The Yankees may be off today, but they have an ace on the mound nonetheless. Masahiro Tanaka started his first rehab appearance with Triple-A Scranton today at 6:35 ET. The plan was to have him pitch three innings or 45 pitches. If his rehab appearance is over by the time you read this, hopefully it went without incident, as certainly the Yankees could use Tanaka back in the rotation. If he is to throw 45 pitches today, he'll need at least one more tune-up start before returning to the major league team, and quite likely more than one more. An early June timeline seems a reasonable target for a return to the rotation for Tanaka.
Hopefully an early June return for Jacoby Ellsbury as well. The Yankees should know more tomorrow, as Ellsbury will be examined by Yankee physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad on Friday. Ellsbury has already had an MRI on Tuesday, and Joe Girardi seems optimistic that he might not face too long a spell on the sidelines as this knee injury isn't one that is expected to require surgery.
For New York to continue their promising start to the 2015 season, they will need both Ellsbury and Tanaka healthy and performing well atop the hitting and pitching staffs respectively. No team is likely to be able to contend for an extended spell of time if they are missing both their best position player and pitcher, but certainly the Yankees don't profile to have the depth to sustain a charge without these two stars.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees are a middle-of-the-road team that is currently 16th in the league in team fWAR with 4.0. Their almost perfectly average 99 team wRC+ is 13th in the league. The Bombers have a 0.317 wOBA which is about where an average major leaguer would be as well. Being so distinctly average isn't a great spot for an American League team with a DH but clearly good enough with which to win games. It isn't a deep offense though, only five hitters currently have above average wRC+ and wOBA figures, and losing Ellsbury lengthens the long tail of the lineup. Consider his baserunning and defensive contributions and Ellsbury leads the team in fWAR, with 1.3, a third of the team total. This is a very different team without Ellsbury atop the order and patrolling center field.
While the offense is doing enough to not lose games, the pitching has been carrying the team to wins. Leading the league in fWAR with 6.4 and with an American League best 3.53 FIP, the men on the mound have been dominant this season. Well, some of the men. Half the team WAR comes from Michael Pineda and Dellin Betances. Pineda is currently third among all pitchers with 2.0 fWAR, Betances is in the top 20 and easily leads all relievers with 1.2 fWAR. Both have been exceptional, extraordinary, but if either falls off even a little the team may start to struggle in maintaining the their lofty pitching numbers. This is where a healthy Tanaka would be so valuable. Any drop-off from Pineda, Betances or Andrew Miller could be more than made up by slotting Tanaka back into the rotation, taking innings from either Adam Warren or Chris Capuano. Move Waren or Capuano into the bullpen, where a further gain may come from at least temporarily reducing the workloads of currently below replacement pitchers Esmil Rogers and David Carpenter. The knock-on effects of sliding their ace back into the rotation will be felt all the way through the pitching staff and may well help the Yankees continue to win games on the strength of their run prevention.
Get well soon, Masahiro and Jacoby. Get well and carry the Yankees back into the postseason.