After the dismal series against the Nats, it’s easy to blame the Yanks’ recent woes on the bats. They scored just six runs in three games against the league’s worst-pitching team, and that is inexcusable. They have had troubles hitting with runners in scoring position lately, an ailment which plagued their 2008 campaign. That obviously has to change if this team is going to come charging back, but there is one other area in which the team has been lacking this month. Starting pitching.
Teams win and lose by their starters. Good starting pitching will translate into more wins. Poor starting pitching will put more pressure on the offense which, as we’ve seen over the past series, doesn’t always come through. In May, when the Yankees ripped off nine straight and then continued playing well for a few more weeks, they saw an improvement in their starting pitching. In April the rotation sported a 5.41 ERA. In May that dropped a full run. That, along with the resurgence of Teixeira, explains much of the Yankees successful run that month.
Where do they stand in June? The staff in general has posted a respectable 4.15 ERA, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The bullpen has been beyond stellar this month, allowing just 15 earned runs over 49.1 innings for a 2.74 ERA. The starters have been much worse, raising their ERA a half point over May, 4.91. This has put more pressure on the offense, which hasn’t responded. After posting a collective .282/.349/.497 line in May, they’ve sunk to .245/.344/.435 in June. In other words, it’s no surprise that the team is 8-8 this month.
The importance of good starting pitching cannot be overstated. Perhaps no franchise better illustrates this point than the 2000/2001 Seattle Mariners. In 2000 the team won 91 games, a respectable total, and the staff put up a 4.53 ERA (4.56 for the starters). Then, in 2001, after A-Rod left for Texas*, the team won 116 games. The reason? Their staff ERA dropped to 3.54 (3.77 for the starters).
*This is where I think the “A-Rod will never win” meme began. People saw that he left, and that the Mariners got better, but failed to recognize that it was the pitching which put them over the top. / Posnanski’d
We can and will talk about the Yankees offense later. On the pitching front, though, the bullpen has saved the team this month. Remember when they were a liability? Now they’re a big part of the reason the team has managed to go 8-8 this month, despite a half-run increase in the starters’ ERA and a .066 drop in the offense’s OPS.
The adage “pitching wins championships” has become a cliche for a reason. As the team is currently playing, they look much like the Yankees teams of the past five years: all offense, mediocre pitching. So when the offense starts to slump, as it’s going to do at various points in the season, the pitching isn’t there to compensate. If the Yanks are going to hit their stride and retake the AL East, the starters will have to play to expectations. Otherwise, the Yanks will find themselves in a place similar to last year.