The New York Yankees remain a top team in MLB, despite their sub-.500 record in the second half, injuries, struggling stars, and a bit of a crisis in August. The team is starting to turn things around and had nailed down, before Friday’s game, four victories in a row.
Analysts, fans, and the team itself, however, have to be aware of how the team is currently constructed. The lineup might struggle to score runs on occasion, but remains a top unit overall when (mostly) everybody is healthy. The pitching staff, however, may not be the elite group it once was, or looked.
The Yankees, obviously, are not as good as their once 64-28 record indicates, but certainly not as bad as their 13-20 second half. Part of the reason behind the recent struggles (before the ongoing winning streak this week) can be explained by the team’s pitching issues,
In the second half, the Yankees rank 20th in ERA at 4.03. The Yanks also rank 20th in MLB in pitching fWAR after the break, with 2.7.
Again, the Yanks’ staff is obviously not bad. It’s a top-ten unit in baseball, evidenced by their full-season ranking in fWAR (sixth, with 15.2). But given the unit’s current construction, there has to be concern that it does not match up with other World Series contenders around the league, such as the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, the Atlanta Braves, and the New York Mets.
This is a bit worrisome, because pitching becomes increasingly important in the stretch run and the playoffs, and right now, the Yanks’ staff doesn’t inspire as much confidence as the other contenders.
There are reasons to be worried about the Yankees’ pitching at the moment, looking ahead to the playoffs. For starters, the staff loses a lot without Michael King’s versatility and dominance, and there is currently a lot of uncertainty surrounding Clay Holmes and his ability to bounce back. Having Clarke Schmidt or Domingo Germán starting games in October would obviously not be ideal, and preventing that may depend on the recovery of Nestor Cortes.
Gerrit Cole, the unquestioned ace, should be a safe number one option even if he isn’t having his sharpest season. But after him, there are question marks surrounding Frankie Montas (performance), Luis Severino and Cortes (injury). And while Jameson Taillon is a perfectly solid pitcher, almost every other top contender in baseball would have a stronger arm to throw out in a potential Game Three or Four of a playoff series.
Take the Los Angeles Dodgers: even without Clayton Kershaw for much of the year and Walker Buehler out until 2024, their pitching is looking as good as ever because they developed Tyler Anderson (2.73 ERA), Andrew Heaney (1.94 ERA) and Tony Gonsolin (2.10 ERA) into aces, and have Julio Urias and Dustin May, too. Oh, and their bullpen is also amazing, and it’s about to get back Blake Treinen, Victor Gonzalez, and Tommy Kahnle.
The Mets’ rotation is comically good, with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer leading the way, the excellent Chris Bassitt as a solid third option, and other good options such as Taijuan Walker and the injured Carlos Carrasco (set to return next week) and Tylor Megill.
The Astros have Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez in Cy Young form, and they actually have a surplus of starters now that Lance McCullers Jr. is back. They have to decide who to send to the bullpen between Luis García and Cristian Javier.
You can argue that the Braves have four aces in Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton; and the Phillies improved their bullpen with David Robertson and Corey Knebel and have a rock-solid one-two punch in the rotation with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.
It’s not that the Yankees pitching staff is bad, because that’s far from the truth. Even with the injury crisis, the unit has remained competent. But it’s fair to question if their pitching can measure up with other elite teams. The rotation spent the first half dicing up opposing lineups, yet doesn’t instill fear in many right now. There’s certainly a scenario when they end up in October feeling outgunned by their opponents front-end arms.