There is little doubt the Yankees needed to upgrade their rotation, and the addition of J.A. Happ fit the bill. However, is the rest of the Yankees rotation strong enough to make a charge to catch the Red Sox with 61 games left on the schedule?
Happ is a certain upgrade over current No. 4 starter Sonny Gray, as well as the two pitchers -- Luis Cessa and Domingo German -- the Yankees had been interchanging of late in the No. 5 spot. However, Happ had been in a slump before his most recent start (five innings, one run), pitching to a 9.75 ERA over three starts.
Before the skid, Happ had tossed 97 innings to the tune of a 3.62 ERA with 107 strikeouts and just 27 walks. Happ's production was enough to get him named to the American League All-Star team, and the Yankees hope a chance to pitch in the postseason gets Happ back on track.
In a sense, Happ is a perfect fit for a rotation that is defined by "what-if" production scenarios, especially when trying to determine who would follow ace Luis Severino in a postseason series.
Gray has been a disappointment for much of this season, however he has now turned in three straight solid efforts in which he has allowed three runs (two earned) over 16 1/3 innings. If Gray can somehow provide the Yankees with similar performances over the next couple of months, it will go a long way toward the Yankees chances of overtaking first place.
Similarly, Masahiro Tanaka was brilliant in his most recent start, his second straight strong effort after looking somewhat rusty in his return from the disabled list. Tanaka might be an X-factor in the rotation. He was the Yankees' best pitcher in the playoffs last year after producing a successful second half, but overall he's been inconsistent over the last season and a half.
The Yankees oldest rotation member, CC Sabathia, might be among the more consistent of the crew. His 3.52 ERA in 100 innings is far better than some may have imagined, but the balky knee looms over each start. Sabathia is a gamer, a pitcher the club wants strong down the stretch and if he stays healthy, I have little concern about his production.
Most surprisingly, Severino is in a massive slide right now. Severino was rocked in his most recent outing for seven runs (six earned) and 11 hits in five innings. He has allowed 14 runs (13 earned) on 25 hits (including six home runs) in his last 15 innings across three starts. The downturn has spiked his ERA from 1.98 to 2.63. Severino had been in the mix for consideration for the Cy Young Award, however he will have to have a quick and impressive turnaround to get back into the discussion.
The concern with Severino is the number of innings he threw last season and the jump he had made from 2016. Severino is averaging 6 1/3 innings per start, and it is plausible the workload might be affecting him.
As for rotation depth, the Yankees continue to claim that the organization's newly-anointed top prospect (according to MLB Pipeline), Justus Sheffield, will be making his MLB debut before long. It is possible that the Yankees maneuver the rotation around over the next several weeks by inserting Sheffield into the mix on occasion in an effort to rest Tanaka, Sabathia and Severino. That might be a wise call, however Sheffield is obviously no sure thing.
As the Yankees understood they needed to upgrade the rotation, it is clear they believed it would not be impactful enough on its own, thus the addition of lefty reliever Zach Britton to an already top-flight bullpen. Happ might provide a boost down the stretch, but if the remaining rotation members perform inadequately, his acquisition might be all for naught.