Tanaka Time?  

By Nicole Hansen

With a week and a half left in the regular season, teams fighting for playoff are working harder than ever to put their best players on the field. The New York Yankees, in a tight race for the AL East division with the Toronto Blue Jays, are relying on players like Didi Gregorius, John Ryan Murphy and Greg Bird, who have been stand out players the second half of the season. But there’s one key Yankee in particular they could be missing for longer than they expected: Masahiro Tanaka.

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ESPN reported that Tanaka was diagnosed with a Grade 1 Hamstring Sprain while jogging to first base against the Mets this past Sunday. Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said that Tanaka would miss his next start against the Blue Jays. The team seemed optimistic that he will not miss any more starts after that, but there is no official word yet. So the question is, will the Yankees be able to catch the Blue Jays and seal the deal with the division without their ace? After taking a deeper look, there are other players who have been proving their worth recently, and they could be the pieces to the puzzle Tanaka has left.

Tanaka is not the only pitcher the Yankees have that has been performing well recently. C.C. Sabathia has a mediocre 4.80 ERA for the season, but a much more impressive 2.56 ERA for his last 7 games. He has a 1.37 WHIP and 34 strikeouts over the last 7 games, better than his statistics for the season. Luis Severino has also been performing well, with an ERA of 3.29 over the last 7 games, slightly lower than his season ERA of 3.12. Even though all his stats have been slipping as of late, they’re still good, and Severino will be someone Girardi can count on going into the home stretch of the regular season.

The starting pitching staff is not the only group of players who need to put their all into the last set of games. With the starting pitching staff always in question, the bullpen is going to need to step up. The stars of the bullpen this year have been Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Dellin Betances has been the saving grace the Yankees need in the bullpen for the 7th and 8th inning. He has a 1.41 ERA on the season and a 0.97 WHIP, with 120 strikeouts. Betances has been the perfect lead-up to first-year Yankee closer Andrew Miller, who has been very solid this season as well. With a 1.79 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 80 strikeouts, Miller has done a good job filling the vacant closer spot, giving the Yankees a sense of security late in the game. These two will give fans more confidence in an otherwise second-rate relief pitching staff.

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Aside from pitching, the Yankee offense is also going to need to continuously perform in order to make up for questionable pitching, as well as to rise above power hitting teams such as Toronto or Kansas City. Alex Rodriguez, the team’s home run leader, has been in a bit of a slump since the All-Star break, but he’s a power hitter that will be crucial in close games. Rookie Greg Bird has been an immensely clutch player since the break, most recently with his go ahead 3-run home run against the Blue Jays in the 10th inning on Tuesday. With 10 home runs and 28 RBIs since his debut on August 13th, he’s been a breakout star on the team, and Girardi and fans hope he’ll stay that way going into the post-season.

The overarching issue with Tanaka’s injury, other than how to replace him, highlights an argument that’s still being debated between fans of the American and National Leagues: pitchers hitting verses using a DH. Tanaka was injured while running to first base while playing the Mets at Citi Field. As an avid watcher of the American League, I’m in full favor of the DH. There’s no need for a pitcher to hit; a pitcher’s job is to pitch, and adding batting and base running to the mix presents more opportunities for injury. With the DH, players who are still powerful and impressive hitters are able to play longer and do what they’re good at: hit. Without the DH spot, players such as David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez would already be retired instead of helping their teams win games. And players such as Tanaka would still be doing what they’re paid to do: pitch.

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Being 3 games back from the division title, the next week and a half are crucial to the Yankees. And with the possibility that their ace may be out for it, everyone else on the team is going to have to step up to the plate (literally and figuratively) to make sure he isn’t missed. Hopefully for Yankee fans, they’ll be able to see Tanaka starting the first game of the post season like Girardi said.   *All stats courtesy of mlb.com

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