After Sunday’s series split with the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees hurler Luis Severino undoubtedly cemented himself as the ace of the staff.  

Heading into their Sunday matinee matchup with the Indians, the Yankees’ offense had plummeted to dire straits, plunging New York three games behind the Red Sox in the AL East despite a 1.5 game lead only a week ago.

In the first three games of the series, Cleveland outscored New York 13-5, pummeling the Yankees by scores of 5-1 and 7-2 in the first two games of the scheduled four-game set.

Jordan Montgomery, most recently demoted to Scranton/Wilkes Barre, pitched five innings of shutout ball on Saturday at the expense of starting Austin Romine, Montgomery’s personal catcher, behind the plate.  Amid defensive woes that have uncharacteristically plagued Gary Sanchez, a defensive stalwart behind the plate in 2016, manager Joe Girardi  opted to again start Romine on Sunday in favor of Sanchez despite his sporting a 59 OPS+ and a .226 batting average.

Like many in the lineup—from Todd Frazier to Aaron Judge and Matt Holliday, recently placed on the DL with a lumbar issue—Austin Romine manifested into an automatic out, mustering a paltry .185 average in the month of July.

His presence in the lineup on Sunday did not bode well for the Yankees in their pursuit of evening the series with Cleveland and keeping pace in the division with Boston, especially one year, nearly to the day, after Sanchez was called up to be the Yankees’ full-time catcher:  according to River Ave. Blues, Sanchez, in that full calendar year, hit .282 / .358 / .560 with 36 homers, leading all MLB catchers in HR, RBI, OPS, and WAR.

One would think, no matter how poor Sanchez’s play became (he logged his 12th passed ball on Friday night, although, according to Zachary Abate, he caught 35% of his baserunners stealing, to Romine’s 14%, and managed a “framing runs” mark of 3.4 to Romine’s 1.7, with all statistics sourced from Baseball Prospectus) that benching him was a poor decision by Girardi.

Fortunately, despite Romine’s 0-for-4 day at the plate, New York was bailed out by Didi Gregorius (3-for-5), Jacoby Ellsbury (2-for-4 on a three-run triple), and Aaron Judge (1-for-4 with a three-run shot that boasted an exit velocity of 113 MPH that almost looked like a line drive single to the gap) en route to an 8-1 shellacking that put the Yanks two games ahead of a reeling Kansas City Royals club for the first wild card.

Lost in the offensive outburst was another stellar and steady performance from Luis Severino, who unquestionably preserved the status of staff ace.

Prior to Sunday’s turn on the mound, Severino was 3-0 with a 0.69 ERA in four starts.

After dominating the Indians on Sunday, Severino bettered those figures to halt Cleveland, now 2.5 games ahead of the Royals in the AL Central.

Over 6 2/3 innings, Severino allowed one hit and one run (the result of a solo home run by Michael Brantley, Severino’s only mistake all game, in the first inning), struck out nine, and yielded one walk.

Over seven starts in July and August, Severino is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP, striking out 54 batters in 45 innings, yielding only 12 walks.

According to Baseball Reference, Severino is fourth in the AL in WAR (4.3), behind only Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, who dominated the Yankees on Friday, and Marcus Stroman.   He is fourth in the AL in ERA (2.91), ERA+ (154), and WHIP (1.10), and fifth in H/9 IP (7.53) and K/9 IP (10.37).

Having lost Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery, Jordan Montgomery to AAA (mostly to give him minimal innings at Scranton/Wilkes Barre without shifting him to the bullpen and redefining his role as a complete starter), and Masahiro Tanaka to relative woes that pushed him out of the top spot in the rotation, Luis Severino is not merely a de-facto ace: he is the linchpin to a staff in desperate need of one, proving himself as one of the best pitchers in the American League, a far cry from who he was last year.

In the first half of 2016, Severino epitomized dreadful, posting an 0-6 record with a 7.43 ERA and 1.68 WHIP, losing control enough to muster a poor 6.9 K/9 IP rate and an opponents’ OPS of .919.  ERA-wise, Severino’s May (8.22) and August (8.76) in 2016 were the stuff of an Alfred Hitchcock flick.  The poor exhibition from Severino, the very definition of a sophomore slump, resulted in a prolonged and long-needed demotion to AAA.  Luckily, with the roster expansion in September, Severino righted the ship, mostly out of the bullpen, to the tune of a 2.29 ERA and a .186 BAA.

Severino parlayed that glimmer of brilliance, more in line with the brilliant stint he managed in 2015, his rookie season, into an All-Star campaign in 2017, an effort that is certain to earn Severino his share of Cy Young votes.

With Yankee debuts from the promising (Sonny Gray’s effort on Thursday) to not-so-impressive (Jaime Garcia’s start on Friday), Luis Severino continues to hold form, spinning a quality start on Sunday that provides the club momentum heading into New York’s three-game set in Toronto that is a precursor to the Yankees’ stretch with Boston, whom they play six times in the following ten games, with a home-and-home Subway Series against the Mets placed in between.

Given Montgomery’s demotion, Severino is likely to pitch twice against the Red Sox, winners of six straight, including what may end up serving as a season-defining 12-10, walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth against Cleveland on Tuesday night.

Despite a career 1-3 record in five career starts against Boston, Severino has posted promising results elsewhere, sustaining a 3.45 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 32 Ks in 31 1/3 IP, and a .202 BAA.  This includes a 1-0 record (with one no-decision) against Boston this year, with the Yankees winning both games behind two quality starts, both at Fenway Park, from the 23 year old ace (in which Severino held the Sox to one earned run over 14 innings pitched).

Although New York boasts baseball’s most formidable bullpen, more so now with the reacquisition of David Robertson and the addition of Tommy Kahnle, Severino has not forced Girardi’s hand to use it too extensively when he is on the mound.  In 22 starts, Severino has pitched seven or more innings in 14 of them, lasting eight innings in two of those starts, including four appearances with double-digit strikeouts and ten starts with at least 8 Ks, including four straight under such distinction.

While cases can be made for the importance of Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Clint Frazier, and Aaron Judge to the Yankees’ success this year (and Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro, too, before their stints on the DL), Luis Severino has been the lead horse for a Yankee club that will not hesitate to hand him the ball in a one-game wild card matchup with Kansas City or in Game 1 of the ALDS as they potentially await the winner of a Boston/KC elimination game, should Severino remain healthy, consistent to his current level of performance, and nonplussed by the innings count he is amassing (his 139 1/3 IP this year are more than the his output in 2015 and 2016 combined at the major league level).

All told, the New York Yankees have their Chris Sale and Corey Kluber in the young Dominican from Sabana de la Mar who has made himself comfortable in the Bronx.

I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ. Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.