The Yankees should be very happy with the way Domingo German has pitched during the regular season. That doesn’t mean he can be their postseason ace.
Yankees fans are feeling good about the state of their team after a dominant four-game sweep of the Red Sox inside the confines of Yankee Stadium. That doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t have serious questions to answer before the postseason arrives. The biggest call for New York will be who to trust as the team’s starting pitcher when their first playoff game arrives.
Heading into the season, the expectation was that Luis Severino would be the team’s unquestioned ace. Yes, he struggled in the second half of the previous season due to tipping pitches, but Yankees officials were quietly confident they’d identified how to fix those problems. Unfortunately, Severino hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the team this season due to injury. Yankees officials are hopeful he can play some sort of role for the team in the postseason, but he will not be stretched out enough to serve as a conventional ace.
If you were to judge the current staff based on their performance this season, Domingo German would get the ball in Game 1 of any postseason series. He sports a gaudy win/loss record of 14-2 and his 3.98 ERA comfortably leads the starting rotation on the season. The Yankees would not be in possession of first place in the AL East without German’s presence in the rotation. That does not, however, mean that Aaron Boone should send him to the mound as soon as the playoffs arrive.
Instead, the organization should hand that honor/task to either Masahiro Tanaka or James Paxton. Neither has pitched as well as German this season. However, both pitchers possess the sort of high-end, power stuff required to succeed in October. Both Tanaka and Paxton have been maddeningly inconsistent this year, but each still flashes brilliance on a semi-regular basis.
Tanaka’s struggles can largely be attributed to his inability to produce a quality split-finger fastball on the season. It’s arguably been the veteran’s best pitch in recent years, but it’s deserted him entirely in his 22 starts on the season. If he can rediscover that pitch’s magic down the stretch then he’s the right guy to start the team’s postseason opener. His postseason success in a Yankees uniform would give him the nod over Paxton.
Speaking of the talented left-hander, he’s probably the starting pitcher on the staff with the best pure stuff. He can overpower hitters with his electric fastball that can reach the upper-90s when Paxton is really feeling it. Combine that with a healthy assortment of quality breaking balls and he’s a guy who can make opposing hitters look foolish at times. His command hasn’t been great this season and that’s why he is posting an ugly 4.61 ERA on the campaign. Don’t be surprised to see him get hot down the stretch and finish the year with statistics very similar to German.
For the record, German’s excellent production on the season merits his inclusion in the postseason rotation. The Yankees should give him the next available home start in any playoff matchup. Pitching at home should give him a higher comfort level than throwing him into the mix in a hostile, road atmosphere. The whole idea of not making German the team’s de facto postseason ace is to lessen the pressure on the inexperienced pitcher.
The reality is that the Yankees will need German to be successful in the postseason if they want to make a run to the World Series. The key to making that happen will be to put him in the most comfortable environment possible. Sending him to the mound on Game 1 would be a great way to throw his entire postseason performance into chaos. It’s imperative that Boone tap someone else to take the ball when the playoffs begin.