The Yankees' injuries are getting worrisome

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They’re playing great baseball and everything, but the Yankees have to be worried about their health at some point, no?  Three of the core four, as all the cool kids are calling them, have gone down: Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and now Andy Pettitte, all sidelined with injuries. Now those cool kids are calling them the “sore four.”  Wait, that’s not cool. That’s kind of lame.

But the point is taken: three-fourths of the crew that are currently gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated for their unprecedented resilience are ailing. They’re getting Rivera and maybe even Posada back in time for the Red
Sox series this weekend. Pettitte is more of a concern given that, as
Buster Olney wrote this morning
, “inflammation” is not really a
diagnosis. It’s a symptom, and it can mean any number of things, some of
which could be serious.

In light of all of this, the question has to be asked: isn’t it funny how all the “core four” fans like to pretend that Andy Pettitte never played for Houston?

Wait, that’s not the right question. The right question is: can the Yankees deal with these injuries and still keep up with a Rays team that seems to be unstoppable?

So far so good, as Francisco Cervelli has filled in nicely for Posada and Joba Chamberlain could close for a lot of teams. Likewise, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, Robbie Cano and Derek Jeter are all playing great baseball.  It’s a team with so many weapons that one or two can go down and things can be OK. But it’s certainly not ideal. Especially Pettitte’s injury, because there isn’t some easy answer for the rotation if he’s down for long.

Winning a championship is not simply a matter of writing checks. You need luck and above all else you need health.  The Yankees have had those two things in abundance for the past 15 years.  If it doesn’t hold up they can forget repeating.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.