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Looking back at the Yankees’ best starts in 2016

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The Yankees’ rotation may have been shaky in 2016, but the staff put together a few gems.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 Yankees will be remembered for many things. The team sold at the trade deadline and wound up in a pennant race, after all. The starting pitching staff, however, will not be one of them. In fact, only two of the team’s starters finished the season with a sub-4.00 ERA. One could argue that starting pitching was one of the club’s biggest weaknesses in 2016.

That said, the staff managed to produce a handful of gems across the season. Some of them were expected, others were pretty surprising. I’ve decided to rank the top five 2016 starts according to game score. Here’s a primer on how game score is calculated. It’s a simple enough measurement that gives us an interesting list of Yankees starts this season.

5. Masahiro Tanaka, September 10th versus Tampa Bay Rays (Box Score) (PSA Recap)
Pitching Line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, 102 pitches Game Score: 74

It’s worth mentioning up front that Masahiro Tanaka is going to make this list several times. He wasn’t just the team’s ace, but also one of the best pitchers in the American League. It’s unlikely that the Yankees would have played meaningful baseball in September without Tanaka. In fact, this start comes at the tail end of a seven-game winning streak that propelled the Yankee to within three games on the division.

Tanaka struck out 10 batters on the afternoon. That ended up being his season high. He also allowed just five hits. The lone Rays run came in the form of a Bobby Wilson home run in the sixth inning. Baseball is strange sometimes, isn’t it?

4. CC Sabathia, May 26th versus Toronto Blue Jays (Box Score) (PSA Recap)
Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 83 pitches Game Score: 75

The renaissance of CC Sabathia has to be of the best storylines of 2016 season. He’s a legitimate Comeback Player of the Year candidate. He pitched to a 3.91 ERA (4.28 FIP), the best since 2012. His first-half, in particular, was spectacular. Sabathia’s finest start of the year came against the Blue Jays on May 26th.

Sabathia held the high-powered Toronto offense to just two unearned runs. A Didi Gregorius error set up the third inning rally. Outside of that, Sabathia was brilliant. He worked his cutter up to 93 mph, striking out seven Blue Jays. It’s too bad the Yankees dropped this game 3 - 1. The big guy deserved better. Nevertheless, Sabathia finding himself on this list is a testament to his successful season.

3A. Masahiro Tanaka, May 27th at Tampa Bay Rays (Box Score) (PSA Recap)
Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 82 pitches Game Score: 77

Tanaka makes another appearance on the list, this time with his late May outing against the Rays. He seems to always have their number. That was especially the case in 2016. Tanaka held Rays batters to a weak .189/.213/.421 line on the season.

At no point during this game did Tanaka seem like he was in danger. In fact, he retired the first 12 batters he faced. While there was no perfect game, he did manage to shut down their line up, limiting the Rays to just two hits. He also struck out four and didn’t allow a walk. It was another excellent start in a season full of them for Tanaka. Also, this won’t be the last time that he cracks the list. Stay tuned.

3B. Nathan Eovaldi, April 25th, 2016 at Texas (Box Score) (PSA Recap)
Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 98 pitches Game Score: 77

Nathan Eovaldi’s 2016 will likely be remembered for the season-ending elbow injury. He also struggled for most of the year, posting a 4.76 ERA (4.98 FIP). While that likely spells the end of his stint in pinstripes, Eovaldi managed to string together a run of impressive starts early in the season. The most noteworthy is his April 25th gem in Arlington.

Eovaldi legitimately flirted with a no-hitter. He held the Ranges’ offense hitless through the first six innings. Nomar Mazara unfortunately broke up the no-no in the seventh. Eovaldi really did have no-hit stuff. His high-octane fastball overpowered batters while his splitter dropped off of the face of the Earth. He racked up 10 swings-and-misses on the night, too. This was Eovaldi at his best. Get well soon, Nasty Nate.

2A. Masahiro Tanaka, May 5th at Baltimore Orioles (Box Score) (PSA Recap)
Pitching Line: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 102 pitches Game Score: 78

Believe it or not, the Yankees actually did a pretty solid job of scoring when their ace was on the mound. Tanaka ranked 19th out of 74 qualified starting pitchers in run support. The offense averaged 4.87 runs per start for him. That doesn’t feel like the case, does it? Not in this game, at least, as the Yankees were shut out by the Orioles.

This loss is by no means Tanaka’s fault. He held the O’s to just five hits over eight innings. He also struck out seven while allowing one run. He pitched shut out ball, and it’s tough to ask for more than that. This was a dominant outing by Tanaka. He’s the ace we need, not the one we deserve.

2B. Masahiro Tanaka, August 19th at Los Angeles Angels (Box Score) (PSA Recap)
Pitching Line: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 100 pitches Game Score: 78

I wasn’t joking when I said that Tanaka would reappear in this list. It’s fitting that the Yankees’ ace would throw most of the team’s gems. One of his best pitching performances actually came during a West Coast trip. He shut out the Angels over eight innings.

The Angels’ lineup isn’t as formidable as it once was. Nonetheless, Tanaka made pitching look easy. The batters had no clue what to do at the plate. Tanaka is a bonafide six-pitch pitcher and he can throw all for strikes. He did that in LA, as he recorded a then season-high nine strikeouts. It’s been a pleasure watching Tanaka pitch this year, but he just missed out on the top spot, which belongs to...

1. Chad Green, August 15th versus Toronto Blue Jays (Box Score) (PSA Recap)
Pitching Line: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K, 104 pitches Game Score: 79

You don’t say, Chad Green? I was pretty surprised when I saw this, but then I remembered what a great game he pitched. The Yankees were just starting to heat up behind the Baby Bomber reinforcements. To get back into the race, they needed to beat the Blue Jays, and Green did his part. He stifled their explosive offense while pitching the game of his life.

Green pitched a very aggressive game. He didn’t shy away from the plate, which would be natural considering the big bats in the Blue Jays’ lineup. He didn’t allow a walk, demonstrating his command of the strike zone. His 11 strikeouts was tied for second with Michael Pineda for the most by a Yankees starter in a single game. Green came over in a minor trade over the winter, and I don’t think anybody expected him to pitch this well. He ended the season on the disabled list, but is expected to be ready for spring training. He’ll get a nice long look after this outing.

Starting pitching wasn’t a bright spot for the 2016 Yankees. In fact, moving forward, the team will look to upgrade its rotation. That said, the staff still put together a series of gems. Some were expected, some weren’t. That’s the fun part. Sometimes Chad Green pitches the best start of the year. Isn’t baseball the best?