David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Worrying about the Yankees' rotation right now doesn't seem like that big a deal. On the anxiety meter, we'd probably put it somewhere between locking the keys inside your car and forgetting to floss.
Eventually, somebody will come by to help with the keys. And your teeth are still going to be there tomorrow.
It's the same way with the Yankees. So Masahiro Tanaka hit the wall Tuesday night in the seventh inning, when Pablo Sandoval took him deep into the rightfield bleachers. Along came Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances to bail him out, with the Yankees scoring nine runs in the bottom half to bludgeon the Red Sox, 13-3.
Brush. Rinse. Repeat.
This can't continue, right? The rotation, ranked in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, averages less than six per start. That puts their overworked bullpen near the top, at more than three innings each game. And Joe Girardi couldn't care less.
It's a formula that should still win the division, thanks in part to the five-game cushion built over the Blue Jays, a team with only one dominant starter in David Price. As for what it might mean at playoff time, when a short series can be controlled by a superior rotation, Girardi spit back that question after the victory, the Yankees' 11th in 15 games.
"Hey, let's just get to October," Girardi said. "We'll worry about that then. The bottom line is we're winning games. Just keep doing it the way they're doing it. It's fine with me."
For now, sure. But we like to look ahead, and the line of questioning for Brian Cashman before the game mostly focused on the rotation. The general manager insisted he is "very comfortable" with his starters, but added that's contingent on having Tanaka and Michael Pineda at the front of it. As Cashman mentioned, the Yankees won't be able to say that until another month, at best, when Pineda is expected to return from a forearm strain.
"Those guys can match up with anybody, as long as they're at full strength," Cashman said. "If not, then just like anybody else, your No. 3 starter becomes your No. 2 and so on and so forth."
The Yankees don't want to revert to that sliding scale with a rotation perilously top heavy. Tanaka, the undisputed No. 1, turned in a serviceable performance, but only had three strikeouts. And if you need a reminder of what an ace-caliber performance looks like, Price struck out 11 in eight innings Monday in his Blue Jays debut.
Should anything happen to Tanaka, or if Pineda is further delayed, Cashman may regret not turning over a few of his prospects for either Price, Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels. For as much as Cashman talked up his current rotation, and how he is looking forward to Luis Severino's big-league debut Wednesday night, the GM also provided a laundry list of injured prospects who left him without enough chips at the deadline.
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Ian Clarkin, Luis Torrens, Domingo German, Eric Jagielo -- all either hurt or rehabbing, and therefore off the table.
"We were a little bit handicapped to some degree," Cashman said.
That doesn't sound like a GM who believes his rotation is fine. More like one who wanted an upgrade, maybe was advised by ownership not to deal the untouchables -- Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird -- and now must cross his fingers for the next two months, as well as the playoffs.
The Yankees' rotation entered Tuesday ranked 12th in the American League with a 4.36 ERA.
And unless Severino morphs into Pedro Martinez, we're not expecting that number to improve much.
Obviously, Tanaka and Pineda, when they're pitching like No. 1s, can be a solid base for the playoffs. But the Yankees still have to fend off the recharged Blue Jays, who visit the Bronx this weekend for three of the 13 games these two teams have left against each other.
That could be something to worry about.