Nestor Cortes is now the biggest key to the Yankees’ World Series hopes

Nestor Cortes has been a joy this year. The All-Star offer, the arm angles, the mustache, the nickname, the proposal, all of it. And now the Yankees have to hope the clock doesn’t strike midnight anytime soon. Because he has become the key to everything.

The Yankees won’t win the World Series unless Cortes delivers in October. Last week made that clear. They need that Cinderella story to keep rolling.

There are several million reasons why the Yankees remain committed to the Gerrit Cole bit is their ace. But he does not inspire confidence. Frankie Montas, the big commercial splash, arrives from Oakland with a lot of optimism. But he recently had shoulder inflammation. And his only substantial playoff experience was being bombarded by the Astros in the 2020 ALDS. So take that cautious optimism.

The Jordan Montgomery trade for Harrison Bader was good. But it carries risks beyond Bader’s health. The Yankees were clearly not high on Montgomery, but he was a dependable arm with playoff experience. Moving him around without adding, say, Pablo Lopez leaves them little wiggle room. Jameson Taillon has been more bad than good for a while now. Who knows what to expect from Luis Severino when he returns. Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt will be the arms of the bullpen.

Which brings us back to Cortes. He’s the only guy who’s consistently thrown like an ace this season. And even though Cole and Montas are our 1 and 2 on paper, Cortes is the guy who has built the most equity this year. He’s the guy you wouldn’t want to cover your eyes looking at in a big spot. And the Yankees need it to stay in business.

A big part of that is being smart with Cortes. Whether or not he’s looking at an actual innings limit is beside the point. The Yankees must manage his workload over the next two months. Taking him out after five innings against the Royals last weekend with the game in hand was a smart move. Especially because those opportunities won’t be there every five days. Hard to imagine that will be the case Friday night against the Cardinals, for example.

But as long as the Yankees keep Cortes physically ready, the rest is up to him. If it happens, they might have enough to sidestep Cole’s inconsistency and Montas’s insecurities. If Cortes doesn’t? This dream season could fall apart quickly. For the player and the team.

James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]

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