During the team's 2009 World Series championship run, concerns about the quality of starting pitching depth caused manager Joe Girardi to utilize a three-man rotation for the duration of the playoffs. It worked; but he won't have to attempt a repeat of that feat this time around. Thanks to the emergence of newly minted ace Luis Severino, the acquisition of Sonny Gray, the durability of veteran CC Sabathia, and the second-half resurgence of Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees will head into the postseason with a quartet of starting pitchers that can match up man-for-man with any rotation in the league.
The Yankees' four-man playoff rotation has a combined slash line against of .235/.294/.397, which is second among AL pennant hopefuls behind Houston (.219/.295/.354). New York's .690 OPS against outranks Cleveland (.701), Boston (.715), and Minnesota (.743).
2017 AL Postseason Rotations
Boston's Chris Sale (2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, .603 OPS) appeared to be the AL Cy Young Award front-runner for much of the season, before recently being overtaken by Cleveland's Corey Kluber (2.27 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .554 OPS). Luis Severino is not far behind, ranking third in the league in every major pitching rate stat. Sevy's 2.98 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and .603 OPS against are better than Ervin Santana of the Twins (3.36 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .682 OPS) and comparable to non-qualifier Dallas Keuchel of Houston (2.90 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .619 OPS).
The trade deadline deal that brought Oakland ace Sonny Gray to the Bronx was not meant to merely help the Yankees reach the playoffs, but to help them advance once they got there. Gray currently ranks fifth in the league in both ERA (3.31) and OPS against (.654). He matches up nicely with fellow number two starters Carlos Carrasco (.343 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .684 OPS for Cleveland) and Houston's August 31st arrival Justin Verlander (3.36 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .660 OPS). Gray has pitched to a 3.12 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 60-plus innings since joining the Yankees.
CC Sabathia's numbers (3.84 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .723 OPS) are far better than what you'd expect from a bottom-of-the-rotation starter; his ERA is 12th best in the league. But the stats don't begin to tell the story of what CC means to this ball club. Sabathia has earned the title of stopper, with nine of his 13 victories this season following a Yankees' defeat. He is also the sole remaining starting pitcher from New York's last championship team. Sabathia's leadership on and off the field means more to the club than what shows up in the box score. Still, when there is a big game to be pitched, CC is the guy you want on the mound.
The 3.77 ERA belonging to the Yankees' quartet of playoff starters ranks fourth behind Houston (3.24), Cleveland (3.63), and Boston (3.66). But that number is weighted down by some pretty horrendous first-half starts by Masahiro Tanaka, who at one point had the worst ERA in the league. He has rebounded nicely though, posting a respectable 4.15 ERA and stellar 1.13 WHIP after the All-Star break. Curiously, a pair of his best career starts occurred before the break, including an early-April complete game shutout at Fenway Park and a game against Oakland in late-May where he achieved a personal high for strikeouts. He topped that mark in July, and also became the only pitcher in MLB this season to pitch two games while recording 27 swing-and-miss strikes. These performances simply underscore this point: When Tanaka is at his best, there is no one better.
If the Yankees fail to overtake the Red Sox in the AL East, then Severino will face Santana in the Wild Card Game. If the Bombers win, then Gray will face Kluber or Keuchel in Game One of the ALDS, while Sabathia or Tanaka will face the likes of Verlander and Carrasco in Game Two. It won't matter; these aren’t mismatches. The Yankees' top four starters have proven that they can face off against anyone in the league and give the team more than a chance to win. That's as good as it gets for a playoff rotation.