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Bill Madden: With pitching woes throughout AL East, Yankees pitching remains class of the division

The cavalry in the persons of Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson arrived for the Yankees this weekend with Carlos Rodon hopefully not too long behind and that is good news in the Bronx. What is even better news, however, is that, in their absence, the Yankees have held their own in the American League East and going forward may have the best pitching in the division.

As it is, the Yankee starters have compiled a 4.29 ERA over the first two months of the season (13th lowest in baseball) but that was mostly without Luis Severino and with Clarke Schmidt learning to pitch in the majors on the fly, having lowered his ERA by over a run in his last three starts. Gerrit Cole remains a dominant No. 1. Nestor Cortes, minus one horrific outing May 13 against Tampa Bay when he was sick, has made some minor adjustments and is back to being a consistent No. 2 or 3, while Domingo German had the lowest WHIP (0.975) of any AL East starter as of Saturday.

This is significant because the Yankees’ offense is still essentially “home run or bust” with growing concerns about Anthony Volpe and DJ LeMahieu. In the end, it is almost always pitching that is the deciding factor in pennant races — with all the other teams in the American League East right now facing some big-time issues with theirs.

Let’s start with the Rays, who are off to one of the hottest starts in baseball history, leading the majors in homers, stolen bases, OPS and total bases and second in runs and batting average. Going into the weekend the Rays also had the second-highest run differential (+119) in baseball but that figures to diminish in the coming weeks now that they’ve lost two starting pitchers (Jeffrey Springs for the season with Tommy John surgery and Drew Rasmussen for at least a couple of months with an elbow issue) from their rotation. That leaves them with Shane McClanahan (albeit presently a leading Cy Young candidate), Zach Elfin and the comebacking Tyler Glasnow, with “openers” in the other two spots.

Manager Kevin Cash conceded recently that having to use openers for so many starts is already putting a tremendous strain on his bullpen. Needless to say they can ill afford to lose another starter, and it stands to reason they won’t be able to stay in first place using openers every third or fourth day the rest of the season.

At the same time, the second-place Orioles have been a remarkable story all season long if only because they have a rotation of mostly No. 3′s and no dominant starters. They are, however, eighth in the majors in runs, with an overpowering backend bullpen in Felix Bautista, Yennier Cano and Danny Coulombe, which is why they’ve been getting by with starters that are good but hardly great. Still, imagine if their front office had invested more last winter in starting pitching than just the $10 million they spent on Kyle Gibson?

Even more remarkable have been the Red Sox who have somehow managed to stay above .500 despite a rotation without a single starter with an ERA of under 4.00 (not counting recently recalled Brayan Bello). The collective 5.24 ERA for Red Sox starters is 26th worst in the majors, and things got a bit gloomier Thursday when Chris Sale, who’d been their most effective starter the last few weeks, left the game with an aching shoulder.

Lastly, the Blue Jays, who went into the season with what seemed to be the deepest rotation in the division quality-wise after they signed Chris Bassitt to complement Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi, it just hasn’t worked out. In particular, Manoah, their No. 1 last year, has had a terrible year, inexplicably losing his command, his WHIP soaring to 1.769 from 0.992 in ‘22. The Blue Jays have been playing a lot of bad baseball in general but if they are going to contend for the division title, as many predicted, they are especially going to need to get Manoah straightened out.

As the Yankees proved last year when they led the AL East from April 27 on, consistent quality starting pitching can mask a lot of other deficiencies. They were not athletic. They too often were bad fundamentally and their baserunning was terrible. They’ve improved on the latter two this year but theirs is still most often a one-dimensional offense. The hope going in was that Volpe would inject needed energy to the offense, but he’s hitting under .200, too often over-swinging, with a pronounced uppercut that wasn’t there in spring training when he was spraying balls all around.

The Yankee brass is insisting they’re not worried about Volpe, convinced that he’ll turn it around in time. At the same time, they’re not saying anything about LeMahieu, who was supposed to be their other top-of-the order catalyst but is instead hitting 50 points below his career average with 18 fewer strikeouts as of Friday than he had all of last year. It would be nice if Volpe and LeMahieu get back on track but if or when they do, the Yankees’ winning formula remains the same: Starting pitching that keeps them in every game and 2-3 booming home runs to supply all the offense they need.


Once again, the Yankees lost Harrison Bader to the injured list last week, this time with a pulled hamstring. Bader is a nice player, an above-average defensive center fielder, with speed and some pop in his bat but who also has too often been unavailable to display those talents. Therein lies the Yankees’ dilemma as Bader becomes eligible for free agency at the end of the season: Since April 2019, Bader has spent 198 days (and counting) on the injured list. As a Yankee since last August, he’s played in only 40 of their 117 regular season games or 35%. With Aaron Hicks in mind, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees offering him more than a two-year deal. … Can we please put on hold all the “next Mickey Mantle” comparisons to the Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez? Even in winning AL Rookie of the Year honors last year, Rodriguez struck out over three times more than he walked, with as many strikeouts (145) as hits. This year he had 69 strikeouts as opposed to 56 hits (albeit 10 of them homers) and only 17 walks. By contrast — and we’re conceding it was a different time and a different era — but Mantle, who hit .298 lifetime and led the AL in strikeouts five times, had 1,710 career strikeouts, but with 1,733 walks and 2,415 hits (including 536 homers). And speaking of the “next Mickey Mantle,” has anyone noticed that Jasson Dominguez is hitting only .205 at Double-A Somerset?


Source: Berkshire mont

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