By Jason Keidel
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Had someone told you in March that Severino would be the best pitcher on the staff, you would have demanded a hair or urine sample. Considering his disastrous 2016 — 3-8 record, 5.83 ERA, 78 hits in 71 innings, with a woeful 1.45 WHIP — pundits hardly projected Cy Young stats the following season. But Severino has literally flipped his statistical script so far, going 9-4 with a 2.91 ERA.
And over his last four starts, Severino is 4-0 with a 0.70 ERA, including his latest, stellar start Sunday against the AL Central-leading Indians, which saved the four-game set for the Bombers, who left Cleveland with a split.
If pitching is not the center of success, then why did nearly every pennant contender spend late July improving theirs? Including (and especially) the Yankees, who added starting pitchers Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray to round out a staff that needed a boost.
Though he has turned things around, with seven quality starts in his last 10 outings, no one saw Masahiro Tanaka tanking for the first three months of this season. Michael Pineda was never reliable enough to be a front-line starter before his injury. And given his age, wear and tear, CC Sabathia was always a variable, even if he’s pitched refreshingly well for much of the year. So it’s both a surprise and serendipity that the Yanks found an ace in Severino.
And if you don’t think you need an ace to make it into October, try doing it without one. It’s hardly a coincidence that the best teams all have one. The Dodgers have the best record and best pitcher in the sport, Clayton Kershaw. The Washington Nationals have the next-best pitcher, Max Scherzer. The Red Sox have Chris Sale and David Price. The Houston Astros have Dallas Keuchel, who owns the Yankees.
Even if you disagree with the notion of a pitcher winning Cy Young and MVP awards — as yours truly surely does — there’s no denying the value of a No. 1 starter. You can have the best hitter or hitters in the sport, but they will, at some point, succumb to pitching. Just ask Aaron Judge, whom fans were already preparing for Cooperstown two months into the season. Despite belting a home run Sunday, Judge is wading his way through a 14-for-77 (.182) swamp.
Just ask Jacoby Ellsbury, he of the $153 million contract, who entered Sunday’s game in a 3-for-26 (.115) slump. Ask Clint Frazier, who is in a 6-for-38 (.157) funk. Or ask Todd Frazier, who’s in a 10-for-51 (.196) slide.
Bats get hot and cold, though often the latter as the autumn chill grows sleeves on the players, and the pitching sizzles. And teams with the hottest pitching, even more than the best teams, are the ones that play to the cusp of November. Just look across the Harlem River at the Mets, who found their season in the recycle bin as Noah Syndergaard tore a lat muscle and was scratched at least three months.
The Yanks hope they acquired a pair of aces at the trade deadline, but they know they have one in Luis Severino, for now. And, they hope, for a lot longer.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel