What a difference two non-waiver trade deadline deals involving two pitching aces make. Yu Darvish to the Dodgers figures to solidify a team that looks like it has the National League West sewn up and in the bank; Sonny Gray to the Yankees, say most analysts so far, means the Yankee rebuild is over and Joe Girardi, in the words of ESPN’s Andrew Marchand, now manages for his job.
The Dodgers didn’t play for Darvish just to keep the surprising Rockies and Diamondbacks in check and bury the fallen Giants deeper, says another ESPN writer, Bradford Doolittle—they played for Darvish with their eyes on the resurgent defending world champion Cubs and the National League East’s seemingly unstoppable Nationals.
They’re pretty well convinced they’re postseason bound now, even with Clayton Kershaw and his back on the disabled list, and landing Darvish, to the Dodgers, means they’re playing for October with every intention of playing deep in that month. Maybe even a showdown with the Yankees. Maybe even Darvish lined up to face Gray.
Darvish coming off his worst outing ever didn’t scare the Dodgers away; he got clobbered for ten runs in three and two thirds against the Marlins on 26 July, en route a 22-10 loss, and assorted reports suggest Darvish was tipping his pitches, a flaw the pitcher himself has said he’s fixing and fast.
The only thing that might scare the Dodgers is whether Darvish turns out a rental. He’s in his first walk year, and he’s said on the record that he doesn’t expect the Rangers to make a run at bringing him back as a free agent. But he also said he’d talk to any team interested in him after the season. He won’t be lacking for suitors, especially if he does mean a pennant for the Dodgers.
Theoretically, he could even end up a Yankee, joining Gray for one helluva 1-2 pitching punch. That’s a concern for another day. Right now, the Dodgers want Darvish to help them secure their position. Then, they can think about things like putting him into a number two rotation slot behind returning Kershaw in the postseason, which favours the Dodgers because Darvish among other things can go deep in just about any game.
A postseason Dodger rotation of Kershaw, Darvish, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill might shake the other guys a bit, even if Hill is having his struggles this season. And don’t forget the upgraded Dodger bullpen. Adding Tony Watson gives them a glandular insurance policy if the game gets dicey but too soon to go to Kenley Jansen. Watson is solid to hitters on both sides, but against such prospective postseason lefthanded danger as Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo Watson can be dangerous.
His OPS against lefthanded hitting lifetime is a miniscule .569. In the last three years, the lefthander has been, overall, almost as stingy with righthanded hitters. (.628.) Assuming he finds the change of scenery way more to his liking than he found in Pittsburgh this year, Watson in theory, and if the Dodgers get to that matchup, could end up giving Aaron Judge himself a few shakes.
The best news about the Yankees landing Gray—other than shoring up what was previously a slightly dicey starting rotation—is that they have him under team control through the end of the 2019 season. The bad news: Gray’s postseason experience—including a magnificent duel in which he out-pitched Justin Verlander in Game Two of a 2013 division series with eight shutout innings—is counter-acted by his injury history and his tendency to fade in September.
Gray’s a workhorse with ace stuff and an ace’s makeup, but the Yankees have to be concerned about what he brings down the harder stretch. They also have to be concerned about one glaring blip on Gray’s radar this season. Against the league’s also-rans, Gray’s pitched like Bob Gibson. (2.13 earned run average in eight starts against teams .500 or lower.) Against the contenders, he’s pitched like a charwoman. (4.86 ERA in eight starts against clubs with winning records.)
And, in four combined starts against three clubs he has a shot at seeing in the postseason—the Red Sox, the Astros, and the Indians—Gray’s ERA is 5.96.
Don’t discount a change of atmosphere coming into play for Gray, either. It’s already done the Yankees a couple of favours without Gray putting on his pinstripes yet. If good news inspires good things, the Gray deal put a shot of rocket fuel into the Bombers Monday. Judge snapped his post All-Star slump in the fifth when he hit one into the left field seats, his league-leading 34th, Chase Headley had a three-hit night, and the Yankees flattened the Tigers, 7-3.
Headley won’t pretend otherwise about their new toy. “Guys were fired up when they heard the news,” he said after the game. The Dodgers wait until today to show how they’re feeling about their new teammate; they had Monday off, after they spent the weekend hammering eleven more nails into the Giants’ coffin in a weekend sweep.
Whether Girardi shepherds the Gray who inspired Oakland fans to greet the opening of his starts with such banners as “Forecast: Sonny with Chance of Strikeouts” or the one who inspires contending teams to tabulate their fatted offensive stats with him on the mound could be one reason why, as Marchand writes, he’s now managing for his own job as well as an October triumph.
Girardi’s in his own walk year, his four-year deal expiring after the season. Remarkably, Yankee co-owner Hal Steinbrenner gave general manager Brian Cashman carte blanche to rebuild the club, letting all those farewell tours finish while Cashman in one year has remade and remodeled the Yankees into something comparatively unrecognisable—and possibly (underline that) unstoppable.
These are not your older brother’s Yankees. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Mark Teixiera, and Alex Rodriguez are gone to retirement. The biggest of their young big boppers, Aaron Judge, is a likeable kid who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of words and phrases like controversy and/or control freak. The remade/remodeled Yankees are even described in a word once thought unthinkable when talking about the Empire Emeritus: likeable.
It didn’t look that way when the season began, but the Yankees are now dead even with the Red Sox in expectations regarding the American League East. The Yankees even have less controversy than the Red Sox, if you believe in surrealism. And Cashman didn’t accomplish this with yet another payload of free agent fishing. He used some clever horse trading and the team’s own resources to retool the farm and shepherd the so-called Baby Bombers.
The better news: Hark back to spring training. Girardi, who was never going to win personality contests, was happier during this year’s spring training than at maybe any other time during his Yankee tenure. The least hyperbolic manager in the business, Girardi, according to Marchand, was being just that, in his own quiet way, around the batting cages, when he talked about Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, Jordan Montgomery, and Justus Sheffield as having maybe more talent than the late Core Five.
The only prospective obstructions remain CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka. Sabathia isn’t the pitcher he once was, and both pitchers have endurance concerns attached to them by now. Those are the least of Girardi’s headaches.
With all that, no wonder the talk is also about Girardi’s future. Cashman has handed him something invaluable. A rotation young and to die for. A bullpen likewise. A lineup in which anyone can be a hero and one and all don’t mind being contributing crewmen. And, a future—made sweeter by all that money coming off the books and all the young talent in the organisation, as Marchand notes—in which he no longer has to manage to try escaping Father Time’s noose.
Only the one he fashions for himself, if he can’t take these Yankees deep in October.