It shouldn’t be hard to figure out who’s going to start each game in the postseason for a first-place team, on pace to win 105 games and the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason, but that’s the rotation the Yankees have built.
There’s a good chance the Yankees have built one of their failed 2000s teams, which piled up wins in the regular season by outhitting their opponents while facing mediocre starting pitching in most games. When it came to the postseason, and facing elite pitching in most games, the bats would go silent, the offense would disappear and the Steinbrenners would release their annual apology statement to Yankees fans for failing to win a championship.
These Yankees might be different. The lineup and roster might be nearly identical to the team which had trouble scoring a single run in Houston in four games in the 2017 ALCS and couldn’t solve power right-handers in the 2018 ALDS, but maybe it will be different. Maybe the offense will be as good in the postseason as it has been in the regular season and it won’t matter the Yankees might give postseason starts to J.A. Happ and his 4.86 ERA or CC Sabathia and his 4.50 ERA after both were rocked in the last postseason and continued to get rocked this regular season. Maybe the Yankees’ regular-season formula of outslugging their opponents will work for the first time ever this October, and maybe the super bullpen will pitch with a lead to protect rather than a deficit to hold.
It would be a lot easier if Luis Severino would return this season and return as his 2019 first-half self. It would also help if the Yankees went out and traded for Madison Bumgarner by next Wednesday’s July 31 deadline. Unfortunately, neither of those things can be counted on or planned for, and for now, the Yankees’ rotation options look like those more fitting of a second wild-card team than the best team in baseball.
The Yankees are going to the postseason and they’re going as the winner of the AL East. That means everything they do between now and the final out of the regular season is to prepare for October. The one thing they can control in October is their starting rotation for the ALDS.
These power rankings will be updated frequently between now and the end of the regular season. They are based on a combination of personal preference, recent performance and historical performance. This rotation is based on the current 25-man roster and is created under the assumption the players on the injured list won’t be available for the postseason.
Game 1: Number 19, Masahiro Tanaka, Number 19
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).
Last October, Tanaka was the only Yankees starter to pitch well in the four games against the Red Sox (5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 K, 1 HR), and had he pitched Game 1, I might be writing about the Yankees looking to become the first team since 2000 to win back-to-back championships. In 2017, he allowed two earned runs in 13 innings in the ALCS to the eventual champion Astros and shut out the Indians over seven innings in Game 3 of the ALDS to save the season and kickstart the Yankees’ improbable comeback over the Indians.
This is Tanaka’s career postseason line over five starts: 30 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 7 BB, 25 K, 3 HR, 1.50 ERA, 0.800 WHIP.
Tanaka in Game 1, no matter what.
Game 2: Number 55, Domingo German, Number 55
It makes me sick, actually sick, to think about the Yankees shutting down Domingo German this season or limiting his innings so he’s unavailable to start in the postseason. German has been the team’s best starting pitcher all season, and if the playoffs started today, it would be hard not to give him the ball for Game 2. Unfortunately, the playoffs don’t start today, and by the time they do start, German might not be pitching at all.
At some point, the Yankees are going to figure out a way to limit German’s innings. That might be by skipping his starts, pulling him after four or five innings, sending him to the bullpen or shutting him down completely. The Yankees believe they have to keep German’s innings total to some unspecified number, even though they have proven they have no idea how to handle young pitchers and prevent injuries. Aside from Andy Pettitte, the Yankees have been unsuccessful in developing a young pitcher who can avoid injury, so I wish they would stop thinking they are going to find the answer.
If the Yankees allow German to pitch uninterrupted for the remainder of the season and they win the World Series and he never pitches again, he did his job. His job is to pitch for the New York Yankees. The Yankees’ job is to win the World Series. The goal isn’t to grow careers. The goal is to win. Sadly, the Yankees’ effort to achieve this goal for the last decade hasn’t been what it once was.
Do I trust German? Not particularly. But I trust the options after him even less. It shouldn’t be this hard to figure out the Game 1 and 2 starters of a team expected to win the No. 1 overall seed for the postseason, but this is the rotation the Yankees have built.
Game 3: Number 65, James Paxton, Number 65
I don’t care that James Paxton has been worse on the road than he has been at home this season. He hasn’t done anything to earn the right to start at home in Game 2 of the ALDS through 17 starts as a Yankee, and with each time through the rotation I trust him less and less.
I was fooled when Paxton had the back-to-back 12-strikeout games against the Red Sox and Royals and April, thinking Brian Cashman might have finally made a good trade for a pitcher. But since then, Paxton has pitched to a 4.76 ERA in 12 starts and the Yankees are 6-6 in those games. A team that’s 29 games over .500 with a 64-35 record and .646 winning percentage is 9-8 when a pitcher who many expected to be the team’s best starts. Paxton hasn’t been as bad in 2019 as Gray was in 2018, but he’s not that far from it. Only six of Paxton’s 17 starts have been “quality”, seven times he’s failed to go five innings and five times he’s given up four earned runs or more.
If I could be guaranteed the April 16 or April 21 version of Paxton, I would easily give him the ball in Game 1 knowing the Yankees would have a 1-0 series lead in the ALDS. But those two starts were now more than three months ago and I’m already worried about watching Paxton give up an early lead in whatever game he starts in the ALDS and then grinding his way through hopefully five innings. He has two months to change my mind, and he has a lot to do in those two months to change 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 hasn’t done much of that this season, and if he thinks the Stadium has turned at him from time to time so far, he hasn’t seen anything yet if he were to get lit up at home in October. Game 3 on the road is the best I can give him for now.
Game 4: Number 57, Chad Green, Number 57
Six weeks ago, I would have punched myself in the face like Ken Giles for even thinking about giving Chad Green the ball to start or open a postseason game. To my defense, six weeks ago, I thought Luis Severino might be back or almost back by now and I didn’t think J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia would be as bad as they have been, and overall, they have been very bad.
Back in 2017, I trusted Green more than any Yankees reliever. More than Dellin Betances, more than Aroldis Chapman and more than David Robertson. After what Green’s done over the last two months, my level of trust for him is almost back to that level.
If you’re a reliever and you have allowed 14 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings and have a 16.43 ERA on April 23, you’re either never pitching for your current team again, or you’re going to finish the season with awful numbers no matter how well you pitch. It would take a miracle for you to return to the majors and a bigger miracle to pitch your stats back to respectability. That fact Green’s ERA is down to 4.62 ERA is ridiculous.
Here’s Green’s line over the last two months and 20 games: 27.2 IP, 26 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 40 K, 1 HR, 0.98 ERA, 1.048 WHIP.
Here’s his line in eight games as an opener: 11.2 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 19 K, 2 HR, 2.31 ERA, 1.114 WHIP.
My preference would be to have Green go one inning and maybe two innings depending on how he looked in the first inning. Then I would go right to the bullpen. I don’t care that you’re asking the bullpen to possibly get 24 outs. Worry about the next game when you get there.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!