Here we are, through week 7 and the Yankees hold the second best record in baseball at 24-14 (.632 — a 102-win pace). The only team that has been more impressive this season is the Houston Astros, who just left the Bronx after kicking the Yankees’ ass.
The weekend vs Houston was a chance for the Yankees to benchmark themselves, but with the double header and Jeter ceremony on Sunday, people seemed to forget that. Regardless, as we’ve seen time and time again so far, the Yankees bounced back in their next series.
Starting to be a problem
There was a brief two week period where all the Yankees starters were dealing. Despite the fact the Yankees hold the second best record in baseball, their rotation is still their achilles heel. As a staff they rank 19th in baseball with a 4.45 ERA and 13th in OPS-against with a .740 allowed. This puts them in the same category as teams like the Blue Jays, Giants, and Padres, three teams with losing records.
The stat most alarming to me is innings pitched. Combined, the Yankees starters have tossed 219.1 innings, good for 22nd in baseball. I understand they’ve played fewer games than a lot of teams, but their average starter goes 5.2 innings. It’s simply not sustainable, especially with the bullpen missing an important cog in Aroldis Chapman for at least a month.
The starting staff’s issues seemed to bubble on Sunday in the Bronx. Playing a double header with their two “best” pitchers on the mound, the Yankees were prime to sweep the two games and split the 4-game set with Houston. But Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka combined to last only 4 innings while surrendering 11 earned runs.
It was clear from the jump that Severino didn’t have it. He labored through the first two innings and then departed with the bases loaded in the third. His line, which only showed 3 earned runs, could have been far worse if not for Chad Green inducing an inning-ending double play. Green then tossed another 3 scoreless innings, allowing the Yankees to come back and win the game 11-6.
After the Derek Jeter celebration, and with 50,000 emotional fans cheering on Sunday night, Tanaka turned in the worst start of his Major League career. Before the bleacher creatures were done with roll call, the Astros had a 6 run lead thanks to 3 home runs, including a grand slam by Alex Bregman, who wears number 2 in honor of Jeter. By the time Tanaka was done his ERA ballooned to 5.80, the highest among Yankee starters.
The Yankees believe the answer to Tanaka’s struggles lie in a mechanical flaw, which is correctable. This week on The Bronx Pinstripes Show (@YankeesPodcast) we talked to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, who reiterated that the team feels Tanaka’s struggles are mechanical. He also said that Tanaka expressed mechanical concerns in spring training, when he was dominant every time out. You can listen to the full interview below, starting at the 30:45 mark.
I promise not to bring up the “is Tanaka an ace” debate again, but he needs to start resembling the 2016 Tanaka if the Yankees are serious about competing. There are too many question marks in the rotation past Tanaka. He was supposed to be their sure thing, and he’s been anything but.
Ironically, through all of this, Michael Pineda has been the most consistent starter for the Yankees. Since Opening Day at Yankee Stadium when Pineda flirted with perfection, he has a 2.89 ERA and allowed a slash line to opposing batters of .204/.249/.407. His strike outs and walks per 9 continue to be near the top in baseball, and now his results are following suit.
Pineda’s consistency is a surprise because the last two seasons the thing that has defined Big Mike is inconsistency. Has Pineda figured it out? Are we seeing a player motivated by a contract year? I guess we’ll see, which is another way of saying don’t count on Pineda being the sure thing that Tanaka has not been.
Betances’ time to shine
When Aroldis Chapman was placed on the disabled list on Sunday with rotator cuff inflammation, a sizable amount of Yankees fans immediately became concerned that Dellin Betances would be assuming the closer role.
Fans have PTSD from Betances’ failures as a closer last season. No game stands out more than his September 15 meltdown at Fenway Park in which Hanley Ramirez walked-off on the Yankees, effectively ending their hunt for October. Betances’ struggles in September — whether you believe they were due to fatigue, overuse, or a mental inability to pitch the 9th inning — probably played a factor in Brian Cashman’s decision to bring back Chapman. They were also the main reason Randy Levine globe-trotted all over Betances after the Yankees won their arbitration case against him in February.
It is not a question of talent for Dellin. For 3+ seasons he’s been one of the best relievers in baseball by any measure you want to look at — ERA, WHIP, rVORP, K/9, ZUNIT, QWERTY, K/BB (I may have made a couple of those up). Now, with Chapman on the shelf for at least a month, Betances can prove he is closer-worthy. Not just because it benefits the Yankees, but I think he’d also like to stick it to Levine for these comments.
ARod: The gift that keeps on giving
Alex Rodriguez made his booth debut on Thursday night calling the Yankees vs. Royals game. There is absolutely no way you didn’t already know that because ARod is everywhere. Instagram and Twitter are popping with pictures of him and some girl he’s dating named “J-Lo,” Alex is a full time in-studio analyst at FOX Sports, appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box earlier this week, and announced he will be a guest Shark on Shark Tank later this summer. And when are we getting that reality TV show he’s hosting?
On Thursday, though, he truly outdid himself.
Inside the beautiful mind of ARod. ? pic.twitter.com/hLHQ2jqkoO
What’s that? “Birth control” and “Pull out stuff”? I don’t know if ARod is next-level trolling the public, if he’s just a teenager trapped in a 40-year old worth half-a-billion dollars, or if he’s genuinely a psychopath.
It seems like ARod’s night was a success, however. We learned that Aaron Judge lives in a hotel in Times Square (can the Yankees upgrade him, please?), that Didi Gregorius is the “Bill Gates of shortstops” (ooook), ARod still considers himself a part of the team, saying “we” (fair, he is still on the payroll for $21 mil), and that he gets people talking, for better or for worse. But what is the meaning of “Birth control”? I must know.