Yankees: Lance Lynn and Sonny Gray’s dominance is destroying my soul

CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 14: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on August 14, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 14: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on August 14, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The 2018 Yankees had bad, bad versions of Lance Lynn and Sonny Gray. Both men are now among the top 10 (5?) pitchers in baseball.

At the 2018 trade deadline, the Yankees acquired the pitcher with the third-most pitching WAR and second-best ERA in the American League so far in 2020.

This was only adding to their embarrassment of riches, though; after all, at the 2017 deadline, they’d also imported the man who leads the league in strikeouts, and someone who currently holds an ever-growing MLB record for most consecutive starts with under six hits allowed.

Unfortunately, neither of these pitchers started Game 1 of an all-important ALDS battle with Boston for the 100-win 2018 Yankees. More stunning, even: Neither of them was very good in pinstripes at all, and Yankees fans spent their entire tenure here wishing them gone.

Lance Lynn and Sonny Gray are two of the most dominant arms in baseball, and the Yankees are left holding the bag, wishing the two co-aces had arrived in the Matt Blake era, instead of locking horns with a tired Larry Rothschild.

Lynn and Gray both started on Friday night concurrently with Gerrit Cole, further underscoring exactly how much fun it would be to have both men, firing on all cylinders, lined up behind the Yankees’ ace. Lynn hurled a complete game at Coors Field, beating the playoff-contending Rockies, and most importantly was in total control of his game from the first pitch. It was the type of “I got this” performance the Yankees could absolutely use from their non-aces. Gray, of course, threw 6.2 innings with 10 more Ks, his slider dipping instead of sagging into the dirt, and his fastball spotting the corners instead of yanking wildly, never persuading the batter to even consider it.

Usually, I handle this reality well. But sometimes, I see Dan Plesac’s list of the five best starters in baseball right now, and my brain leaks through my ear.

Jaw on the floor. This is 2020.

I don’t get angry when I watch their strikeout totals grow and their nostrils expand with another victorious scream, though. I just get sad. “It was never going to work in New York” isn’t a viable explanation anymore, seeing as both men bounced back immediately when they were coddled properly.

It’s far more accurate to say it was never going to work in New York with Larry Rothschild in charge.

This definitely seems like an instance where the simplest answer is the best one. Gray, on the way out, specifically blamed the Yankees and Rothschild, for emphasizing the wrong pitch in his arsenal. We got defensive, mocked him and preened, standing our ground and defending (clears throat) NEW YORK, BABY, but … why? We knew Gray was right. We knew how little good Rothschild’s antiquated tactics were doing us.

It was right there in front of every Yankees fan: we’ve got the right rotation pieces, for once, with the wrong man in charge. The guy who “couldn’t handle New York” was the fellow on the coaching staff.

Seriously, watch a 2020 Lance Lynn start. Look at him positively breathing fire with every fastball. That guy didn’t have the composition to get riled up by a Bronx crowd? Come on now. His trademark aggressiveness was there, but it didn’t deliver the same results because he didn’t have the right guy believing in him, and had the misfortune to arrive midseason and be handed a directionless pitching program. After mostly good starts (and three duds) in the Bronx, he was relegated to the dregs of the bullpen in the ALDS against Boston. 2018 was, really, his only bad season in baseball.

With a pinpoint Sonny Gray and a dare-you-to-hit-it Lance Lynn, I don’t think the Yankees fall so flat in that series. I don’t think Luis Severino forgets when Game 3 starts, either, under this imagined new administration. A year and a half after their departure, and Sevy’s disaster, and JA Happ’s opening frame stinker, it’s clear the pitching side of the coaching staff badly needed the complete overhaul it received when Matt Blake arrived this offseason.

Yes, Gray’s reunion with his old Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson has likely played a large role in his reemergence. But a good pitching coach learns what made a pitcher successful in the past, and uses it to their advantage. Blake could’ve studied Vandy tape and implemented alterations. He could’ve at least approximated the Johnson advantage.

I’m not mad at all about Gray and Lynn’s continued success, and the perfect fits they’ve become. It’s not their fault the Yankees had no idea what to do with their talent.