Keidel: With Encarnacion On Board, Yankees Will Be Nearly Impossible To Pitch Around

But Cashman Must Still Upgrade Pitching

Jason Keidel
June 17, 2019 - 12:06 pm
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As if the Yankees haven't already had a charmed spring.

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The club just shipped minor league pitcher Juan Then and cash to the Seattle Mariners for Edwin Encarnacion, who leads the American League with 21 home runs. While the Yanks have somehow filled chasms in the lineup with spare parts and marvelous improvisation, hovering around first place despite a laughably large group on the injured list, they are about to get volcanic at the plate.  

Indeed, by the time Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge -- both of whom are wrapping up rehab stints with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- return to the lineup, the Bronx will be filled with Bombers. The Yankees were already in the top five in the AL in runs, home runs, batting average and OPS despite their conga line of stars whisking through the IL turnstile. Yet Brian Cashman, who has miraculously morphed from the team's ATM to a stellar GM, got the jump on Encarnacion, which not only helps the Yanks but also keeps him from their foes.

Fans may lament the idea of Clint Frazier going back to the minor leagues, or even being traded, after an inspiring yet emotional three months, but Frazier is not the reason the Yankees will win the division or the World Series.

Edwin Encarnación
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Images

If the Yankees were scrappy with Frazier, Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Brett Gardner, then wait until the hulking Judge ambles into the batter's box, or when former National League MVP Stanton uncoils on a misguided pitch. Pitch around one and you get the other. Pitch around them and you get Encarnacion or Sanchez or any number of venomous bats. By July 4 -- a birthday shared by America and George Steinbrenner -- the Yankees will be nearly impossible to pitch around.  

One thing Encarnacion cannot do is pitch. The 36-year-old has plenty of pop but doesn't have a hook, fastball or slider. He can help the team score six runs a night, but can't keep them from surrendering seven. As good as this deal looks, sounds and feels, the best bats can't conceal their pitching problems.

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As a team, the Yankees have a 4.07 ERA, well below the MLB average of 4.45 ERA. But they only have 22 quality starts, which ranks 12th in the AL, and 22nd in the majors. It speaks to their dearth of dominant starting arms and how much of their rotation has taken turns on the IL. James Paxton just had his first fine start since April. CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka have struggled, and we don't know how Luis Severino will pitch when he finally returns to the team.

Despite all their mangled limbs and tender ligaments, the Yanks (43-27) are leading the AL East, a half-game ahead of the Rays. You can thank their brass and bats for much of that, and the fact that they lead the AL in saves (23).  According to a FiveThirtyEight.com on Sunday, the Yanks have an 87% chance to make the playoffs, 50% chance to win the AL East and 11% chance to win the World Series. Beefing up their rotation would bump up those numbers. The Dodgers and Astros, each with a surplus of pitching, are the favorites to play in the World Series. Again.

For all of Cashman's sorcery, he needs to add an arm to the team, whether it's Max Scherzer and his eye-popping contract or big-game magician Madison Bumgarner or whoever else can add some balm to their scarred rotation. The Yankees certainly have the resources to get whomever they want, even if they don't care to part with their army of rising stars to do it. But Cashman knows more than anyone that hitting can get you to October, but pitching gets you through October.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.

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