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If only Tanaka could pitch every day ...

Every five days, Masahiro Tanaka gives Yankees fans something to cheer about. But he'll need some help from his teammates, too. Al Bello/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka can only do so much.

As brilliant as he has been in his first two months in the major leagues, Tanaka can only pitch every fifth day. He can almost always get the New York Yankees a win.

He can't always lift their mood. And he can't, by himself, lift them to a championship level.

Tanaka was outstanding again in Saturday's start against the Minnesota Twins. As catcher Brian McCann said, Tanaka easily could have thrown a complete-game shutout. As it was, he didn't allow an earned run in eight innings, getting credit for the 3-1 win because of McCann's tie-breaking double in the eighth.

"Another great performance," McCann said.

And yet it was also another game and another day in which the Yankees' non-Tanaka weaknesses were badly exposed.

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

#19 SP
New York Yankees

2014 STATS

  • GM11
  • W8

  • L1

  • BB12

  • K88

  • ERA2.06

They struggled to score against the starting pitcher with the worst ERA in the majors (Twins right-hander Kevin Correia). They turned 15 baserunners into just three runs in large part because they don't have enough power to take advantage of their ballpark.

And Mark Teixeira, who remains their leading home run hitter despite missing a third of their games, had to come out after two plate appearances because of continuing soreness in his surgically repaired right wrist.

There was also bad news to report on Michael Pineda, who once again had to be shut down from throwing as he tries to come back from a back muscle problem that has sidelined him since April. The continuing absence of Pineda and CC Sabathia, on the DL with right knee inflammation and with no certainty about when he'll return, puts even more pressure on Tanaka to carry the Yankees' rotation -- and to some extent, the entire team.

The good news for the Yankees is that Tanaka seems up for trying to do just that. His $155 million contract looks like more of a bargain each time he pitches, as he continues to pile up innings and wins and continues to lower an ERA that is now 2.06, the best in the American League.

The Yankees are now 9-2 in the 11 games Tanaka has started, as opposed to 20-23 when they have to start anyone else. No matter what you think of counting up pitchers' wins, Tanaka's 8-1 record reflects his contributions, given how often he has pitched deep into games and how consistently he has prevented the opposition from scoring runs.

Saturday's start was the third time Tanaka has finished eight innings, something no other Yankees starter has managed this season. Tanaka has finished seven innings seven times in 11 starts, while the rest of the rotation combined has done it just six times in 43 starts.

Tanaka has gone at least six innings in each of his starts and has yet to allow more than three earned runs in any of them. The only other pitcher to do that in his first 11 major league starts (since 1913, when earned runs became an official statistic) was Montreal's Steve Rogers, in 1973.

But you don't really need the numbers to tell you how good Tanaka has been. You need only to have watched him.

Similarly, you don't need all the numbers to tell you how flawed the rest of the Yankees' roster has looked. You need only to have seen any of their many unimpressive performances.

"Do the Yankees realize how much trouble they're in?" one veteran major league scout asked a couple of weeks back.

Whether they do or don't, and whether they are or they aren't, it's certainly a lot less trouble than they would be in if they hadn't signed Masahiro Tanaka.