Injuries are a part of the season for each team in the big leagues, and although it will affect different clubs to different levels, it often boils down to how you respond to it. The Yankees have had what can probably be seen as well more than their fair share of injury woes.
However, one mustn’t look any further than this weekend’s opponent to understand that the injury problems facing the boys in pinstripes shouldn’t be reason enough to settle for a disappointing campaign, or significantly lowered expectations.
The Tampa Bay Rays have had the benefit of basically a fully healthy lineup for the first month of the season, so we won’t compare their hitting numbers with the Yankees. Nevertheless, if we turn our attention to these two pitching staffs, there is a lot to explore and reflect on.
As of the beginning of play on Friday, the Yankees’ starting rotation came in as the sixth-best in the American League, with a 4.07 ERA. You can exclusively thank Gerrit Cole for thoroughly carrying the unit on his back, as the right-hander has seven earned runs allowed in the same number of starts.
One could argue the best pitcher on the staff outside of Cole is Domingo Germán and his sub-1.00 WHIP, but even he is allowing more runs than that WHIP would suggest, with a 4.46 ERA. Nestor Cortes has been underwhelming with an ERA near five, and both Clarke Schmidt and Jhony Brito are struggling heavily.
For as good as Cole is, this rotation may be in a bit of trouble if Luis Severino can’t return soon, as Carlos Rodón looks quite a ways away from his Yankees debut.
It’d be easy to just chalk all this up to the misfortune of losing two ace-caliber pitches, in Rodón and Severino. But then you look at what the Tampa Bay Rays have done in 2023, and maybe the standard should be higher.
Tampa Bay entered Friday night with an ERA of 2.98 for their starting rotation, the best mark in the big leagues. All of that comes with what one could argue is just as much bad luck on the pitching injury front as the Yankees.
Breakout arm Jeffrey Springs was lost for the year, requiring Tommy John surgery after he looked poised for a career year, with one earned run in his three starts to begin 2023. Tyler Glasnow, arguably one of the better No. 2 starters in all of baseball, probably 1B to McClanahan’s 1A on a good day, has yet to pitch this season, after he suffered an oblique injury early in spring training.
Last but not least, Shane Baz, one of the more promising pitching prospects of the last handful of years, is also out for the year. He had Tommy John surgery at the end of last season and no one would be counting on him for meaningful innings in the near future.
Between the three of them, Glasnow, Springs, and Baz, one could easily build one of the finest rotations in the American League, and yet without the three, Tampa Bay has flourished, pitching its way into an ERA below 3.00.
All of that is thanks to the top efforts of Shane McClanahan, noted solid off-season pickup Zach Eflin, Drew Rasmussen, and another elite prospect making a smooth transition into the big leagues: Taj Bradley. The young right-hander is currently in the minors, but he should be back in the near future, after impressing with 23 strikeouts on 15.1 innings of work in the majors.
One could argue that it may be unfair to compare any team with the Rays, particularly on pitching prowess. However, fairness is out the window when you want to be the best and compete for World Series championships. Is it fair that the Yankees can spend this much more than the Rays? The other side could ask.
Ultimately, you simply cannot afford to fall back on the excuses of injuries, particularly when your competitors are finding ways to overcome the same issues.
Jhony Brito and Clarke Schmidt are talented pitchers. It is up to the organization to put them in the best position to succeed and accomplish better numbers than they have, so far.