Gerrit Cole
Wendell Cruz | USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the state of the Yankees’ pitching staff today, it’s hard to not think of the climax of the ’90s classic Rounders.

We all know the scene. Matt Damon’s Mike McDermott is heads-up with John Malkovich’s Teddy KGB. A simple eight and nine of spades turns out to be the winning hand, even with a daunting ace on the river. Unbeknownst to the overaggressive Teddy, Mike flopped the nut ten-high straight.

Believe it or not, this is a great metaphor for not just the Yankees’ 2022 season, but their pitching staff. New York’s 2.74 ERA is tied with the Dodgers for the best in baseball. What some thought as simply “Gerrit Cole & Friends” on paper is now almost an unstoppable force.

Gerrit Cole. Luis Severino. Jameson Taillon. Nestor Cortes and his AL-leading 1.35 ERA. And Jordan Montgomery just for fun. The Yankees might not have flopped a straight like in the movie, but still have an excellent hand with these four aces in the rotation.

Let’s start with Cole, whose ace status is automatic at this point. The former No. 1 pick and current $324 million man’s pedigree speaks for itself. Even with a rough record against the hated Red Sox, there’s no better man to be at the top of the rotation.

This makes Severino’s return to the mound after almost three full seasons off even more special. A multitude of injuries, including Tommy John surgery, kept him on the shelf and he has returned with a roar instead of a whimper. He’s throwing his changeup again and is also incorporating a cutter, which is clearly working. Severino’s average exit velocity is in the 85th percentile and he still has some fastball velocity too. When all his pitches are working, he’s practically Cole 2.0.

Cortes is even more fascinating to watch pitch. His expected ERA, batting average, wOBA, and strikeout rate are all in the 90th percentile or better. Cortes’ average fastball velocity, by comparison, is only in the 4th percentile. And yet, even with his league-best 1.35 ERA, Cortes’ varying arm slots and windups mean we never know which version of him will show up. Then again, neither does the other team, so it works out.

And then, there’s Taillon, he of two Tommy John surgeries and several other injuries. The Yankees took a chance on him and, after a rough start, he’s looking like everything he was supposed to be when he was picked No. 2 behind Bryce Harper in 2010. This man has always had ace potential, and his elite fastball spin and walk rate both show it.

This brings us back to Montgomery who, if the Yankees ever bothered to score runs for him, might be the best No. 2 in baseball. But even then, Montgomery’s 3.06 ERA is paired with a 3.59 FIP and his chase rate is in the 94th percentile. Are deuces wild and he’s thus a rare fifth ace?

It’s still early, and the season’s natural ebbs and flows mean every Yankees pitcher will have the occasional clunker. Cole, for all his dominance, is a fastball-dominant pitcher and thus prone to hard contact that can derail a start fast. Same for Severino, particularly if he only has his fastball and slider working. Similarly, Taillon struggles if he isn’t throwing his best sinker.

Cortes, great as he’s been, also has to look human at some point.

But until then, the Yankees can keep playing with house money and put out quality start after quality start. They don’t just have a winning hand, but perhaps the winning hand. And after everyone seemed ready to crown the rival Blue Jays, no less!

These Yankees are for real, especially their pitchers. With four ace arms at the ready, who’s to say when they’ll slow down?

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.