The New York Yankees had to breathe a sigh of relief last night, as 25-year-old David Phelps got his fourth start of the season against the Texas Rangers and pitched five solid innings, letting the Yankee bats beat up on Ryan Dempster and deliver New York an easy 8-2 win that kept them five games up on the surging Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. Phelps got the start when staff ace C.C. Sabathia was put on the disabled list. With the rotation heavily dependent on Sabathia, Tampa coming hard and postseason play just seven weeks out, TheSportsNotebook looks at how worried the Yankees need to be.
Let’s start by looking at the current rotation, with each pitcher’s W-L record and ERA…
Hiroki Kuroda: 10-8, 3.24
Phil Hughes: 11-10, 4.44
Ian Nova: 11-6, 4.70
Freddy Garcia: 6-5, 4.85
David Phelps: 3-3, 2.53, four starts
This is not a staff that’s going to remind anyone in the Bronx of Clemens, Mussina, Wells & Pettite, the group that pitched them to the 2003 AL pennant. As sharp as Phelps’ numbers are, we have to see how American League lineups react to the Notre Dame grad once they get multiple looks at him. Hughes and Nova ‘s ERAs are misleading, although whether it’s good or bad depends on what night it is. Both can either look brilliant or awful. In the playoffs that’s unsettling under any circumstances, but particularly or a team that can win with its bats if they could just be assured of a steady flow of 6 IP/3 ER outings from their pitchers. But that’s Nova and Hughes’ way. Kuroda has had a good year, but do you want him as your staff ace, pairing him up with other #1s in what the organization hopes will be three consecutive postseason series?
But the question about Kuroda begs a follow-up, and that’s the competition among other American League staffs, most notably the one they started a four-game series with last night. Texas, like New York, has two starting pitchers on the disabled list. Unlike the Yanks, who are expecting Sabathia and Pettite back in plenty of time for the playoffs, the Rangers know Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz are gone for the season. Texas went out and got Ryan Dempster, but he’s now been lit up by both the Yanks and Angels and giving credence the doubts some of us had about his ability to deal with good American League lineups. Here are the other four starters Texas is trotting out…
Yu Darvish: 12-8, 4.54
Matt Harrison: 13-6, 3.31
Derek Holland: 7-6, 4.92
Scott Feldman: 6-7, 4.64
Let’s add to this that Darvish is getting worse with each passing start. This staff has to make the folks with the A’s, Angels and Fox Sports very happy. I include Fox because if they get a Rangers-Yankees ALCS they not only get a marquee matchup, but they’re going to be getting a lot of runs.
Therefore, if we compare New York to the team they’re most comparable to in the standings, we can see that at minimum, the starting pitching is not a competitive disadvantage and we further see that New York’s prospects of things getting better are significantly higher.
The concern in New York has to be both the end of the regular season and the Division Series, where upsets look increasingly possible against both the Yanks and Rangers. Chicago leads the AL Central and has a top four that looks like this…
Jake Peavy: 9-8, 3.04
Chris Sale: 14-3, 2.60
Jose Quintana: 4-2, 2.78
Gavin Floyd: 8-9, 4.43
Chicago won’t get John Danks back this season, but the extra rest Sale got from his tired arm appears to have done the trick, as he’s been sharp the last two outings. If Detroit wins the Central they’ll likely be able to use Justin Verlander twice. That prospect is reason for the folks in New York to hope that if the Tigers do make the Division Series it comes via the wild-card game where Verlander would have to be burned up.
The American League rotations best suited to win multiple postseason series are in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. The Angels have a big bullpen problem, and Zack Greinke’s been hit hard in his last two outings. That brings us back to the Rays, who have David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson all pitching well and Evan Longoria is back in the fold. Every one of these starters is superior to what the Yankees have at similar spots in the rotation, and that’s even if Sabathia and Pettite make it back.
While Tampa Bay is hot and I think will continue to play well, a five-game margin at this point of the season is a significant number, and I think New York will hang on in the AL East, particularly presuming a return by Sabathia and Pettite. But if the Yanks also outlast Texas for the #1 seed they would draw the wild-card winner in the Division Series (with the new playoff format the old rule prohibiting division rivals from playing prior to the LCS has been removed). No one in New York can relish the prospect of playing Tampa in that round.
The concern the Yankees have without C.C. Sabathia is not at the top of the American League, it’s what’s in the rearview mirror, both within in their division and among potential AL Central foes.