New York Yankees Editorial: Is Masahiro Tanaka Really Injured?


Before Sunday night’s rubber-match with the Mets, the Yankees announced that Masahiro Tanaka – who has pitched to a 2.60 ERA in his last eight starts – would miss his next start with a strained hamstring. With the Yankees entering a crucial series with Toronto just two games back in the loss column, the news seemed like a devastating blow.

But the story the Yankees are telling is a little fishy. Tanaka says he injured himself while batting in the second inning against the Mets, but was still able to complete an impressive six-inning, two-run, 82 pitch outing. According to Tanaka, he wants to pitch in Toronto and feels as though he can, and even Joe Girardi admits the injury is not that serious and that he expects Tanaka to miss only one start.

Why would the Yankees lie?

Well consider this: If Tanaka continues pitching every fifth day, he will make three more starts this season, finishing out the season on October 3rd in Baltimore. In that case, he would be unable to pitch on October 6th in a hypothetical wild card game.

Now on the other hand, by missing his next start, the Yankees – who have said nothing about when Tanaka is next expected to pitch – can insert Tanaka back into the rotation some time during the White Sox series (probably September 26th), putting him on track to be able to make a start on October 6th on regular rest.

Sure, this is pure speculation, and the division is still in play, but the pressure is surely beginning to mount. Prior to Sunday night’s victory, the Yankees had just a 10% chance of winning the division, but also an 89.5% chance of winning the wild card. If the Yankees find themselves playing a one-game playoff, it’s really Tanaka or nothing: Sabathia, Nova, and Pineda have been iffy all season, Warren is just re-entering the rotation, and although Severino has been virtually lights-out and could arguably be the Yankees best bet, nobody believes Girardi would hand the ball to a 21 year-old in a win-or-go-home scenario.

If you accept that a) the Yankees are far more likely to win a wild card spot than to win the division and b) the Yankees management feels Tanaka is their only option in a one-game playoff, then scratching Tanaka, and creating a narrative for doing so, is the only option. In other words, starting anyone other than Tanaka in a one-game playoff is, in the eyes of the Yankees’ front office, tantamount to suicide, but offering that as a justification for skipping his next start is equally unacceptable (imagine the uproar if Girardi was admittedly sacrificing his team’s chance at winning the division in order to feed his risk aversion in a hypothetical wild card game.)

Scratching Tanaka because of an exaggerated injury would provide the Yankees’ front cover while also, in their view, giving their team the best possible chance to win a championship. Indeed, if the Yankees really believed it was possible, and imperative, to win the division, Tanaka would be pitching the final game in Toronto (if he can pitch with a sore hamstring against the Mets, we would hear, he could do it against the Blue Jays).

Instead, the Yankees are taking the safe route and playing the long game. Even without Tanaka pitching in Toronto, the division and the possibility of handing the ball to him on October 6th are both still in play.

You have to admit: If true, it’s a pretty brilliant plan.

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