On Tuesday, the Yankees will play their most important game of the year.
Luis Severino makes his season debut against the Angels and all eyes will be on him, his shoulder and his performance with visions of October stuck in our heads.
The Yankees have spoiled us in 2019 by shaking off every injury, moving on and winning nearly two-thirds of their games. There hasn’t been a game with the season on the line, or with tremendous postseason implications, and the division should be wrapped up by end of the workweek.
Tuesday’s game won’t factor into the postseason too much. It could affect homefield advantage, but it won’t determine if the Yankees are a playoff team. Instead, this is all about Severino. This is about the one injury the Yankees can’t truly shake off.
The right-hander was supposed to front the 2019 Yankee rotation and was minutes from making his Spring Training debut before issues with his shoulder came up. At first, he was supposed to be back by early May. Then, the timeline jumped to midseason. Flash forward to now and Severino has pitched in just three games of professional ball and the playoffs start in two-and-a-half weeks.
And Severino isn’t just some injury. There’s no replacing him. Or, maybe there would have been a replacement for him, but it would have required trading prospects or spending significant money, but even the alternatives by the trade deadline didn’t necessarily add up to what Sevy gives you.
Though he’s had some clunkers in the postseason the last couple years, Severino has been the ace of the staff. A true No. 1. What James Paxton has been for the last 1.5 months, but for an entire season. There’s a reason the Yankees were eager to lock him up and keep him as a cornerstone to this franchise.
Perhaps Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel or Trevor Bauer would have been able to be a frontline pitcher for the Yankees come October. They, at the very least, would have extended the rotation and provided cover for injury.
With a strong outing Tuesday, we can start to forget about that. We can see what the Yankees saw going into the spring, a rotation with Severino, Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and a few other options to boot. A team that can compete with the Astros and rest of the league with its rotation in addition to its bullpen and offense.
We don’t know if Severino is all the way back yet. His performances in Trenton were encouraging, and he has enough time with the potential for three starts over the next two weeks to be up to around 100 pitches come the ALDS. That’s exciting, and something the Yankees need.
But the Yankees need Severino to be effective. There are infinite universes where the Yankees win a World Series with Paxton, Tanaka and German leading the rotation and Severino out, but there are more infinities with that combination not adding up. Severino is the missing piece for New York and he needs to prove he can not only throw deep into games but also be effective deep into contests.
With Severino in the rotation, the team can deepen its bullpen and find creative uses for Domingo German. He allows the Yankees to rely even more upon their bullpen without fear of exhaustion. He has the best stuff of any pitcher in the rotation, but that’s when healthy and stretched out.
Severino doesn’t need to throw 5-6 perfect innings against the Angels. Instead, he needs to prove he can handle a Major League mound once again, staying healthy and showing effectiveness in some form. Throw his high-90s fastball by a hitter or two, break out the offspeed stuff. For as little as the game Tuesday means from standings perspective, it means the world to the Yankees’ ability to compete in just a few weeks.