Why is it suddenly much harder to imagine the Yankees winning the World Series now than it was a few days ago? Even if they come back in the Divisi
Why is it suddenly much harder to imagine the Yankees winning the World Series now than it was a few days ago? Even if they come back in the Division Series and advance?
Pitching. The team’s myriad rotation and bullpen issues have not only shown themselves over two ghastly days in San Diego, but deepened. The vibe can always change again, and the Yankees offense is talented enough to take over. But here are a few reasons why the moment has suddenly turned dark and desperate.
Jordan Montgomery is pitching to save the season
Montgomery is a talented young pitcher who could still become a mainstay in the Yankees’ rotation. But he finished this season with a 5.11 ERA. Yankees people attribute the uneven year to Montgomery’s return from Tommy John surgery, the first season of which is often bumpy. They believe in him long term, but that doesn’t help for Thursday’s elimination game.
Masahiro Tanaka isn’t a playoff magician this year
When Tanaka left too many pitches over the middle of the plate in Cleveland last week, it was easy to blame the weather. By Tanaka’s own account, he struggled to grip the ball in a heavy downpour. Given his history as a postseason ace, we assumed that he would return to that status once he pitched on a dry night.
On Wednesday, that was far from the case. Tanaka allowed five hits off sliders, one on a curveball, on a splitter, and one on a four-seam fastball. He hung far more breaking balls than usual — in fact, he tied a career high for most hits allowed in a single game on sliders.
Tanaka’s breaking ball was flat, and the Rays were all over it. If the Yankees advance, it will be with only one starting pitcher in whom they can feel confident, Gerrit Cole. Tanaka is making far too many mistakes in the strike zone lately.
His take: “I think it was better than the previous outing, but when I’m at my very best with that particular pitch I feel like I’m executing it better. The command and the bite is a little bit better. But overall I didn’t think it was that bad tonight.”
In 2019, the Yankees lost Domingo German to a domestic violence-related suspension. German had a strong year and was missed in the American League Championship Series, which the Yankees lost in six games to Houston.
In that series, James Paxton pitched a gem in Game 5, with the team facing elimination. Paxton is a clutch pitcher with an ace-level repertoire, and he is out with a forearm strain.
In a similar vein, the surprisingly thin bullpen misses Tommy Kahnle, who had Tommy John surgery this year. Chad Green has been pretty good in 2020, but not quite his usual lockdown self. That was in evidence on Wednesday when he allowed a killer home run to nine-hole hitter Michael Perez.
As we’ve seen during this postseason, Aaron Boone has just two relievers he can fully trust in high-leverage situations, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
The team burned J.A. Happ for the series, and the vibes were weird
For all the drama around his contract incentives and the exaggerated dislike that some Yankee fans appear to feel for J.A. Happ, he was actually a decent starting pitcher this year. Hitters made softer contact against him than last season, and barreled fewer pitches.
Happ clearly did not buy into the strategy of using him as a bulk pitcher in Game 2 behind Deivi Garcia, though he made clear that his anger didn’t prevent him from being fully committed to succeeding once in the game.
We’re not going to rehash the entire debacle; you all know that it didn’t work out. Now Happ is likely burned for the series, not to mention feeling marginalized and disgruntled. If the Yanks lose the series, the Garcia/Happ move will linger as the defining moment in their season. It’s when the team went from rolling to thin on pitching, happy and focused to (in some corners) mad and defensive.
All told, it’s a lot of baggage to drag into an elimination game against a team that routinely beat them all summer. And if they win the next two, baggage to carry with them through the rest of the month.