Luis Severino looks lost on the mound. After appearing to be the Cy Young favorite, the right-hander has had a nightmare six weeks, being smacked around by teams like the White Sox, Mets and Royals. There are lots of possible explanations for his struggle, but by all accounts there’s no structural damage to his arm or anything like that. That, to me, signals that in the long run, Sevy will probably be okay. The trouble is, what happens in the immediate future?
Severino’s struggles have thrown the Wild Card Game into disarray. The Yankees are not likely catching the Red Sox, but are almost certainly going to be in the postseason, experiencing the one-game playoff for the second straight year. With a normal Severino, there’d be no question as to who gets the ball for the winner-take-all game. If this fiasco of a second half continues, however, the plans need to change drastically.
Trade deadline acquisitions Lance Lynn and J.A. Happ have been stellar in their early turns with the Yankees. The two have combined for 35.2 innings of 1.26 ERA ball, more than what was expected when they were acquired. With CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka both having decent stretches of starts lately, the Yankees do have options to go in the one game playoff, but none inspire the confidence of May/June Severino.
Of course, the major temptation for the Yankees must be a bullpen game. After all, last year’s Wild Card Game was essentially just that, as Sevy managed a single out before yielding to Chad Green, David Robertson and company. It worked well, the bullpen only surrendered one run and the vaunted Yankees’ offense did the rest. With Brian Cashman staring at the Oakland As, Seattle Mariners or even Houston Astros, it must be a considering that the team could just throw the super-pen at them and hope for the best.
Although baseball likely is headed towards the semi-abolition of the starter, and it won’t be long before many teams decide to go with bullpen games all the time, it still takes a certain level of bravery to be the first to do so in such an important spot. The Yankees are among the most forward-thinking organizations in baseball, but they still prefer to alternate lefty-righty in the lineup and tend to stick to assigned roles in the bullpen, which may be a signal that they’re not ready to go full disruptor just yet.
The other caveat to all this is that the Wild Card Game isn’t for six weeks yet. Six weeks is an eternity in baseball; six weeks ago Severino had just stood on his head in a start against the Red Sox. It’s perfectly possible he figures out his issues between now and the postseason, but as the Yankees prepare for their second year of single-elimination, his struggles have to be throwing off their best idea.