New York Yankees pitcher Luis Severino, wearing a shirt in his honor, hopes to give the Yanks at ... [+]


The pattern that's evolving in this year's Major League Baseball playoffs is that the top teams are riding starting pitching - elite starting pitching - into the World Series.

Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg for the Washington Nationals, and Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole for the Houston Astros.

These are not only elite starters, but four of the best in the game.

"When you don't have number one starters it's hard to win these short series," Scott Boras, Strasburg's agent, said the other day. "He provides a shade for the other four starters. That umbrella. And they're hard to find. They're very hard to find."

The Boras quote is worth reiterating because the New York Yankees don't have an elite starter. They are facing the prospect of winning the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, who have three, adding Zack Greinke to that list.

If they somehow get by the Astros, the Yanks should be staring down the gullet at the Nats, who have Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez behind their top duo.

Washington took a 3-0 series lead over St. Louis Monday night in the National League Championship Series with an 8-1, Game 3 victory over the Cardinals. In the first three games, Sanchez, Scherzer and Strasburg combined for no earned runs, nine hits, 28 strikeouts and three wins in 21 2/3 innings.

Elite starting pitching. Corbin is on the mound for Game 4 Tuesday night.

The ALCS is tied at a game apiece and the Yankees have to beat Cole in Game 3 Tuesday at Yankee Stadium with Luis Severino starting out.

How long Severino will be able to pitch is up to question. He's thrown 16 total innings in his four starts since returning from a season-long right shoulder injury, four in the Yanks' Game 3 win over the Minnesota Twins that wrapped up their AL Division Series.

"I wish that I could get the whole game out there," Severino said Monday. "The last time I threw 83 pitches. I think I could go 100 something."

The Yanks can only hope.

Meanwhile, Cole is 2-0 with an 0.57 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings in his two starts this postseason. He was arguably MLB's best pitcher during the second half with an 11-0 record, 1.79 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings over 14 starts.

The Yanks answer to Cole, James Paxton, won 10 starts in a row near the end of the regular season, but lasted just 2 1/3 innings during Sunday's 3-2, Game 2 loss in 11 innings at Houston's Minute Maid Park.

That caused Yanks manager Aaron Boone to use nine pitchers, displaced starter J.A. Happ letting up the final blow on a Carlos Correa homer to open the bottom of the 11th.

Save for a possible rainout of Game 4 in New York Wednesday, Boone said the Yanks will employ a bullpen game as will the Astros. As of now, neither team has designated an opener.

"That will depend on tomorrow," Boone said, referring to how Tuesday's game plays out. "How we use our guys. We'll see where we're at going into the next day. I picture our bullpen being unleashed."

That's full-knowing Boone will probably have to unleash his relievers after Severino taps out Tuesday. Plus, they used the nine pitchers in Game 2 and four in Game 1.

This is unprecedented for a team so deep into the postseason, and really not what you want, as Boone's predecessor, Joe Girardi, was so fond of saying.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 12: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees walks off the field after ... [+]

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Masahiro Tanaka has been the Yanks' best postseason starter. He's 5-2 with a 1.32 ERA in seven starts during his postseason career, including six innings of one-hit, scoreless ball in New York's 7-0 victory over the Astros in Game 1 of this series. Still, Boone allowed him to throw only 68 pitches.

But Tanaka is hardly elite, a No. 3 more in line with Greinke of the Astros or Corbin of the Nats. And Greinke was Arizona's No. 1 before the D-backs traded him to Houston for four young players at the July 31 deadline.

"Well, I think one thing I've talked about a lot is we have a lot of confidence in our 12 or 13 pitchers," Boone said. "So it many look different than a lot of teams that are a little more traditional. But there's a lot of ways to skin a cat, you know?

"You've got to get 27 outs. And the bottom line is through five games we've pitched pretty well, including Sunday night's game where we lost."

The Yanks are in this spot for two reasons:

The unwillingness during the past three years to either trade for or sign an elite pitcher when this window to win their 28th World Series title opened.

They passed on Verlander and Cole, who were both traded to the Astros. And when Trevor Bauer went on the market this year, he was swapped by the Cleveland Indians to the Cincinnati Reds. As noted, Greinke went to the Astros.

Wouldn't Bauer have looked nice in Yankees pinstripes this postseason? How about Verlander and Cole? The Yanks will have another shot at Cole, or Madison Bumgarner for that matter, when they hit the free-agent market this offseason. Also Strasburg if he opts out of the last four years of his contract with the Nats worth $100 million.

Finally, the Yanks lost the services of their best starting pitcher, Domingo German, who was 18-4 in 24 starts this season, but is on the inactive list while MLB is investigating him under the auspices of its domestic violence program.

To be sure, the Yankees could still win the World Series despite it all, but enough has been written is this space all season about New York's lack of front-line pitching.

The final numbers are all there:

The Yanks' starters were right in the middle of the pack of the 30 MLB teams, 15th with a 4.51 ERA.

The Nationals (3.53 ERA) and the Astros (3.61) were two-three behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (3.11).

There's no secret why - they're elite starters.

The Yanks don't have one. If they don't win, they have no one to blame but themselves.