Yankee Playoff Hopes May Be on the DL

The team’s relevance in the AL East hinges on ace Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow.

There is a very specific feeling baseball fans get when the name of their team’s ace lands in the same sentence as the phrase “elbow soreness.” Mets fans had it with Matt Harvey; Marlins fans with Jose Fernandez; Braves fans with Kris Medlen. Now, Yankees fans have it with Masahiro Tanaka, who is waiting for the results of an MRI on his pitching arm. Season-ending Tommy John surgery might well be around the corner for the Japanese phenom, and that’s bad news for the Bronx bean counters, who have spent all season watching big bets go the other way.

Losing Tanaka, who’s been terrific, would all but guarantee a month’s worth of postmortems on the Yankees’ $500 million off-season spending spree. Aside from Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s putting up serviceable numbers (.282 BA), the Yankees’ big ticket signings have yet to make an impact. Carlos Beltran, even when healthy, has posted anemic numbers and had a hard time staying out of his own way. Catcher Brian McCann, a lefty-hitting slugger engineered from the ground up to ding Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch, has managed only 10 homers. The problem isn’t just the problems, but that there is no young solution waiting in the wings.

After missing the playoffs in 2013, with Mariano Rivera retiring and Derek Jeter announcing his farewell tour, it seemed logical the Yankees might try to retool and add some youth to the team, which was the oldest in the majors last year. But the Yankees went big instead. George Steinbrenner big. Now if they lose Tanaka and miss the playoffs again, the GM Brian Cashman and Co. will be facing a word they haven’t had to deal with in 20-odd years: rebuilding. And they’ll have a half-billion less to rebuild with this time around.

For the Yankees, losing Tanaka would be particularly debilitating. Their staff is already depleted. CC Sabathia, who was struggling anyway, is done for the season, as is Ivan Nova. In fact, when Tanaka is not on the mound, the Yankees own a less than mediocre 32-39 record. This injury may just reveal the team for what it is right now: a fading dynasty clinging to the glory days.

Photos by Tony Dejak / AP