The New York Yankees sure didn't expect their scorching start to the summer to end in a June swoon. CC Sabathia went on the disabled list on June 27th with a strained groin, and Andy Pettitte, who was knocked out of the Yankees game on the same day when a batted ball hit his leg and broke his fibula, joined him later in the afternoon. But these days, nothing can stop the Yankees. Sabathia returned on Tuesday night and did so in dominating fashion, firing six shutout innings to blank the Toronto Blue Jays.
Still, these key injuries may still have an effect on the team moving forward. Andy Pettitte may not return until early September and Brett Gardner and Mariano Rivera are likely out for the season. The fight for an American League pennant, without several prominent stars, will be a test to the resolve of the surging Yankees pitching staff and should have a big effect on the Bronx Bombers moving forward.
Once the thermometer started to rise and the temperatures began to climb into the 90s, the Yankees arms and bats warmed as well. New York finished June 20-7, good for best in the majors, winning 74 percent of their games. They were fueled by a 12-3 record in interleague play during the month, dominating the senior circuit and finishing 13-5 overall against the National League this season.
Sandwiched in the middle of their hot month was a 10-game winning streak which included three series sweeps, the first coming against their crosstown rivals, the Mets, then the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals. New York finished the month with a victory over Chicago, riding Hiroki Kuroda's brilliant 11-strikeout performance on a sweltering day in the Bronx. So far in July, the Yankees are bashing again and are 10-4 on the month.
The Yankees have survived some pitching injuries this season thanks to one of their own farm system arms, David Phelps. The young rookie has been a revelation for New York, particularly since he entered this season with minimal expectations and only a possibility of receiving a midseason call-up.
The 25-year-old rookie from Notre Dame has shown much promise, first coming to the Yankees rescue in several relief stints and also pitching nicely in an early May start against the Tampa Bay Rays. Most importantly, Phelps has been very consistent, pitching 41.1 innings so far this season to the tune of a 3.05 ERA. He has only allowed one home run in his last 19.2 innings pitched and mixes a deceptive cut fastball with excellent breaking pitches.
According to manager Joe Girardi, he very much figures to be a part of the Yankees' rotation moving forward. "We really think he is in our future plans," Girardi said.
Veteran Freddy Garcia is also being pressed into action in a more meaningful role following a nice run in relief duty. Garcia got the win on June 16th against Washington and pitched admirably in relief of Pettitte, picking up his second win of the season during the Yankees series sweeping victory over Cleveland in late June. Since his insertion back into the rotation on July 2nd, Garcia is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Garcia started the season as the fifth man in the Yankees' rotation and performed horrendously. After four starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a sky-high 12.51 earned run average. Joe Girardi seemingly ended Garcia's revival run, in this his second season in the Bronx, by banishing Garcia to mop-up duties in the Yankees' bullpen.
Starting tonight in Oakland, the Yankees will look to push their lead in the American League East further and further away from the pack. They'll get help from the hot trio of Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. Hughes and Nova, both homegrown Yankees products, have improved considerably as the season has progressed. Nova was bombed for six runs in six innings last weekend against the Angels, though he has shown the kind of maturity the Yankees were hoping to see this season.
Hughes has won five of his last seven decisions, with all five wins coming as quality starts. In fact, in those five wins, Hughes has thrown 37.1 innings, racked up 35 strikeouts and pitched to a minuscule 1.20 ERA. Kuroda owns the second lowest ERA of any Yankees starter at 3.46, and has been remarkably efficient this season. He boasts 11 quality starts, the most of any Yankees pitcher, and has lowered his ERA from 5.60 in late May to 4.18. He is tied for the team lead with 10 wins.
But even the remarkable story of Phil Hughes has taken a backseat to the Yankees' aces this season. Andy Pettitte was 3-3 in nine starts, fanning 59 batters and keeping a tidy 3.22 ERA. Yankees ace CC Sabathia is 10-3 and currently eighth in the American League in strikeouts with 111. The Yankees' main man and innings eater is also eighth in the AL in innings pitched.
Even as the Yankees' baffling issues while batting with runners in scoring position (RISP) persist, the Bombers continue slugging and smacking out home runs at a team-record pace. The season is more than halfway through and New York is second to last in the American League batting with RISP. Yet, despite their inexplicably, inept clutch hitting, the Bombers are on pace to hit an astounding 260 home runs. That would be good enough to tie for second all-time in major league history.
Ready or not, here come the dog days of summer. The Yankees have used the month of June and half of July to build a nice lead in the division, but they must continue to fight through injuries to their stars.
As usual, the Bombers will rely on the long ball to belt their way toward yet another American League pennant. The key to stemming the tide may come from some homegrown arms and a formerly steady veteran who hopes to recapture his past magic.
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