J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn were supposed to supplement a Yankees’ starting rotation that had been hampered by prolonged stretches of instability. On the surface — and on the market — the tandem of veteran arms were viewed primarily as complementary pieces, depth that nearly every playoff contender covets once the July 31st trade deadline approaches.
But Happ and Lynn haven’t lived up to their billing since arriving in New York nearly three weeks ago. Instead of keeping the status quo, they’ve bet on themselves to be a cut above expectations. They’ve reaffirmed the belief that the fluctuating price of a two-month rental is purely relative in the eyes of the beholder.
And right now, the Yankees must be wondering just how high the water could’ve risen if those midsummer deals weren’t finalized last month.
In the midst of Luis Severino’s malaise, Sonny Gray’s demotion to the bullpen, and C.C. Sabathia’s fresh-new stint on the disabled list, Happ and Lynn have become the much-needed pillars of the pitching staff. Emphasis on the “much-needed” part, since the Yankees’ recent nightmare at Fenway Park was undoubtedly an omen of some sort.
On Tuesday night in the Bronx, Happ threw seven shutout innings in which he allowed only one hit against the Tampa Bay Rays, and his impactful performance led New York to a 4-1 win. It was the Yankees’ (75-44) seventh win in nine games — a drastic turnaround for a team that’s two weeks removed from four consecutive losses against the Red Sox in Boston.
In three starts (19 innings) since coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays in late July, the 35-year-old Happ is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA and .131 batting average-against. And in each of those outings, he’s completed at least six innings.
“[Happ’s] really good,” Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone told the YES Network after the game. “It’s been evident since we’ve got him, obviously, and what he’s been able to do in this league now for a long time and this division for the last couple of years. But you saw a guy really in command of his pitches, his emotions, the ability to just get back on the mound and repeat his delivery so well…
“You hear all the stuff behind the scenes what a quality teammate he is, what a quality pro he is, just the way he goes about it. He wants the ball, fits in really well in the room. Just all those intangible things that we heard about him coming over have rung true, and obviously the performance has followed it.”
Based on the American League East standings and the path that lies ahead, it’s safe to presume October 3 will be a date of interest for the Yankees. Since the Red Sox haven’t hinted that they’re comfortable or satisfied with a 10-game division lead, the Yankees will have no choice but to revisit the Wild Card game in their lone route back to the postseason.
Ideally, the Yankees would like to iron out Severino’s kinks in time for the do-or-die setting. He’s their ace. Any and all championship hopes the team harbors are contingent upon Severino’s ability to soon return to his old, dominant form.
But if Severino doesn’t respond to the troubleshooting, it appears the Yankees have a reliable fallback option in Happ, who’s willing and capable to take the reins in a playoff atmosphere. And as a result, perhaps the assurance of a quality outing on a weekly basis could turn into a spark plug for the club during the homestretch.
“We’re always trying to pick each other up, no matter what the situation,” Happ told YES. “I came to be a part of it and try to help any way I can… It’s motivating to pitch in Yankee Stadium. It’s motivating to be on this team, to be in a pennant race. Heck yeah, this is fun.”
Now, let’s not forget about Lynn’s vital role. Since taking over for Gray in the rotation, he’s allowed just one run across 12.1 innings (two starts) while striking out 17. And in extended relief back on August 1 (his Yankee debut against Baltimore), Lynn tossed 4.1 scoreless frames with an additional five strikeouts. He was a human bandage for a team that limped into Chicago following this latest Boston massacre.
Although Lynn hasn’t pitched to the career numbers found on his baseball card this year, he too has the resume and experience of competing in a big league market while the stakes are high. Plus, Lynn’s versatility as a starter and long-man out of the bullpen makes him all the more valuable. Much like Happ, Lynn can eat innings.
“Whenever they need me, whenever it’s my time to go pitch, I go get outs and help the team. That’s all I’m about,” Lynn recently told YES. “When it’s all said and done, if you’re on a winning team and you do what you have to do to help the team win, at the end of the day, you’re doing your job. And that’s who I am.”
Whether or not the longevity and sturdiness from Happ and Lynn continue, they have given the Yankees the luxury of time — time to realign the rotation, revitalize Severino, and retool while essential players like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are sidelined with coinciding injuries.
This wasn’t necessarily what Happ and Lynn were called upon to do, but as long as they’re betting on themselves to succeed, the Yankees will keep profiting alongside them.