The Yankees flew West early Monday morning able to sleep a bit easier after salvaging a doubleheader split with the Mets on Sunday.
But two issues that still might keep them up at night? Getting their two highest-paid pitchers to pitch like they were paid to.
When Gerrit Cole got hit around and Aroldis Chapman blew a lead Sunday in Game 1 of the doubleheader, it wasn’t just a one-off. Instead it continued a concerning trend for the two most important arms to the Yankees’ success in a season that is in danger of slipping away.
“We can’t get to where we want to go without those two guys, obviously,” manager Aaron Boone said before the Yankees flew to Seattle to begin a six-game road trip Tuesday. “Those two guys are critical to what we do. There’s inevitably going to be adversity as a team, as individuals, as players throughout the season. You’ve got to be able to make the corrections and the adjustments and get your way through it. But we’re not going to be the team we want to be unless those guys are obviously huge parts of it.”
For the first two months of the season, both pitchers were key parts of the Yankees’ success — even if it was tempered by problems elsewhere. It’s the reason both were named All-Stars on Sunday, albeit in an awkwardly timed announcement after Cole and Chapman were two main culprits in the devastating loss to the Mets that briefly sank the Yankees to .500 for the first time since May 7.
But both of their struggles have coincided with MLB’s decision to crack down on the use of foreign substances. Cole owned a 1.78 ERA in 11 starts before word of a crackdown began to come out on June 3 and has a 5.24 ERA in six starts since. Chapman had a 0.41 ERA in 22 appearances before June 3 and an 18.90 ERA in 10 games since.
Boone insisted he did not believe there was a connection.
“I think it’s more a little bit of a rut they’re going through,” Boone said.
Cole’s spin rates — which can be improved with the use of sticky substances — were down from his season average on all of his pitches Sunday, most noticeably -246 RPMs on his slider (which he only threw five of) and -149 on his four-seam fastball (which he threw 47 of). In all six of his starts since June 3, Cole’s spin rates have been below his season average for almost every pitch, aside from his curveball and changeup on June 9 against the Twins and his slider on June 3 against the Rays.
Asked about a potential correlation, Cole pointed to the “good games” he has had since June 3 — three starts in which he has allowed two runs each over a combined 21 innings. But Sunday’s start also marked the third start since June 3 in which he has allowed four or more runs, this one lasting just 3 ⅓ innings for his shortest outing since 2016.
“I felt that I had pretty good stuff [Sunday] and the ball was moving the way we wanted,” Cole said. “Obviously losing the game and giving up the lead and being responsible for that is first and foremost on my mind. But I gotta keep plugging away.”
Chapman, whose spin rates have also generally been down from their season averages since June 3, has now blown leads in three straight appearances and allowed a startling 24 base runners in his last 5 ⅔ innings. Boone slightly opened the door to potentially using another reliever for save situations — mentioning Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga — while Chapman works through his issues, which the manager has attributed to an out-of-whack delivery affecting his command.
“We’ve been diving in each and every day,” Boone said. “Between [pitching coach Matt Blake] and [bullpen coach Mike Harkey], working on delivery things, changing up some routine things, changing up some pregame things. … Obviously we gotta continue to work to get him right.”