Pop quiz, hot shots: Name the last team to win the World Series while posting an inferior starting pitchers’ ERA to the losing team.
That would be the 2014 Giants, who outlasted the Royals in seven games while tallying a 5.29 starters’ ERA to the Royals’ 4.54. Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong pitched so poorly, getting shelled for a combined 18 runs in 17 ¹/₃ innings, that those Giants needed every last inch of Madison Bumgarner’s greatness to edge Kansas City by a run in Game 7, giving the franchise its third championship in five years.
Hence we’ve found the solution for these 2019 Yankees, right? They should just acquire the very available Bumgarner from the Giants and ride him all the way to a parade.
Alas, the pinstriped road map probably needs to be more intricate than that. With their starting rotation currently creating more headaches than a New Orleans bachelor party, the Yankees must use these next six weeks to strengthen their strengths as well as address their obvious weakness.
Their most probable path to a title sounds like this: Brief, effective starts and brilliant bullpen work, with an aggressive manager marrying those two components, and clutch hitting.
That means that, in addition to acquiring another starter before the July 31 trade deadline, the Yankees should get some relief for their relief in the form of another bullpen stud. And their offense, well … that, they should treat as one does a sleeping baby. Don’t disturb a good thing.
Maybe the Yankees would have lost the American League Division Series to the Red Sox last October no matter what Aaron Boone did. Nevertheless, the Yankees’ then-rookie manager clearly waited too long before lifting his starters, Luis Severino and CC Sabathia, in Games 3 and 4, respectively. The Yankees should emulate what the Brewers did last October: Milwaukee capitalized freely on its quantity and quality in the bullpen and just missed the World Series.
In order to do that, yes, they’ll have to add a starting pitcher, be it Bumgarner, the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez or — if their teams fall off the postseason bubble — the Indians’ Trevor Bauer, the Rangers’ Mike Minor or the Mets’ Zack Wheeler. And they’ll need to reinforce their relief corps, the stalwarts of which have worked hard thanks to the starters’ steadily short outings. Old pal Shane Greene of the Tigers, Toronto’s Ken Giles, currently on the IL, and Will Smith of the Giants — and maybe the Indians’ Brad Hand — can be had. How they’ll pull this off with a drained farm system that excels most at its bottom, further away from the big leagues, well … the Yankees have proven pretty industrious at this stuff.
The most exciting development of this Yankees season has to be the offense, which has shed its all-or-nothing results to deliver impressively with runners in scoring position. The team’s slash line in those scenarios stands at .286/.362/.475, a nice step up from last year’s .253/.342/.442. With two outs and runners in scoring position, the Yankees’ slash line is .276/.361/.466, compared to last year’s .239/.348/.417. An amazing four regulars or semi-regulars — Clint Frazier (1.287), Luke Voit (1.075), DJ LeMahieu (1.071) and Gary Sanchez (1.020) — have OPSes over 1.000 in these situations, and Aaron Judge stood at 1.316 before injuring his oblique.
Yankees fans clearly worry that the seemingly imminent returns of Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, both of whom strike out plenty, from the injured list will disrupt this offense’s flow. Both men historically have performed well in these spots, so the only key would appear to be for them to not be rusty or overanxious. For if this team can maintain this skill, personified by the new guy, LeMahieu, it can go a long way toward covering up the starting-pitching concerns.
Those starting-pitching concerns recently have defined these Yankees, who have repeatedly lost out (or just passed) on frontline arms. Their ownership and front office will face more questions if they can’t figure out a way, again, around that shortcoming. Their mission couldn’t be more clear. The solution, unfortunately for them, never is quite as clear.
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