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Sonny Gray Is an Ace, but He Can't Solve Yankees' Problems

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 03: Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees takes the mound against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning  at Progressive Field on August 3, 2017 in Cleveland,  Ohio.  The Indians defeated the Yankees 5-1.  (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
David Maxwell/Getty Images

So much for Sonny Gray the savior.

In his hotly anticipated debut with the New York Yankees, the 27-year-old right-hander flashed ace-like moments and finished with a perfectly respectable line: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 6 SO, 3 BB.

The Yanks, however, lost 5-1 to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday at Progressive Field and displayed the flaws that make them an imperfect postseason contender, with or without Gray.

They committed three errors, all in the first inning, an inauspicious welcome for their trade-deadline prize, acquired from the Oakland Athletics for a package that included outfielder Dustin Fowler, infielder Jorge Mateo and right-hander James Kaprielian, lauded prospects all.

More damningly, New York's lineup managed a scant one run on three hits with 11 strikeouts in Gray's first outing.

As George A. King III of the New York Post put it, "Nobody could have blamed Sonny Gray for checking to see if he was really wearing a Yankees' road uniform instead of the green, yellow and white outfit he left in Oakland."

Granted, it was against Indians stud Corey Kluber, who can make even the best hitters look hapless. But the Yankees were shut out Wednesday by the woeful Detroit Tigers and Jordan Zimmermann, who lowered his ERA to 5.35.

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The division-rival Boston Red Sox, meanwhile, are rolling, having plated 27 runs in their last three games, all wins. 

Gray came from Oakland to New York for a package of coveted prospects.
Gray came from Oakland to New York for a package of coveted prospects.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Yankees maintain the best run differential in the American League East at plus-112 (the Sox sit at plus-70). But the Bronx bunch is headed in an uncertain direction, despite laying claim to the Junior Circuit's top wild-card position.

To be fair, Gray isn't the only cavalryman general manager Brian Cashman acquired.

He also engineered a deal with the Chicago White Sox that brought in bullpen right-handers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and slugging infielder Todd Frazier.

Gray was the big fish, though, the one reeled in on the final day of the non-waiver trade deadline. His mandate was clear: propel New York back to the October promised land.

As Cashman himself put it after the trade, per ESPN.com, "We're trying to go from good to great."

Gray seemed to embrace it in a piece penned for The Players' Tribune:

"The pennant race … that’s something I’m especially excited about. I’m not much for talking about myself—but if there’s one thing I could say as an introduction to Yankee fans, I think it would be this: I’m a competitor. I love to compete. And when I get on the mound, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to compete, and I’m going to come at guys. I’m going to challenge guys, straight-up—with my best stuff against their best stuff."

The problem is that, even with Gray, there are questions in the rotation, especially after Michael Pineda underwent Tommy John surgery.

Slugging rookie savant Aaron Judge is in the midst of an inevitable slump. Whatever air of invincibility surrounded the club early in the season is gone, replaced by a tenuous sense of, Welp, we'll see.

Scalding rookie Aaron Judge's production has tailed off.
Scalding rookie Aaron Judge's production has tailed off.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Gray was an All-Star and top-three AL Cy Young Award finisher in 2015. He's under club control through 2019, making him a fine addition for a squad seeking to win now and later.

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, he owned the second-lowest ERA (1.37) since June 25 behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw entering play Thursday. 

No single player can smooth over all of a franchise's issues, however, let alone one with only two dominant MLB seasons under his belt.

The Yankees need to click offensively. They need to start playing tighter defense. They need to jell as a unit, including the young players who've never been here before (cough, Judge).

If they can do that, the AL East is winnable, and October could be a lot of fun. If they can't, Gray won't tip the scales. 

            

All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference.

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