Spare us the 162 one-game season talk. This is not an overreaction. It is a crisis.
This Yankees season started historic and has since slid into mediocrity. The tumble became quite violent this weekend in St. Louis. The Cardinals are a good team. They always are. They’re also maybe the fourth- or fifth-best team in the National League. They should not be sweeping the Yankees. But they did because the bullpen faltered again on Friday, the offense was non-existent Saturday and the entire pitching staff imploded Sunday.
So here the Yankees are at 70-39, losers of five straight. They’re 14-17 dating back to July 1. Their AL East lead over the Blue Jays is back in single digits. And they have a half-game edge on the Astros for home field in the postseason.
It’s not what you want. And it’s on the Yankees’ pitching staff to turn it around. If not, they are is doomed.
Here is why we won’t go as far as to write the Bombers off: General manager Brian Cashman had an excellent trade deadline. He has a sound plan. And if executed, the Yankees are better equipped to win the World Series than they were, even during the torrid start. But it’s going to take time.
Harrison Bader is the type of player necessary to win in October. And a left-to-right outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Bader and Aaron Judge is good enough to win a championship. But Bader has to get healthy first. So does Giancarlo Stanton, who can be at his best when only asked to serve as the designated hitter. Plus Anthony Rizzo. And all of the above are needed to ensure manager Aaron Boone can continue to avoid overextending super-sub Matt Carpenter.
(Aside No. 1: Go look at Toronto’s schedule. If the Yankees keep sputtering, the Jays have a chance to make that late September series interesting. Cashman better hope Benintendi’s vaccination meditation gets resolved soon if so.)
But the pitching. The strength has become the weakness.
Gerrit Cole is an ace in name only. Frankie Montas is off to a brutal start after Sunday’s shelling. Nestor Cortes remains the reliable key to it all, but his workload is going to loom large the rest of the way. Who knows what to expect from Luis Severino. Jameson Taillon should not be anywhere near a postseason start.
(Aside No. 2: Jordan Montgomery, huh?)
Also, how much rope does Clay Holmes have as the closer? The initial reaction is plenty and to write off his recent rough patch as just that. But this ineffectiveness — along with Boone’s curious bullpen management — is beginning to linger (and to cost the Yankees games). Aroldis Chapman has been pretty good in his last few outings. And Zach Britton should be back at some point. So it’s a fair question. The rotation is certainly the bigger concern right now. The bullpen should be fine as long as Holmes cleans up his act. There are more than enough arms to find three or four to trust. But still.
This is not going to get easier. There are no tomato cans on the horizon. The Mariners are next. Then the Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays and Mets. This thing could fly off the rails. And that’s what will happen if the pitching staff does not find itself. And fast.
There was always reason to be skeptical the Yankees had the pitching to beat the Astros (and then the Dodgers or Mets) in October. But now we have to wonder if they will get a chance to find out. Because you to win the ALDS first, you know.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]