The 39-year-old Rodriguez, who has undergone two hip surgeries and missed the entire 2014 season due to a suspension for his use of performance-enhancing drugs, has become the least likely hero in New York.
"To be quite honest, a year ago today I didn't know this day would ever come," Rodriguez told USA Today after recording his 3,000th hit. "There were some really dark days."
A record-breaking, MVP-caliber season from Rodriguez has made Didi Gregorius’ .237 batting average and nine errors old news. Rodriguez has also made most of the Yankees' problems go away.
Fans were getting on Gregorius earlier in the season for his inability to fill the void left at shortstop by the former Yankee captain.
''Everywhere I go, people chanting Derek Jeter and all that stuff,'' Gregorius said in April, per Fox Sports. ''There's nothing I can do with that. I'm just here trying to play my game, trying to make a lot of improvements, trying to get better.''
Now the chatter in New York isn’t how poorly players like Gregorius, Stephen Drew or Chase Headley have been playing. It’s how great Rodriguez has swung the bat.
His .282 average, 14 home runs and 40 RBI have propelled the Yankees to overachievers in what has become a surprisingly competitive American League East.
With an aging, injury-prone roster filled with overpriced veterans, the Yankees (38-31) currently sit just one game out of first place. This feat is due in large part to Rodriguez’s incredible season in which he passed Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and recorded both 2,000 RBI and 3,000 hits.
Still, the Bronx Bombers will need more than Rodriguez’s heroics in order to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The surging Tampa Bay Rays have won eight of their last 10 games and the Baltimore Orioles have rattled off seven out of 10. With four teams in the division now above .500, the Yankees will need more consistency from their starting pitchers moving forward.
Here’s a look at how the rotation has fared thus far:
|Yankees' Starting Pitchers in 2015|
The rotation is expected to get a shot in the arm when Ivan Nova returns after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Nova hasn’t pitched since April 19 of last season but had a 3.10 ERA in his last full season in 2013.
Even so, the inconsistency of the Yankees starters has turned them into a team to watch at the trade deadline this year. Jon Morosi reported that the Yankees have recently been keeping an eye on Reds' ace Johnny Cueto.
Although the price for Cueto is expected to be steep, “It’s not likely the Yankees would part with their two top prospects [Luis Severino and Aaron Judge] for a rental,” according to George A. King III of the New York Post.
It's suspected that Masahiro Tanaka is one pitch away from Tommy John surgery and Michael Pineda hasn't thrown over 100 innings since 2011.
Since the Yankees likely can’t count on the health of Tanaka and Pineda, or the production of CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi, they may need to seek help from outside the organization in order to make some noise in October.
Aside from the woes in the rotation, the injury to Jacoby Ellsbury has left a gaping hole in center field. Ellsbury has been sidelined since May 19 with a sprained LCL in his right knee.
The speedy outfielder has hit .324 with 14 stolen bases in 37 games this season. When both healthy this year, Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have combined to hit .309 with 24 steals. The duo is dynamic atop the Yankees lineup, getting on base at a high rate and instantly becoming a problem on the base paths for opposing teams.
For now, Rodriguez has transformed himself from a villain to a superhero. You can put an asterisk next to anything you want, but the bottom line is he’s helping the Yankees win games. He’s been historically good, against all odds, and he’s going to need help moving forward.