MLB Coverage: Is Yankee Pitching Still Good Enough?

The official word on any suspensions regarding BioGenesis has led MLB coverage in most outlets, and the biggest name is obviously Alex Rodriguez. But as we await word on what early reports indicate will be a suspension that lasts through 2014, a more immediate question is this—is the New York Yankees’ pitching staff still good enough that A-Rod’s presence the rest of the season would even matter?

It’s a pertinent question. New York is still in shouting distance of the second wild-card, 4 ½ games out, albeit with three teams to catch, plus beating out the Kansas City Royals. And, as numerous media reports about New York’s offensive woes have accurately documented, even a diminished A-Rod is a big upgrade on what the Yanks have been putting out there at third base. Furthermore, we know A-Rod plans to appeal the suspension and will likely be able to play while doing so.

I think most people would agree that Rodriguez could give more than Brent Lillibridge, currently listed atop the depth chart at third base. Curtis Granderson also made it back into the lineup this weekend. But to shift gears, even the most optimistic of Yankee observers aren’t betting that these returns are going to result in New York’s lineup resembling some of its fearsome recent additions.

The New York hope is solely that they would at least score enough runs to allow the pitching staff to carry  the Pinstripes into the postseason and then perhaps follow the path of the San Francisco Giants in 2010 and 2012 and making a big run on the strength of their arms.

Yankee pitching has shown enough this season to make that all very reasonable speculation. But does it still apply. New York’s starting to show some cracks in its pitching armor just as the bats start to arrive. Consider that…

*The staff ERA, 5th in the American League overall (an amazingly good number given how tough Yankee Stadium is on pitchers) has been 9th if we focus on the period since the All-Star break.

*Starting pitching, which takes on outsized importance as the season gets shorter, and even more so in a short series, has been the weakest link, ranking seventh in the AL for the season. Again, given the environment, this is not bad, but the current state of the Yanks means they’re asking more from their staff than “not bad” or even “pretty good”.

*And most alarming has been what looks like the complete collapse of C.C. Sabathia. The ace of the staff is already having a mediocre year, with a 4.78 ERA and 9-10 record. Over his last five starts it got even worse, at 0-4 and 7.85 ERA. Even pitching in the vast expanse of San Diego’s Petco Park against a weak Padre lineup on Friday couldn’t revive the big fella.

Sabathia struggled down the stretch last year, before righting himself with two sharp outings in the Division Series, including a clutch Game 5 win over Baltimore than showed why the Yanks paid him all that cash following the 2008 season.

But it’s looking more and more like that clutch showing was the aberration. If Sabathia is turning into the kind of veteran pitcher who gin it up for some big games, but not show consistency, then his contract will be the next one the Yankees try and get MLB to help them out from under.

Other signs are alarming as well. Phil Hughes has been awful over the last month, and while Andy Pettite hasn’t been bad, his year of 7-8 with a 4.28 ERA isn’t what a team that’s completely dependent on its staff requires.

There are still unqualified positives. Hiroki Kuroda has been fantastic all year—10-6 with a 2.38 ERA, and a 0.55 ERA in the past month. The bullpen hasn’t skipped a beat, with David Robertson and Boone Logan leading a deep setup crew that hands games over to Mariano Rivera.

Overall though, the Yankees are showing real signs of fatigue in their rotation, starting with Sabathia and including Pettite. In any one big game, I wouldn’t bet against either of these guys. But the Yankees need two months of sustained excellence just to give themselves a chance.

The coming series against the light-hitting Chicago White Sox probably won’t expose too much. But the warning signs that the team has other problems besides the offense are there loud and clear.