Yankees think they have answer to crucial Luis Severino question

This would all be easier for the Yankees if Luis Severino were the Luis Severino of last season or the first half of this year.

If he were, perhaps, the Yankees would be a touch closer to the Red Sox. They certainly would be feeling better about their likely destination — an Oct. 3 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

A baseball season is a volatile, unpredictable organism. Every time it feels deducible, human beings act all human — which is to say, with results fluctuating beyond expected patterns. Still, with a month remaining, it feels as if the Yankees are not going to win enough to catch the Red Sox to capture the AL East or lose enough to be caught by the A’s for the first wild card. Of course, three Yankees games in Oakland next week could alter such thinking, as could the A’s leapfrogging the Astros to set up a rerun of last year’s seven-game ALCS, just for three hours in a one-and-done Astros-Yankees wild-card game.

If the Yankees are indeed headed to a sudden-death encounter, a case could me made that veterans J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia or Masahiro Tanaka should be given the ball. Each has postseason success. Each has a pedigree to suggest he would not wilt in the moment. Each has an argument for a probability of five or six sturdy innings that at worst, keeps the Yankees in the game.

But Severino has the best stuff. He has the best chance to do more than just manage a game. Of course, he was given that opportunity last year, lasted one out and put the Yankees behind 3-0 before they rallied against the Twins to win 8-4. These A’s are not those Twins, who earned the second wild card by default as other contenders imploded. Oakland has the majors’ fourth-best record and a bullpen arguably as deep and talented as that of the Yankees.

Severino held Oakland to one run in six innings May 13. But that was a pre-launch version of the A’s and a pre-plummet for Severino. He goes into his Friday outing against the Tigers with a 6.63 ERA and .911 OPS against in his past seven starts. Even his better outcomes are coming with less dominance and more pitches. That has limited him to one start in which he has reached the seventh inning since late June.

Yet when asked if the best of Severino could be reclaimed between now and the wild-card game — which is right up there with getting Aaron Judge healthy and productive again as the biggest Yankee issues the rest of the way — pitching coach Larry Rothschild said: “I definitely think so. If you look back at the history of younger pitchers who pitched as much last year with that kind of increase in innings, including the playoffs, you will often find an eight- to 10-game stretch like we are seeing now [with Severino]. This is not out of the norm.”

Since the turn of the century, starters such as Mark Mulder, John Lackey, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Derek Holland and Yordano Ventura all followed a big step up in innings that included the playoffs in their early 20s with a period in the following year in which they pitched poorly. For example, Verlander, a power righty like Severino, moved from 130 innings between the minors and majors in 2005 to 207 2/3 innings including the playoffs in 2006 in his age-23 season. He had a 10-start, 5.86 ERA glitch from June 29-Aug. 22 within a season in which he had a 3.66 ERA overall.

Severino went from 151 1/3 innings between the minors and majors (and starting and relief) in 2016 to 209 1/3 innings including the postseason last season in his age-23 campaign.

Verlander, in his final seven 2007 starts, had a 2.72 ERA. Severino, depending on if the Yankees need wins down the stretch, likely has six or seven starts left in the regular season. That currently includes the finale next week in Oakland. Sabathia and Happ are scheduled for the first two games in what could serve as an audition for the trio.

“We have a variety of starters and a long way to go before we have to make that decision,” Rothschild said. “There is still a lot of information to accumulate.”

But the most important data will involve Severino. In his start Sunday, Severino allowed three runs (two earned), but it was against the horrid Orioles and he needed 107 pitches for 5 2/3 innings. Still, Rothschild said: “I thought his last start, his energy level was much better and his arm was a lot quicker. This is a positive going into [Friday]. But of course it remains to be seen.”

It remains to be seen whether Luis Severino can find Luis Severino and position the Yankees better for Oct. 3.

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