There are five games. There are five games in which Gerrit Cole has started twice. It’s five games, the last two against the Orioles, whose only raison d’être could be to increase the Yankees’ confidence and record.
But have you noticed that throughout five games the Yankees’ pitching has been brilliant?
Yankees pitchers would have a 25-inning scoreless streak reading this sentence if they had a shortstop. But they have Gleyber Torres, who leads the majors defensively with indifference. Nonchalantly, he converted what should have been the last out of the game, a routine groundout, into an infield “single” by Ryan Mountcastle. Rio Ruiz followed with a two-run homer off Lucas Luetge and instead of beating the Orioles 7-0 for the second game in a row, the Yankees won 7-2.
Still, even with the two talented runs, the Yankees’ ERA in five games is 1.76. The batting average against is .190. Virtually every pitcher aside from Domingo German has performed well and on Tuesday night Cole was as good as he could get, which is better than any other starter on the planet not named Jacob deGrom.
“Everything was working for him,” Kyle Higashioka said.
Cole struck out 13 in seven scoreless innings as the Yanks defeated the Orioles for the 12th time in a row in The Bronx and for the 26th time in the last 30 games overall. The right-hander was precise and overwhelming with his fastball, beating in triple digits. His slider was a knockout blow. And his growing confidence and use of his change has provided him with more weaponry, especially against left-handed hitters.
However, the question for the 2021 Yankees would never be about the ace. The concern was the rest of the rotation and a bullpen that started the year with Zack Britton and Justin Wilson injured. But across five games, again just five games, the staff have not allowed more than three runs in a game.
“I think we have good pitchers, first and foremost,” Aaron Boone said. “I felt it coming into spring training. I felt our 13-20 vying for the final spots on a list was definitely as deep as since I’ve been here. I feel like all of our guys had good strong springs and built well. And I feel like across the board they are pitching well. “
An inspiration from the spring was Jameson Taillon, currently the only member of the Yankees’ 26-man starting roster who doesn’t play. That changes on Wednesday when the 29-year-old takes the ball in a game that counts for the first time in 707 days; for the first time since his second Tommy John surgery.
Much of this Yankees season is about what non-Cole starters can offer, especially the quartet that has barely pitched in the last two years: Taillon, German, Corey Kluber and eventually the Yankees hope, Luis Severino. Boone called it, “The million dollar question in Major League Baseball this year.” Who can stay healthy and hold out after a reduced or absent workload in the 2020 pandemic 60-game season? For the Yankees, the mystery deepens due to the lack of innings for two years for so many key pitchers.
The mystery for Taillon goes a bit further: is there still a substantial career for him? Once good enough to be the second pick in the 2010 draft, Taillon dreamed of racking up 100 WAR (10 pitchers have) and winning 20 games 15 years in a row. But he had Tommy John surgery, then testicular cancer, and then he needed a second Tommy John surgery.
That last one came after the Pirates traded their ace after the 2018 season. That was Cole. It was going to be Taillon’s turn to be number one in 2019. But he only made seven starts. He tried to avoid the second surgery, knowing the chances of coming back from a repeat procedure. He called that the “low point” of his career.
What brings more resonance and meaning to what comes on Wednesday.
“More than anything, I think this is going to sound cheesy, I’m excited to be a part of the Yankees and get out on the mound at Yankee Stadium and get to work,” Taillon said. “I am ready to leave rehab in the past. I am ready to contribute to this team and compete and take the ball every five days. “
What he wants to be these days is Charlie Morton. Taillon participated in spring training with Morton when they were both Pirates and Morton remained a frustration with injuries and unfulfilled talent. But for the past five years, beginning with his 33-year season, Morton has been an elite starter, learning to better prepare his body and use his stuff. At 29, Taillon said, “I feel like I have a lot ahead of me.”
HUNDRED WAR could have disappeared. But Taillon will try to keep up the good pitching vibes of the Yankees and take Step 1 again to show that a substantial run is still possible.