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The fate of the Yankees season rests with the pitching staff

The Yankees are still sitting at .500 two months into the season. If they are to seriously contend, it must be the pitching staff that carries them.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

On May 3rd, the Yankees bottomed out. They had lost 4-1 to the Baltimore Orioles, their sixth straight defeat, dropping their record to 8-16. They were outscored by 34 runs over the course of those first 24 games, and they allowed the third most runs in the American League, while scoring the fewest. Dark times, indeed.

Since that nadir, the Yankees have turned things around. They are 21-14 since their seasonal low point, because they have allowed the lowest runs in the American League over that span. During this solid run, the offense has continued to disappoint. Despite playing in more games than any other AL team, the Yankees have still only scored the tenth most runs.

The Yankees' offensive struggles have been no secret. Even after the Chris Parmelee-led outburst against the Angels on Wednesday night, the team's overall slash line sits at a paltry .243/.304/.392, and their 88 wRC+ ranks 24th in all of baseball. This, just one year after the Bombers managed to rank 6th in MLB in league and park adjusted offense.

With two months of the season in the books, one thing has become evident: the Yankees' pitching must be what carries them to victory. The past month has seen the Yankees claw their way back onto the periphery of contention, and it has been in spite, not because, of the offense. If New York is to have hope of making the playoffs in consecutive years, the pitching staff has to continue to prop up a flailing lineup.

There is no one person or entity to blame when it comes to the offense's troubles. Rather, a collective malaise of injury and age has struck, and it looks unlikely to leave any time soon. Mark Teixeira is down with an injury, and Greg Bird will be out all year. Alex Rodriguez has dealt with injuries and slumps all season. Hot starts from Brian McCann, Starlin Castro, and Brett Gardner have cooled off.

Still, even if the offense has been awful thus far, what is most important is how they play going forward. While there's no definitive way to find out how the offense will do, projections can provide a helpful baseline. From FanGraphs' depth charts, here is the offense the Yankees are projected to receive from each position:

C .240 .310 .422 .317
1B .250 .317 .409 .316
2B .266 .308 .398 .305
3B .254 .325 .383 .312
SS .260 .311 .377 .301
LF .251 .332 .392 .319
CF .263 .326 .396 .315
RF .255 .314 .430 .321
DH .241 .318 .434 .326

The prognosis looks fairly grim. The team is projected for a rest-of-season slash line .254/.318/.404, and a wOBA of just .315. That would be an upgrade over the team's current .303 figure, but is below-average nonetheless. In fact, looking at each position, only right field and DH are projected to produce wOBA marks above the league average of .320. If A-Rod and the timeless Carlos Beltran can't produce, the offense could be in even more dire straits than previously thought.

In the offense's stead, the pitching staff must respond. So far, it has. Even after a tough April which saw the team produce a 4.67 ERA, the pitching staff ranks 5th in baseball in fWAR, and 8th in MLB in DRA. Interestingly, the only teams that rank ahead of New York by fWAR are all National League powerhouses. An argument can be made that Yankees' staff has been the AL's finest thus far.

The bullpen trio has been dynamite. Masahiro Tanaka has looked like an ace, and CC Sabathia has at least resembled the ace that he once was. Even Michael Pineda has shown signs of life. And, looking towards the rest of the season, the projections are far more rosy for the staff than for the lineup.

From FanGraphs, the Yankees' staff projects for 13.4 WAR for the rest of the year, 5th highest in MLB, and the highest in the AL. Turning to Baseball Prospectus, PECOTA agrees. The pitching staff's projected 9.6 WARP for the remainder of the year is, again, tops in the AL, narrowly edging Cleveland's 9.5 WARP projection. Ever since the Yankees hit rock bottom, the pitching staff has propped them up. At least according to the projections, there is hope they can continue to do so.

They must continue to do so, if New York plans to stay in playoff contention. So far, this 2016 team is a solid parallel for the 2013 and 2014 iterations of the Yankees. Across 2013 and 2014, the Yankees were similarly pitiful at the plate, hitting .244/.307/.378, good for a 90 wRC+. The pitching staff ranked 4th in MLB during that span with 37.3 fWAR. Those teams stayed in contention to the final days of the season on the strength of excellent pitching. This Yankees squad could do the same, or, hopefully, even more. The onus will fall squarely on the collective shoulders of the pitching staff.