Jameson Taillon is Elfrid Payton right now. The weak link in otherwise surprisingly successful starting five.
“I am aware I am not doing what the other guys are doing,” Taillon said.
Those words came before Gerrit Cole authored seven more shutout innings Saturday, giving the Yankees 30 in a row. That streak began with Corey Kluber’s no-hitter at Texas, continued with Domingo German to close the road trip, handed off to Jordan Montgomery to open this homestand Friday against a White Sox lineup that had previously brutalized left-handers and now includes Cole following his worst outing of 2021 with more dominance in a 7-0 rout.
That leaves Taillon and his 5.73 ERA — the sore thumb in the rotation — to try to help finish a defining sweep of the White Sox on Sunday. The White Sox arrived with the AL’s best record, averaging 5.3 runs per game, second best in the majors. They came to The Bronx with a case as the team to beat in the AL But in 18 innings, the Yankees have held the White Sox to one run and outplayed the AL Central leader in every phase.
The Yankees’ rotation, which now has a collective 3.30 ERA, was the main concern entering spring training. It was Cole and a bunch of question marks, notably due to injuries or a lack of playing time in recent years. So the first shock — and Taillon is a positive part of this — is that the Yankees join the Cubs and Red Sox as the only clubs that have had five pitchers make at least eight starts each.
That has allowed the Yankees to mostly keep Deivi Garcia learning and as depth at Triple-A and not feel any compunction to rush Luis Severino back from Tommy John surgery. But Garcia is looming and Severino is about to embark on a rehab assignment. Taillon should not exactly feel hot breath because the Yankees are going to give a guy who missed most of the last two seasons time to see if, like German and Kluber, he can shake some rust to have his performance match his overt skill.
“I need to step up regardless of who is in the wings,” Taillon said.
Taillon has hinted at better stuff, particularly keeping his walks low and strikeouts high. But he has been susceptible to the long ball, to lefties and with runners in scoring position. Cole, who knows Taillon best among Yankees, dating to their friendship formed as Pirates teammates, said he thought Taillon was gaining “traction” with pitching again and new surroundings.
“We are looking for him to get on one of those runs at some point during the summer,” Cole said.
That version of Taillon would, health permitting, turn excellent starting work up even higher. The Yankees now have eight starts of at least seven innings and no runs this year (they had nine combined in 2019-20). Three are by Cole. But now it is four straight games for the first time by the franchise since 1932 when Johnny Allen, George Pipgras, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez did if from May 11-16 for the 107-47 Yankees.
Before Saturday, the Yankees had won three straight when scoring two or fewer runs for the first time since 2009. They were 6-9 when scoring two or fewer — at .400 the best winning percentage in the majors, They were 8-65 in such situations from 2018-20. So what the starters have done is give cover for a lineup that has been the reverse of the rotation — big expectations and, so far, disappointment.
But Gleyber Torres has heated up and Brett Gardner and Miguel Andujar are taking better at-bats, joining Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela. White Sox starter Dylan Cease no-hit the Yankees for three innings Saturday before Judge singled with one out in the fourth and Urshela walked — both after falling behind 0-2. Torres’ two-run double followed and he added a two-run single in the fifth, providing Cole more than enough.
Cole is so good that he actually could lack his familiar command and still overwhelm. He walked as many batters (three) in a six-batter span bridging the third and fourth innings as he walked six April starts. Yet, he induced two of his four double plays in those innings — which should provide a moment for this aside: Urshela is a terrific all-around player.
Besides covering for the offense, the stronger, longer work by the rotation has eased the burden on a pen that has been exceptional all year. The Yankees’ MLB-high eighth shutout gave them a seventh straight series win. They hand the ball to Taillon going for a sweep, trying to get the talented righty to join what has been the start of something special.
“I have to go out there and pick up my weight,” Taillon said.
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