Off Day Dreaming: Yankees Can’t Rely on This Rotation

The Yankees are running out of time to improve their rotation for the postseason

That wasn’t the best weekend. The Yankees lost three of four to the Red Sox and lost two games off their loss-column lead in the process. But that loss-column lead is still 10 games, and the division is still over. A bad week of pitching and a series loss to the Red Sox doesn’t change that.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees on this off day as usual.

1. The results of the last week aren’t as bad as you think. I’m not talking about the pitching (we’ll get to that), I’m talking about actual wins and losses. I wanted the Yankees to go 3-4 on their road trip and with Sunday night’s series-salvaging win, they did exactly that. Sure, they lost two games off their 12-game, loss-column lead to the Red Sox, but a 10-game, loss-column lead is more than enough of a comfortable cushion. Let’s get to my favorite game: If the Yankees play .500.

The Yankees have 57 games remaining, so they can’t play .500 baseball, so let’s say one-game-over-.500 baseball. If the Yankees play one-game-over-.500 baseball for their remaining 57 games and go 29-28, they would finish with a 96-66 record. The Rays would have to go 36-18 and the Red Sox would have to go 37-18 to tie them. The Yankees aren’t going to go 29-28 though, considering they have 23 games remaining against the Orioles, Blue Jays, Mariners and Tigers. The division is still over. This past weekend did nothing to change that. The Yankees’ magic number is 48.

2. The starting pitching is a very, very big problem. Normally, to me, a loss is a loss no matter the score, but having your rotation get embarrassed every night is a different story.

If the Yankees think this team, as currently constructed, is good enough to win a World Series, they are probably going to be let down and could be let down as early as the ALDS. This team has 2002-2008 written all over it with an offense that can outhit its mediocre starting pitching for 162 games, but isn’t built for short series in October. The Yankees have until Wednesday 4 p.m. to address this glaring weakness, and if they don’t, the bats aren’t going to be able to go quiet for a second in October, or the 2019 Yankees will be another division-winning Yankees team which failed to accomplish their ultimate goal.

3. Marcus Stroman is now off the board, having been traded to the Mets on Sunday in a puzzling move. The Blue Jays were willing to give up their best starting pitcher with team control through 2020 for the Mets’ sixth- and seventh-best prospects, and a team five games under .500 just enhanced their rotation, while the Yankees took more time off the trade deadline clock, inching closer to having to start CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ or Chad Green in October.

Stroman was always my No. 2 in this trade market with Madison Bumgarner sitting at No. 1. So this is potentially good news for me if the Yankees are going to do what’s necessary now to get Bumgarner. But it’s potentially bad news if Bumgarner isn’t available with the Giants’ recent surge or high price tag is high with the demand for him now greater. This could mean the Yankees have to look at lesser options like Matt Boyd or Robbie Ray or some other lateral moves who won’t really improve the rotation. Maybe the Mets only acquired Stroman to flip him to a contender, or maybe they acquired him so they can move Noah Syndergaard. Because it’s the Mets, I could see them standing pat, holding on to both starters and trying to make a run at the second wild-card spot even though they are six games back and need to pass five teams to get there. That’s probably what the Mets will do.

4. I wrote the first edition of my Yankees’ Postseason Rotation Power Rankings last week and in it I had the following:

Game 1: Masahiro Tanaka
Game 2: Domingo German
Game 3: James Paxton
Game 4: Chad Green, opener/bullpen

Even with the way Tanaka and Paxton got lit up and the way Green got lit up in relief, I wouldn’t change the order. German finally put together a respectable start to right the rotation, and while Tanaka got destroyed for 12 earned runs, I would still give him the ball in Game 1. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t feel confident entering the ALDS against any opponent with this rotation, but this is the best possible order for it. If Luis Severino doesn’t return and return as his 2018 first-half self or the Yankees don’t trade for Bumgarner, the rotation isn’t getting much better. The Yankees are going to have to slug their way through the postseason or receive a miracle with these starters going on a magical, unexpected run for a month.

5. James Paxton is the left-handed A.J. Burnett, and we’re getting to a point where saying that is an insult to Burnett.

Back on June 13, I wrote This Is Not the James Paxton the Yankees Traded For. Paxton had just come off a start in which he got knocked around by the Mets (2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR) and his ERA sat at 4.04 through 10 starts as a Yankee. Since then, Paxton has made eight starts and has pitched to this line: 40.2 IP, 57 H, 28 R, 25 ER, 15 BB, 53 K, 12 HR, 5.53 ERA, 1.770 WHIP. In that time, hitters are batting .333/.387/.526 against him. Yes, he’s allowed a 1.013 OPS against him since June 16.

Like Burnett, Paxton’s “stuff” is raved about with his no-hit history and high strikeout totals. But like Burnett, you never know which Paxton you’re going to get. Are you going to get the guy who pitched 14 scoreless innings against the Red Sox and Royals, striking out 24, in back-to-back April starts, or are you going to get the guy who has failed to pitch five innings in eight of his 18 starts?

Paxton isn’t going anywhere and he’s going to be given the ball in a postseason game. I wish between now and then he would find consistency from start to start, but he has never been able to in his career, so I have a hard time believing he’s going to find it in the next two months.

6. Part of the reason I don’t think Paxton is going to all of a sudden find consistency is because of Larry Rothschild. Whether you’re the pitching coach, hitting coach, first-base coach or third-base coach, you don’t want casual fans to know your name. You want to stay out of the spotlight, fly under the radar, be part of a major league organization, collect a nice paycheck and have about four months a year off. It’s not good that Rothschild had to speak with the media following Saturday’s loss and it’s not good that his name is becoming a household name for casual Yankees fans.

Brian Cashman and his staff have never known pitching. They have drafted an endless list of failures, have signed free agents to big-money deals only to have them flop and have traded for young, controllable starters who could never figure it out while wearing the pinstripes. The last trade Cashman made for a starting pitcher who worked out was Roger Clemens, and that was 20 years ago, and acquiring arguably the best pitcher in history wasn’t exactly a roll of the dice.

Cashman’s trades for controllable starters like Paxton, Sonny Gray, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Javier Vazquez and Jeff Weaver all failed, despite those pitchers having success before or after they were Yankees. Outside of CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Mike Mussina and El Duque, Cashman has failed miserably signing free-agent starters as well.

Cashman and the front office are the ones who have to approve and sign off on these decisions, but then it’s Rothschild’s job to either maintain the success the pitcher had prior to them being a Yankee or try to regain the success they once had, which is why the Yankees wanted them. There has always been this idea that Rothschild is one of the best pitching coaches in the game and it’s why he continues to get new contracts from the Yankees, but the growing sentiment of late seems to suggest otherwise.

7. Gary Sanchez is on the injured list with another groin problem, which means Austin Romine is the team’s No. 1 catcher, even though Boone said Kyle Highashioka would be getting equal playing time in what could be some offseason roster foreshadowing. So if Romine is currently the team’s starting catcher, why was he pitching in a blowout game on Thursday night? Is Aaron Boone that clueless?

Romine relieved Luis Cessa, who had thrown 18 pitches. In July, Cessa has appeared in four games, making three appearances since July 4. On top of that, he’s the 25th man on the roster and has no actual value to the Yankees this season or in future seasons. In a game which eventually ended 19-3, Cessa should be in until the game ends, whether it takes him 18 pitches or 81 pitches to get the remaining outs. Boone has done a lot of idiotic things in his short time as Yankees manager, but that decision is right near the top.

8. I have zero confidence in Zack Britton and if Dellin Betances doesn’t come back this season, I don’t know how I’m going to survive the eighth inning of playoff games.

Britton is going to receive special treatment for his name and not his performance and he’s going to pitch in the eighth inning or other high-leverage spots two months from now when the Yankees can’t afford to have him walking the park and failing to miss bats. If Betances doesn’t pitch this season, Boone is going to keep giving the ball to Britton in crucial spots because of his career resume, not his season resume, and because of what he once was, and not was he currently is.

Britton isn’t good let alone trustworthy at this point, and this is now going back to when the Yankees traded for him a year ago. I thought the more removed he was from his return from his Achilles injury the better he would be, but it’s been the opposite.

9. I don’t see how Clint Frazier could possibly still be a Yankee after 4 p.m. on Wednesday. He was passed over for Mike Tauchman when Giancarlo Stanton got hurt and passed over again for Cameron Maybin when Brett Gardner got hurt. There has been the need for a starting left fielder and plenty of at-bats for Frazier and the Yankees didn’t call him up. They can no longer use the excuse that he needs to play every day since he would be playing every day in the majors right now, so it’s clear it’s more than that and he has fallen out of favor with the organization for off-the-field issues.

It’s going to suck to see Frazier traded and get an everyday chance with another organization for the rest of this season and future seasons. What’s the team’s plan for 2020? Make Tauchman the starter? No. Bring back Gardner? Please no.

Maybe there’s a small chance Frazier survives the deadline once again and survives offseason trade rumors once again, but that’s quite the parlay that would need to hit. On June 18, I wrote Clint Frazier Doesn’t Have a Yankees Future, and it looks his tenure is close to ending.

10. Today is the Yankees’ first non-All-Star Game off day since July 1, the day after the London games. They have an off day again on Thursday and after that they won’t have one again until August 19. Starting tomorrow, the Yankees will play 21 games in 21 days, even with Thursday’s off day, thanks to a pair of doubleheaders (August 3 against Boston and August 12 against Baltimore).

Back on July 1, my July expected record for the Yankees (by expected record, I mean a record I would be content with them having) was 13-12. They are currently 13-10 with two games against the Diamondbacks remaining in the month. The Yankees can do no worse than my expected record. Next month, the Yankees have 11 straight games against the Orioles and Blue Jays and another three against the Mariners. August is when the Yankees’ can truly get fat again from an easy schedule.

The Yankees have the following things to do this season in this order:

1. Upgrade the rotation at the trade deadline
2. Get Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and Giancarlo Stanton back
3. Win the No. 1 overall seed to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs
4. Stay healthy

The Yankees are going to the playoffs and everything they do between now and the last out of Game 162 is to prepare for the playoffs. That starts with Wednesday’s trade deadline.


My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!