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Masahiro Tanaka will be crucial for the Yankees down the stretch

Tanaka has been strong since his return from the DL, and the Yankees will need him at his best for the stretch run.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Masahiro Tanaka turned in another strong outing on Sunday night, allowing just one run through 4 23 innings against Boston’s potent offense. The result of the game (and the series) was hardly what Aaron Boone and the Yankees had hoped for, but Tanaka’s recent performance has to be an encouraging sight for a Yankees’ rotation that is searching for consistency.

Sunday’s start wasn’t exactly vintage Tanaka, as he allowed six hits and wiggled his way out of multiple jams to keep the Red Sox offense at bay, but sacrificed a lengthy outing in the process. What was a great sign for Tanaka was his ability to grind through such a start and continue to build momentum since his return from the DL. With Luis Severino trying to shake off his recent struggles and Sonny Gray’s demotion from the rotation, the Yankees will take any positive momentum they can get in terms of their starting staff. Tanaka has been providing that, and his performance could be huge for the Yankees as they look to solidify the first Wild Card spot, or perhaps lead a miracle comeback in the division race.

It’s easy to appreciate Tanaka’s recent success after a quick glance at the numbers. Since his return from the DL on July 10th, Tanaka holds an ERA of 1.78, and opposing hitters are batting just .216 against him in that span of 30.1 innings. His 36 strikeouts are also a huge positive, as Tanaka is clearly showing more command of his splitter down in the zone to induce swings and misses. Tanaka’s success in the second half so far is in line with his career, which would be huge for the Yankees if that continues to hold true the rest of the season. Tanaka’s numbers in the second half of the season are better across the board compared to the first half, including a 3.68 FIP as opposed to a 3.91 mark in the first half.

The Yankees will find themselves in some very important games as the playoffs approach, whether it’s to claw themselves back in the division or to create more breathing room in the Wild Card standings. Tanaka could be a key to winning those big games, as he has shown an ability to rise to the occasion throughout his career. His 1.44 ERA over 25 postseason innings, including just two earned runs in his last 20, shows that ability. Who knows, if Severino continues to struggle down the stretch, it could be Tanaka taking the hill for a potential Wild Card game.

Severino is still the unquestionable ace of this staff, despite his recent bump in the road. His return to form is absolutely vital for the Yankees. Still, Tanaka could be a major factor in how the Yankees fare over the next month and a half leading up to October, and if he sticks to his current form and regular career trend, the Yanks should be in good shape when he’s on the bump.