Luis Severino

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Keidel: Red Sox Rotation Keeping Yankees At Arms' Length In AL East

Difference Between Teams Is Quality Starting Pitching

Jason Keidel
August 16, 2018 - 11:14 am
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Had someone told you the Yankees were 30 games over .500 in August, you'd assume they were in first place, tweaking their rotation for late-season starts that will leave them rested yet ready for their proper playoff turn. But the Bombers (75-45) are 10 games behind the Boston Red Sox (86-36) for the AL East crown and are scrambling to plug the perilous holes in their leaky rotation. Even when the Red Sox lose, the Yankees fail to inch up a game, losing with Luis Cessa on the mound to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night.

While CC Sabathia is a workhorse, known for his guts and guile, for sweating out seven innings for the pinstripes, Cessa pitched a puny 3 1/3 innings in a 6-1 loss. (Cessa, who was sent back down to the minors after the game, is now 1-3 with a 5.60 ERA.) While the Red Sox are rolling the sport, feasting on the clubs they're supposed to club, the Yankees haven't been able to flatten the more forlorn teams in the AL and are now hopelessly behind Boston and staring at a one-game wild-card Thunderdome against the white-hot Mariners or red-hot Oakland Athletics. 

The Red Sox may not have a better batting order, but still you find the name Betts, Martinez, Benintendi and Bradley beaming from too many top-10 lists for offensive prowess. Boston also just swept the Yankees like hot dog wrappers out of Fenway Park in a four-game set. 

For the first few months of the season, Boston had some kind of bulge over the Yanks. And the biggest chasm between Boston and the Bombers will be found in their starting pitching. Boston has a deeper rotation, and even when they lose ace Chris Sale, they don't lose a step in their inexorable march to autumn. 

MORE: Murti: How 1998 Yankees Overcame A 3-Day Moment Of Crisis In ALCS

By troubling contrast, the Yankees don't have the starting pitching security you'd want for a deep playoff run. Their ace, Luis Severino, is looking like an inverted form of his Cy Young self over the first four months of the season. Severino has just one win over his last six starts, which happens to be the only game in that stretch when he lasted at least six innings. Masahiro Tanaka, whom many would start in that venomous wild-card game, has been fine for the most part, but he hurt both hamstrings this season and fans still fear he's one bad twitch from snapping his delicate elbow ligaments. 

Sonny Gray has morphed into Ed Whitson this year, wilting in the Big Apple's media fishbowl, unable to bask in Broadway's glow without burning in its glare. Gray has been bounced to the bullpen and will likely not pitch in one meaningful inning the rest of the season. Like Cessa, Gray tossed 3 1/3 innings Wednesday night, needing 75 pitches while yielding four hits and three walks. His ERA sits at a woeful 5.63 ERA.

J.A. Happ was a nice midseason addition, but he's still an above-average, 34-year-old vet with a low ceiling. Plus he landed on the DL with a disease -- hand, foot and mouth -- that we'd otherwise confuse for that cattle malady. 

In moments or pristine political correctness, Red Sox manager Alex Cora or any number of his players will lament the loss of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and give the Yanks exaggerated respect, declaring they don't want to face the ever-lethal Bombers in the playoffs. Assuming Judge gets back. After assuring us that the star slugger would recover from his broken wrist in three weeks, general manager Brian Cashman says Judge now needs more time. If the first half of the 2018 season felt charmed on River Avenue, the second half is decidedly cursed. 

MORE: Yankees GM Brian Cashman Provides Judge, Sanchez Updates

But privately, at least, Boston has to know they are going to moonwalk to the division title, finish with MLB's best record and likely be the talk and chalk of October, with the small possible exception of the Astros. But even the World Series champs just got swept in four home games by the Mariners. 

The Yanks dashed out to a 6-3 series lead over the Red Sox, but are now 6-7 against them, a perfect microcosm of each team's late-season status. And pitching is at the axis of the problem. As a team, Boston has a lower ERA and more saves, has allowed fewer runs, double, triples, homers and total bases. Their pitchers also have a lower slugging percentage and OPS against them. And that allows for all pitchers, including their respective relievers, knowing the Yankees have the most nuclear bullpen in the sport, which just italicizes how much better the Red Sox rotation really is. 

The Yankees have 42 games left. Should they go a modest 25-17, they would finished with exactly 100 wins (100-62). In a curious quirk in baseball history, the Bombers and Boston have never won at least 100 games the same season. Boston could return to their fried-chicken diet and Xbox dugout that got Terry Francona fired and still would win at least 105 games. 

So even with NASA diagnostics plaguing our pastime, with home run speeds and launch angles, the sport spawning a new stat every season, the game of baseball always comes down to pitching. And the Red Sox have more, or at least more talented, starting pitchers. Considering they all but negate each other in offensive prowess, the Sox are still 10 games ahead, which speaks to their starting pitchers.

The Yankees better get better pretty soon, or they may find themselves with the rest of baseball fans in October, watching the bulk of the 2018 postseason from the sofa. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel