Russell Martin is finally showing signs that he's ready to break out and help vault the Yankees into the MLB Playoffs
New York Yankee fans have been patiently waiting for one of their veteran stars to break out and deliver the kind of September that makes October playoff baseball a reality.
Exactly 20 games remain in the 2012 regular season—12% of the full slate of 162 games— so while the Yankees poor play over the last eight weeks makes it feel like the sky is falling, there are still plenty of games left for the Bombers.
That doesn't mean there's not a sense of urgency or that the Yankees shouldn't be on high alert for the streaking Orioles and even the Oakland A's—potentially— charging in the wild card. Though for a veteran-laden club with loads of championship experience, the Yankees need to remain calm and get back to basics.
Namely, the basics that helped get them a 10-game lead back in mid-July. There were encouraging signs on Wednesday night as Curtis Granderson returned to being the slugger that Yankees fans have come to love, blasting two home runs in a 5-4 win in Boston.
Robinson Cano also bombed his 30th homer on the season and David Phelps, who had struggled over his last several starts, delivered a strong five and two-thirds innings performance to get the victory in Beantown.
The Yankees know better than anyone that they can still get hot and that great starting pitching, power hitting and a sound relief corps will help them win the division. Baltimore has been red-hot for a while and may threaten to take the AL East for the first time since 1997.
The Yankees would much rather win the division to avoid having to play the wild-card play-in game which is a one-game, winner take all entree into the division series. Though ultimately, it's all about getting there and the Bombers will attempt to do so by any means.
Helping their cause of late is catcher Russell Martin, who has finally come out of his season-long slump to get on a seven-game hitting streak. The Yankees are relying on veterans like Martin, Jeter, Swisher and A-Rod to carry the load. They're also hoping pitchers like Ivan Nova can dazzle over the final 20 games.
Here are five New York Yankees due to get hot the rest of the way in September.
Swisher's solid Boston series thus far is encouraging.
Following an 0-28 slide, Nick Swisher suddenly has five hits in the first two games of this Boston series, including three extra-base hits. It seems that if Swisher played 81 games at Fenway Park, he'd hit .400. Alas, the Yankees only have one more game this season with the Green Monster as their friendly, welcoming left-field target.
Swisher's importance to this Yankee team cannot be understated. It's players like Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson that, at several points this season, have been the Yankees' best hitters. Though, they're not expected to be. That's more reserved for Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.
In a lot of respects, that's a great position to be in. Swisher and Granderson shouldn't feel the pressure that they have to produce as if they're the Yankees' Evan Longoria or Miguel Cabrera. Swisher is a fine player, no doubt, and he should use his country cool demeanor to help get him back to the right state of mind for this stretch run.
After an abysmal stretch of ten games, Swisher's swing looks to be on point in Boston. The Yankees hope it's the start of something special that carries over into these last 20 games.
Ivan Nova gets another chance to prove himself.
Ivan Nova's 2012 season has been the baseball definition of inconsistency. Look at this three-game stretch as a sample size for Nova:
July 31: Five innings pitched, 10 hits, nine earned runs in a loss to Baltimore.
August 6: Five and one-third innings pitched, 11 hits, seven earned runs in a loss to Detroit.
August 11: Seven and one-third innings pitched, five hits, two earned runs, 10 strikeouts in a victory over Toronto.
How could anyone—even the most astute sports psychologist—make sense of this?
What the Yankees and every fan know is that Nova has the ability and potential to be great. He's demonstrated as much this season and last—at times. So which Nova will the Yankees see over the final 20 games?
That remains to be seen. But if Nova is healthy and his shoulder issues are not cause for concern—both in the short and long term—it's reasonable to believe that a young man of this much confidence and talent can take the reins and shut down the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend and Oakland A's at the Stadium the following weekend.
The Yankees don't have much of a choice at this point other than to have faith and hand their 25-year old hurler the ball.
Curtis Granderson rocked two homers in Boston last night.
As I've stated before in this space, Curtis Granderson has hit more home runs than any player in all of baseball over the last two MLB seasons. It's worth repeating since it's absolutely remarkable. Next time you're ready to fire your remote at your TV—following a Granderson strike out— and curse the day he was born, just remember that fact.
Remember as well that Granderson's home run prowess means he can burst out at any time. Like last night, when he smashed two bombs deep into the right field stands at Fenway Park. 37 home runs (and counting) on the year for Granderson— the New York Yankees' biggest Bomber.
Last night may have commenced Granderson's September explosion as he aims to top 40 home runs for a second consecutive season. A tremendous feat in this newly pitcher-dominant era of baseball. If you want to fault Granderson for being an, "all or nothing", slugger, then you're free to do so. The man does strike out a ton.
Bear in mind, however, that he's come through in some very, very big spots this season. And, if he keeps hitting home runs down the stretch, the Yankees stand an excellent shot at winning the AL East.
The Yankees need CC Sabathia to come through.
The Yankees would love to see their $23 million man stand up and deliver. CC Sabathia's numbers are mostly solid this season, and while he's missed some starts due to two separate stints on the disabled list this summer, he's still in the Top 10 in the AL in strikeouts and WHIP.
Sabathia is on pace to make four more starts, including tomorrow night at the Stadium, two more against Toronto and one in the Midwest against Minnesota. Given the competition, it's not unreasonable to expect a strong Sabathia to deliver wins in all four starts.
What's evident is that Sabathia has not been as sharp lately. He told Chad Jennings of The Journal News that he's not injured and if he were, the Yankees would not be marching him out to the mound, considering he's under contract for several more seasons.
Time is running out and Sabathia needs to find his groove against the lineups he should be dominating. These upcoming games are why Sabathia was brought here.
Once again, the Yankees Universe turns their eyes to Alex Rodriguez.
It always seems to come down to Alex Rodriguez for the New York Yankees, so why not save him for last? A-Rod is perpetually the one standing in the batter's box with the game on the line with the spotlight cast on him in situations of the greatest magnitude.
He can't escape it.
A-Rod is no longer the player that he once was, even though he has the contract and annual salary to suggest otherwise. Fans need to realize that fact and move on, but also realize that he's still a very valuable piece of this Yankees lineup and hits right in the heart of the order.
The Yankees' success over the final 20 games and into the postseason will largely be determined by Rodriguez's performance. MLB pitchers still fear him and absolutely do not want to see him standing there at the plate with the game on the line. You can take that to the bank.
And yet again, we revisit A-Rod's clutch credentials—or even his above-average hitting skills— at this time of the year when all the big games are set to be played. It's up to A-Rod to be the dynamic cog in the clean-up spot or three-hole who lifts the Bombers to new heights.
Much will be expected from A-Rod over the course of the next several weeks. He's already made good on delivering since his return from the disabled list—knocking base hits in every game but one. Then again, when was much not expected from A-Rod? Heavy lies the crown.