The starting pitching story is nothing new. They exceeded expectations early, then they really struggled, they didn’t trade for anyone, and now they’re somewhere in between. The Yankees just finished a nice run of games, which might have had some fans forgetting about the starting pitching woes considering they mostly did alright. The problem there is that those were games against bad teams. The Yankees aren’t going to see Baltimore or Toronto in the playoffs. They very well could see the likes of Minnesota, Cleveland, Houston, or even Boston and they haven’t pitched well against any of those teams.
I’ll add the caveat that the only contending team the Yankees have pitched well against is Tampa Bay, with a cool 2.78 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, though a lot of that was early in the season when they were pitching well. But let’s look at some of the other contenders.
The Boston stats are a little skewed because of the London series but overall the potential playoff pitchers for the Yankees haven’t performed well against the Red Sox. Masahiro Tanaka has given up 18 runs against the Sox in just four innings. That’s a 40.50 ERA for those keeping track at home. He’s faced them twice and been absolutely torched twice (once in London).
James Paxton and Domingo German have both faced the Sox three times and they both have 4.50 ERAs. The plus side there is that they both also hold 13.5K/9 ratios through those games. J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia, who probably wouldn’t pitch in the playoffs anyway, don’t have good numbers either. The opener squad of Chad Green (4.70 ERA), Nestor Cortes Jr. (11.81 ERA), and Luis Cessa (4.82 ERA) have all struggled as well. It’s frankly amazing the Yankees have gone 11-4 against this team.
Opponents from other divisions obviously need to be taken with a grain of salt considering most pitchers only faced them once. But working off that small data set, the potential playoff pitchers on the Yankees have had mixed success against the Indians. Tanaka had a solid start of 6.1 IP and just 2 ER (stay tuned this is a theme against most good teams). But both German and Paxton have ERAs over 6.00 in their starts. Happ never faced them and CC has been rocked for 8 ER over 8 IP. Chad Green has a 19.29 ERA in the two games he started. The Indians have rebounded over a lackluster first half, and their offense is capable of giving the Yankee pitchers nightmares.
Houston has long been considered the team to beat on the American League side of the playoffs and it’s highly likely the Yankees would face them on their way to a World Series. Here’s another team where Tanaka has pitched well – he’s given up just 3 ER across 12 IP. But once again James Paxton has pitched to a 6.00 ERA across two starts. German hasn’t pitched against them at all. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but Green has another poor stat line against a contender: 2.2 IP, 3 ER, 1.875 WHIP. What might be most concerning here is that two of the best bullpen weapons, Zack Britton and Tommy Kahnle, each have ERAs over 7.00 against the Astros. The pitching will have to step up in this matchup given the Astros ace-like pitching rotation. You can’t bank on the Yankee offense bailing them out.
While the Yankees have had sustained playoff success against the Twins for the last decade, their pitching is still a significant area of concern heading into a matchup with them. They’re lucky to have finished with a winning record against them this season thanks to that unbelievable slugfest that ended with the Hicks catch. Against the Twins, German has had the most struggles. Over two games he’s pitched to a 7.84 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. Happ and Sabathia both had ERAs over 10.00.
Paxton, in his one game against them this season, had a bizarre stat line of 3 IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 3BB, 1K. Not really something that inspires confidence. Tanaka never faced them this year. A positive takeaway is that the big bullpen pieces have all shut down the Twins, surrendering no runs with the exception of one from Aroldis Chapman.
So what’s the takeaway here? Well aside from the two Boston clunkers, Tanaka seems like your most reliable pitcher in the postseason. Add his career postseason numbers with a 1.50 ERA across 30 innings and it seems all but certain he’ll start any game 1 against one of these teams. The key here will be hoping that Paxton and German can pitch well down the stretch, and carry that success into the postseason. Or maybe Deivi Garcia or another minor leaguer bursts on the scene in September and becomes a key piece to the pitching staff in October.