New York Yankees Can Not Lose Many CC Sabathia Starts to Avoid a Collapse

Paul Francis Sullivan@@sullybaseballChief Writer ISeptember 3, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG - SEPTEMBER 03:  Pitcher C.C. Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on September 3, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

The Yankees and their fans desperately want their team to avoid the fate that befell on the 2007 New York Mets and the 2011 Boston Red Sox: They do not want to squander a huge late lead and fall short of the playoffs, especially one with an additional team.

In order to avoid that ignominious fate which could destroy a manager's career (just ask Willie Randolph and Terry Francona), the Yankees need to rely on their workhorse, CC Sabathia.

And if they keep losing games he starts, then be prepared for the greatest Yankee regular season collapse in their history.

Labor Day is officially in the rear view mirror for the three top contenders of the American League East. And as of this writing, only 2.5 games separate the first-place New York Yankees and the third-place Tampa Bay Rays.

And with the Oakland Athletics playing at a remarkable clip, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim loaded with talent and either the Chicago White Sox or Detroit Tigers falling short of the Central, none of the Eastern Division teams are a lock for even a Wild Card spot.

That includes the New York Yankees, who had a 10-game lead in July and a six-game cushion a little more than a week ago.

Their lineup has been weakened by injuries, as if there is a team that has avoided the disabled list. But as always, it is pitching that will win or lose the day.

Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte are on the disabled list. So is Michael Pineda, but he has been a non-factor all season. (Think the Yankees wish they had Jesus Montero's bat now?)

Phil Hughes has been inconsistent, some days pitching brilliantly and other days getting clobbered, like yesterday's 8-3 loss to the Orioles.

Freddy Garcia has been inconsistent all season and downright bad his last few starts. David Phelps has seven career starts and has been hot and cold.

And of course, Hiroki Kuroda has pitched wonderfully, but with no run support. Even his last few games have been losses.

Sabathia is the key for the Yankees. This is why he was signed before the 2009 season. This is where he delivered in the postseason when he won that year's ALCS MVP.

The Yankees must be able to lean on him, write a "W" in ink next to games he pitches and give the bullpen essentially a night off to be prepared for a Hughes or Phelps start.thi

He must prolong winning streaks and cut short losing streaks. He has to be an anchor.

And one thing they can not do is lose his starts, like they did in on August 29 in Toronto or today's game in Tampa Bay.

Yes, Sabathia pitched well enough to win, but that is not good enough.

The Yankees need to win a Freddy Garcia start on the road to win the series in Tampa. Then, they will play four games in Baltimore, where every single game could mean position for first place.

The Rays, Orioles and Athletics are the worst kind of teams for the Yankees to trifle with. A winning 2012 is considered to be beyond what Baltimore and Oakland fans could have hoped for. Tampa Bay is looking for a return trip to the postseason.

Of course, if the Yankees lose Game 7 on the World Series in the bottom of the ninth, their entire year will be considered lost. Imagine missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons.

So far, the Yankees are not at the point where the Mets were in 2007 and the Red Sox were last season. There is still time, and a modest winning streak this week could give them a slight margin for error.

But if they don't win the Sabathia starts, then they will be joining the Mets, Red Sox and Phillies on the golf course when the playoffs begin.


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