2:44 pm Aug. 15, 2012
With a little under two months until the postseason begins, the New York Yankees have significant questions about who will be the starting pitchers for their playoff games.
The getting there part isn't in a tremendous amount of dispute. Tuesday night's 3-0 victory over the Texas Rangers put the Yankees six games up on both the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays for the American League East lead, with just 46 games to go. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees have a 97.1 percent chance of winning the division, and a 99.6 percent chance of making the postseason overall. So, no guarantees, but they're probably in.
However, who will be in the mound for Games 1, 2 and 3 of the American League Divisional Series seems to be up for grabs. For much of the season, the obvious answers were C.C. Sabathia in Game 1, Andy Pettitte in Game 2, and Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3.
Sabathia, however, is currently on the disabled list with an elbow injury. It is being called minor, but no one knows yet how quickly he'll recover, nor how effective he'll be once he returns.
Pettitte is still on the disabled list with a fractured left ankle. And he pointed out on Tuesday what the compressed calendar means in terms of his recovery: any setback, and his season is probably over.
The likeliest pitchers to step in for Pettitte and Sabathia all season—Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes—have been struggling recently as well. Nova dominated his last time out, but pitched to an 8.36 E.R.A. over his previous five starts. And Hughes, after a two-month period from June 3 to August 1 with an E.R.A. of 2.77, has been hit hard in each of his past two starts.
Neither Nova nor Hughes is likely to be much of a problem. But the dip in form from both, combined with the Sabathia and Pettitte injuries, makes projecting what has been a strength of the team all season—its starting pitching—a far more difficult thing right now.
That is, of course, with the exception of Kuroda. Against a strong Rangers' offense, Kuroda took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Tuesday night. But his success is nothing new. Dating back to May 27, he has averaged just over seven innings per start, with an E.R.A. of just 2.30. During that period, he has failed to pitch six full innings just once, and seven full innings just four times. In a season that has made full use of the Yankees' tremendous pitching depth, Kuroda has been the constant.
This is impressive, particular given both Kuroda's age, 37, and the fact that he was transitioning from the National League to the American League, an arduous journey for a pitcher. His xF.I.P., which adjusts for the vagaries of fielding, is 3.69, right in line with his previous season marks with the Dodgers of 3.89, 3.61, 3.43 and 3.56.
After a period when Sabathia was the only reliable frontline starting pitcher for the Yankees, they finally appear to have another in Kuroda. And just in time, too.