Luis Severino's Ill-Timed Slump Puts Yankees' Season at Crucial Pivot Point

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 28: Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees reacts after giving up a 2-run single to Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals in the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium on July 28, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

On Friday, Luis Severino will take the mound for the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. It's not a must-win game. There's no such thing in early August.

It is, however, a please-oh-please-let-him-pitch-well game for the Yanks and their fans.

For much of the season, Severino has been New York's ace, the one unassailable arm in a rotation dinged by injuries and inconsistency. 

In tossing 6.2 shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox on July 1, Severino lowered his ERA to 1.98.

Since then, the wheels have wobbled for the 24-year-old right-hander.

In four starts since that July 1 outing, Severino has allowed 19 earned runs, 33 hits and seven home runs in 19.1 innings. The Yankees managed to go 2-2 in those contests, but they need Severino to turn it around posthaste.

"I still feel good," Severino said, per Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media. "I watched a little film this week, but I didn't see anything different from the first half, so I think it was just a few bad starts. That's what I'm hoping."

"Hope" is the operative word.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

After losing to the Red Sox 15-7 Thursday in Boston, the Yankees are 6.5 games back in the American League East. Their 68-39 record makes them a near-lock for a playoff berth, but they'd obviously prefer to win the division outright and avoid the crucible of the Wild Card Game.

They also need to measure themselves against a Boston squad that, along with the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians, will provide stiff October competition in the top-heavy Junior Circuit.

Severino's struggles aren't the Yankees' only concern. Key offensive cogs Aaron Judge (wrist) and Gary Sanchez (groin) are on the disabled list.

Meanwhile, left-hander J.A. Happ—whom New York acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline to shore up its rotation—is on the DL with hand, foot and mouth disease, per Miller.

New York already lost left-hander Jordan Montgomery to Tommy John surgery. Veteran CC Sabathia is showing signs of wearing down with a 5.48 July ERA. Masahiro Tanaka is back and pitching well after missing time with a pair of strained hamstrings, but Sonny Gray owns a 5.56 ERA, was demoted to the bullpen and is embroiled in controversy. 

To put it simply: The Yankees need Severino to pitch like a Cy Young Award contender if they want to make a World Series run. And Friday's start against their archrivals would be an excellent time to begin.

According to FanGraphs, Severino's velocity hasn't taken a significant dive. There is no talk of injury. Maybe his recent issues are an anomalous blip.

"He's still throwing hard, nothing looks fatigued with the arm or anything like that," a rival talent evaluator said, per Newsday's Erik Boland.

On the other hand, despite his live arm and considerable talent, Severino posted a 5.83 ERA in 71 MLB innings as recently as 2016. He put up a 2.98 ERA with 230 strikeouts in a career-high 193.1 frames in 2017 and has made two straight All-Star teams.

Still, it's fair to wonder if his ascent toward unambiguous No. 1 status has hit a snag. And, if so, whether it might derail New York's lofty postseason aspirations.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 28:  Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees in action against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on July 28, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Kansas City Royals defeated the New York Yankees 10-5.  (Photo by Mike St
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Sure, the Yankees have ample young talent in the pipeline. Their window of contention is opening, not closing.

They're also the Yankees, with 27 titles under their belts and the perennial expectation to win another one. The fact that they're locked in a divisional battle with the Red Sox only ratchets up the urgency.

After contests against Boston on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Yankees will enter a soft portion of their schedule in which they'll play 24 of 27 games against teams that currently possess losing records. It's a chance to gain ground in the standings, but that shot will be diminished if Severino isn't pitching up to his potential. 

Even with a deep bullpen augmented by the deadline addition of Zach Britton and an offense that hopes to have Judge and Sanchez healthy for the playoffs, Severino may be the Yankees' key come October. You don't need a rotation-fronting horse to ride to a Commissioner's Trophy, but it sure helps.

"They all go through [struggles] in their careers," an unnamed scout said of Severino, per Boland. "[Chris] Sale, [Clayton] Kershaw, [Corey] Kluber. All the good ones do. To me, just a bump in the road."

There are a lot of folks in the Bronx and beyond crossing their fingers and toes, hoping that's true.


All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.