Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In a few weeks, we’ll probably take a long look at the Yankees’ disappointing 2023 season with one key takeaway: Gerrit Cole performed exactly as expected.

A few weeks later, Cole may finally take home his first Cy Young Award. And rightfully so. The Yankees ace has indeed been the team’s one consistently positive constant from Opening Day up until now. Even with a bad start here and there, he hasn’t had an extended stretch where none of his pitches are working.

The big righty was spot on yet again on Thursday night. He pitched eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball with nine strikeouts. Cole was also perfect through his first five innings, and the Yankees avoided a sweep with a 5-3 win.

Just the latest example of Gerrit Cole coming to the Yankees four years ago and being a bona fide ace since. He’s just missing an otherwise meaningless piece of hardware that says he was one of baseball’s two best pitchers in a given year. Except this year, Cole’s numbers scream AL Cy Young.

He and San Francisco’s Logan Webb lead MLB with 23 quality starts each. His 2.75 ERA leads the AL as do his clean 200 innings. He’s working sustainably with a 3.22 FIP and recently posted his fifth 200-strikeout season in six years. His 4.8 fWAR trails only Minnesota’s Sonny Gray.

Speaking of the former Yankee Gray, let’s talk about his season. He has a clean 5.0 fWAR and is nipping at Cole’s heels with a 2.84 ERA. Gray is also a vastly different pitcher than Cole, relying more on control and inducing groundballs instead of overpowering them with velocity. Gray’s FIP is also at 2.85.

The sabermetrics nerds will point to Gray having the higher WAR. Duh, of course. His Twins lead the AL Central, baseball’s absolute worst division. WAR’s one flaw is not measuring the game’s human element, so we have to assume Gray’s been a bit more relaxed on the mound without the pressure of a division race. That’s just human nature.

Cole, on the other hand, has had one job all season: Stop the Yankees’ bleeding. The 2023 campaign quickly didn’t go as planned. The team now looks completely different compared to Opening Day.

Except for Cole. He tossed six shutout innings on Opening Day and has been in ace mode ever since. He’s arguably carried the Yankees on his back and kept them afloat. Not that wins matter, but he’s 14-4 compared to Gray being a modest 8-7. Even the writers who stan the analytics have to see that’s a wee bit ridiculous.

Other than that, the only real competition is any one of Seattle’s Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, or George Kirby. The American League Cy Young Award race truly is Cole’s to lose, and the oddsmakers agree.

Sonny Gray isn’t it and neither are any of the Seattle Trio. None of them have outworked Gerrit Cole so much to where they should be considered favorites over him.

No matter how you spin it, everyone sees it. This year’s AL Cy Young should belong to no one but Cole.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.