Yankees’ Postseason Rotation Power Rankings: Third Edition

The Yankees' ace has returned and should be given the ball in Game 1

There’s less than two weeks and only 10 games left in the regular season. Between now and then, the Yankees have to decide what their postseason rotation will be in order to line it up to end the season.

The first edition of the Yankees’ Postseason Rotation Power Rankings was on July 23. The second edition was on September 3. Barring an injury (knock on all the wood), this will be the last edition of the power rankings. Here’s my final decision on the postseason rotation.

Game 1: Number 40, Luis Severino, Number 40
I love everything about Luis Severino. I love his demeanor and pace, his velocity and control, his command and attack of the strike zone. He throws a pitch the ball, gets the ball back and is immediately ready to throw the next pitch. He doesn’t waste time and puts each batter on defense for the entire at-bat. He’s a refreshing presence on the mound, and as close to a guaranteed win as you can get every five days for the Yankees.

I saw all I needed to see from Severino on Tuesday night in his season debut (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) to give him the ball in Game 1 of the postseason. Everything was working for him over four shutout innings and it was the exact kind of start the Yankees are looking for from each of their starters in the postseason: two times through the order or 12 outs, whichever comes first.

It doesn’t matter to me that Severino was facing an inferior opponent with a losing record, and one he won’t see in October. It was his first time on a major league mound since Game 3 of the ALDS and he looked like he hadn’t missed the first five-plus months of the season. Pitching under a limit of about 75-or-so pitches, that limited will be extended the next time Severino pitches (likely on Sunday against the Blue Jays) and extended again in his final regular-season start (Game 162 against in Texas). That would line him up on to pitch Game 1 of the ALDS on Friday, Oct. 4 on normal rest.

Like David Cone said on YES during Tuesday’s game, the Yankees don’t need to have Severino stretched out for something crazy like 120 pitches. They only need him to get 12 outs or throw however many pitches it takes to go through the order twice. He was able to do that on 67 pitches against the Angels, and 12 of them came in the first at-bat of the game.

Most likely, the Yankees are thinking the way I am given the way the schedule and calendar plays out and why Severino was brought back to start on Tuesday night. Back on July 23, in the first edition of these rankings, I wrote: It would be a lot easier if Luis Severino would return this season and return as his 2019 first-half self. My wish was granted. Severino in Game 1.

Game 2: Number 65, James Paxton, Number 65
After the first edition of these rankings, James Paxton went out and got rocked by the Red Sox (4 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 4 HR) and his ERA rose to 4.72 on the season. But since getting embarrassed in Boston, Paxton hasn’t lost, winning nine straight for an undefeated August and September after the Yankees lost all five of his July starts.

Over this nine-game winning streak, opposing hitters are batting .170/.251/.282 against Paxton as he’s beaten the Red Sox twice, Indians and Dodgers along with the pesky offenses of the Rangers and Blue Jays. He’s looked like the pitcher I thought the Yankees traded for and not the pitcher who gave them four-plus months of mediocrity to begin the season.

In the first edition of the rankings, after he struggled through the first four months of the season, I wrote: He has two months to change my mind, and he has a lot to do in those two months to change it. Well, he’s changed it.

Earlier this season, YES showed an interview of Paxton talking about how he wants to be a Yankee and wants to pitch where he’s expected to win. He will have his chance to meet those expectations in Game 2.

Game 3: Number 19, Masahiro Tanaka, Number 19
Twice I wrote: Masahiro Tanaka could pitch to a 15.10 ERA for the rest of the season and I would still give him the ball in Game 1 of the ALDS. Tanaka has proven his worth in the postseason in three different postseasons now with the worst of his five starts being two earned runs over five innings in a game the Yankees were never going to score in let alone win (2015 AL Wild-Card Game against Dallas Keuchel). But that was before the return of Severino and Paxton pitching to his ability for an extended period of time as a Yankee.

That doesn’t mean Tanaka can’t start Game 1 or that I would be upset if he did. I still trust him explicitly, even if advanced metrics suggest he’s been the same pitcher in the postseason as the regular season, with a little more luck, while his postseason success has been attributed to a small sample size.

Tanaka won’t be scared into melting down on the road and he won’t let the crowd or non-Yankee Stadium mound affect him. He’s proven himself on the road in October with strong starts against the eventual champions in each of the last two seasons. In the hostile postseason environments of Houston (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) and Boston (5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR), Tanaka delivered, and I trust him in Game 3 to either finish a potential sweep of the series, swing the series in the Yankees’ favor or save the season (like he did in Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS).

Game 4: Number 55, Domingo German, Number 55
The only way I could be upset with the Yankees’ decision on their postseason rotation is if they decide to use Domingo German to follow either CC Sabathia or J.A. Happ. We know what Sabathia and Happ are at this point. We saw it last October when Happ couldn’t get an out in the third inning and Sabathia shouldn’t have been allowed to pitch the third inning. We saw it all season this year with Happ pitching to a 5.07 ERA and Sabathia closely following him with a 4.95 ERA.

Maybe these two are serviceable during the regular season because of the team’s offense and because of the amount of weak opponents not trying to be competitive they face over six months. But in October, against the league’s best with the current baseball flying out of the park, the Yankees can’t be sending either of the soft-tossing lefties to the mound with their only chance of success relying on their control being perfect on a given night.

It makes me sick, actually sick, to think about the Yankees shutting down German as a starter, putting him in the bullpen or having him follow either of those two. He’s earned himself a postseason start and has earned the right to pitch in October, no matter what ridiculous or nonsensical innings limit or preventative measure the Yankees think will work in keeping him healthy long-term.

Give German the ball in Game 4, and if he unravels, then turn to Sabathia or Happ. Not the other way around.


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