The Yankees need to ride their offensive horse down the stretch and it appears Robinson Cano is heating up just in time.
Injuries, slumps, red-hot competitors, trades and waiver acquisitions. The Yankees have seen it all. And we're just talking about the last 30 days. Over the course of 162 games, you're bound to see all kinds of turns and drama though for the great teams, there remain some constants.
That's precisely what the Yankees expect each year and what they must rely on here down the stretch.
The Yankees suffered a heartbreaking loss last night at the Stadium to Toronto when their normally reliable closer, Rafael Soriano, blew a two-run lead and the Yankees ultimately fell in 11 innings. The Yankees could have gained a game on Tampa but instead, Baltimore picked up a game on the Bombers.
Last night was even more painful—literally—as Mark Teixeira left the game with a Grade-one calf strain and may miss two weeks or more. The Yankees have survived Teixeira's stints of missing three or four games here and there but they may have to miss him for at least half of the month of September.
Derek Jeter had a similar injury last season and he missed three weeks.
If there's one team built for handling injuries like this, it's the Yankees. Fears can grow quickly that the Yankees may not be able to hold on to their tenuous lead but the Bombers are getting stronger in their pitching rotation and hope to have Andy Pettitte back soon.
New York has 34 games left to hold off the competition and secure another American League East division crown. 28 of those games will come against division foes. The Yankees must do what they always do and that's feast on the Blue Jays and Red Sox and outlast Tampa and Baltimore.
Here are the five players that the Bombers will need to rely on most to help them emerge as victors down the stretch.
Robinson Cano must play at an MVP-level down the stretch.
Robinson Cano may not be leading the Yankees in home runs, RBI or batting average but there's no question that he's the team's best hitter. Cano has a .929 OPS entering play on Tuesday and no other player on the team is above .870.
Cano has played at an elite level in 2012 and he's continued to produce in the heart of the Yankees lineup at a clip good enough for one of the best seasons of his career. Cano bottomed out on August 21 after a hitless night in Chicago, watching his OPS dip under .900 for the first time since June 19.
Cano is back with a vengeance and has four multi-hit games in his last five. This is the Robinson Cano Yankees fans have come to love. This is the one that they need to help power their lineup through the final 34 games of the season.
Much is riding on CC Sabathia's powerful left arm.
Championships are won with pitching and the Yankees know that in the tight games in September that have a "playoff feel" to them, that they will have one of the game's best in CC Sabathia. The Yankees' No. 1 came off the disabled list Friday night to pitch New York to victory.
Sabathia has experienced what appear to be minor injuries (arm and groin) and is back just in time to help vault the Yankees into the postseason. Hiroki Kuroda has been the Yankees' ace this season and their most valuable pitcher, but Sabathia is still the pitcher the Yankees need to rely on most.
He's no stranger to this time of the year and he's just as confident as any big-game pitcher in the spotlight. The Yankees also pay the large California native lots of money and it's time for Sabathia to show why he earns the big green by getting on a big run.
This is a welcome sight for Yankees fans in 2012.
In one night, the cheers turned to jeers and boos at Yankee Stadium and Rafael Soriano watched his shiny, stingy 1.57 ERA balloon to 2.05. That's life in pressure spots in the Bronx as well as life in the closer role in Major League Baseball.
Soriano's importance to the Yankees cannot be understated and frankly there hasn't been a lot said about the enigmatic, highly effective Yankees closer this season. He's having an incredible season based on results alone though it's even more sensational given how Soriano has replaced the great Mariano Rivera in 2012.
While Soriano's rich contract would ordinarily provide justification for his results, given what he showed in pinstripes last season, any Yankees fan would have given their first-born to see results like this from Soriano in 2012. He's been remarkable and he's a big reason why the Bombers are in first place.
Soriano must quickly recover from his poor outing last night and show himself to be the stalwart at the back-end of the bullpen that the Yankees covet.
Curtis Granderson needs to get hot for the Yankees.
The fact is, Curtis Granderson is not the hitter right now that he was in the first two months of the season. He has watched his OPS drop considerably with each passing month with August being his worst month of the 2012 season. Not only that, Granderson is hitting only .195 this month.
Yet when you look at the big picture, Granderson is fifth in the majors in home runs and he's one of the better hitters in the American League. Hopefully, Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long can help Granderson solve his latest slump and break out of his funk in time to get going for September.
The Yankees have come to rely upon Granderson for providing a huge lift to the lineup and coming up with clutch hits—other than homers. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher have been absolutely carrying the Yankees offense lately. It's high time for Granderson to come alive and rejuvenate the club.
A-Rod and Andy will give the Bombers a huge September jolt.
The Yankees have two all-time greats on the disabled list that can dramatically change the club's fortunes as we get closer to September. Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are expected back in September though no timetables are set yet.
Most importantly, they need to be healthy and if that means waiting an additional week or two for each one of their services, that will have to be satisfactory.
Good news came out of Yankees Universe after the game last night, as both Pettitte and A-Rod received positive outcomes from their respective MRI's and should be resuming baseball activities today or tomorrow.
There's still no guarantee that either will return in top shape or form though this latest news is encouraging and the belief is they should each have plenty of time to contribute down the stretch and be ready for the start of the postseason.
That is, if the Yankees can get there. The Bombers' lead is not insurmountable but is comfortable enough for a team that should have enough power and pitching to reach the finish line on top of the heap.