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Imagine the following situation:
There is a team with the best record in the major leagues. Their ace is pitching incredibly well, with 2 consecutive months of ERA’s below 2.31. He shows no signs of tiring, and actually seems to be getting better as the season moves into the dog days of summer. Their aging veteran #2 is having a fantastic season, but recently hit the disabled list. However, he is confident that he will be back soon, and there is little doubt among the team’s fans that they will have him on the hill when he is needed most.
The team’s mercurial third starter is having another inconsistent season, but is in the midst of a good stretch of pitching, having pitched to a 2.00 ERA over the last month. While he is unpredictable on a start by start basis, he can usually be counted on to have solid numbers by the time the season wraps up, with a career 3.96 ERA to show for his efforts. The fourth starter had an atrocious first 6 weeks, but has turned his season around with two consecutive months of strong pitching (ERA’s below 3.35). He too has a good track record and is filling the fourth starter role more than adequately. Finally, the fifth starter is the club’s 24 year old star in the making. He began the season with an amazing stretch of starts and made the All-Star team, but has since slowed a bit and is facing some inning limits that may force him to the bullpen for the postseason.
In all, this is a team with 5 good starters, two of which have struggled at times but have gotten into a groove lately, and two which can be counted on to give the club a strong effort every time they take the hill. Sound familiar?
It should. Those are the Yankees as of July 31st, less than one month ago. CC was rolling, and Pettitte was predicting that he would be back from the DL sooner than expected. Burnett was in the midst of a hot streak, Javy had turned his season around, and Hughes still had some nice overall numbers and was giving the team a chance to win each time he took the hill. It was a deep rotation with plenty of experience, so much so that Brian Cashman felt no need to upgrade at the deadline (unless he could nab one of the three best pitchers in the sport).
4 weeks later, Pettitte is still on the DL, Hughes has continued to be good but not great, and Burnett and Vazquez have been atrocious for the entire month, so much so that Burnett could join Vazquez in the bullpen before long if he does not turn things around. Panic about the rotation has begun to spread among Yankees fans who are convinced that this is not a championship-caliber rotation. Yet all of those people are forgetting how quickly things can change, despite seeing a perfect example of such change over the last month. In 4 weeks, the Yankees went from having a deep rotation that was among the league leaders in runs allowed to having CC Sabathia and a multitude of question marks. Things can move in a positive direction just as quickly.
Is there any sort of guarantee that the Yankee rotation will sort itself out? Absolutely not. But considering the track records of those involved, I would not bet against it. Despite struggling over the last few weeks, the Yankee rotation is still 4th in the AL in runs allowed. A team, or in this case a rotation, always looks unsalvageable in the throes of a slump. The club has pitched fairly well all year, and we should not allow a few rough weeks to obscure that fact. The pitching outlook can change in an instant.