 innings. Sure, he’s been good, but he hasn’t been the Houston version of himself, and being good isn’t enough. He needs to be great. He needs to not extend losing streaks like he did against the Braves or destroy winning streaks like he did against the Rays.

The only positive is that Cole understands the magnitude of the game he lost on Monday night. He didn’t talk about how he had “great stuff” or make excuses for why he can’t beat the Rays or keep the ball in the ballpark.

“I’m pretty hard on myself as it is,” Cole said. “I definitely know how important the game was, so I’m wearing it.”

Ultimately, Cole will be judged on what happens in the postseason, like every Yankee is. No one will care if he can’t pitch a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays in August (which he couldn’t) as long as he dominates them or whichever other team he faces in October. He has less than a month to figure it out.


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