10:36 am Aug. 13, 2012
One mark of excellence for the New York Yankees this year has been how well the team has played in the face of unrelenting injuries.
This isn't simply a case of players performing above their abilities. The Yankees are built with such depth, each injury simply pushed the team into a reasonable backup plan.
No Michael Pineda? No problem, here's David Phelps. No Andy Pettitte? No problem, here's Freddy Garcia. No Brett Gardner? No problem, here's a Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones platoon. No Alex Rodriguez? No problem, here's Eric Chavez and Casey McGehee to provide as much offense in his absence as any third baseman in baseball.
But the elbow injury suffered by CC Sabathia, which landed him on the disabled list this weekend, is different: Even the New York Yankees can't lose Sabathia without being affected.
While Sabathia claimed the injury was minor (and an M.R.I. came up clean), players are famous for downplaying their own injuries. No one will know how minor it is until Sabathia comes back.
This is not to say that the Yankees don't have reasonable alternatives to use in the rotation. David Phelps is ready to step in for Sabathia on Monday afternoon, and Phelps would be a top-tier starter for almost any other team.
But something that has separated the Yankees from their opponents, and even from the pre-2009 Yankees, has been CC Sabathia's ability to pitch as well as anyone, and to do so in volume.
Consider that since 2009, when the Yankees signed Sabathia to a long-term contract that now takes him through 2016, the team has had ten 160-inning pitching seasons. Sabathia is responsible for three of them, at E.R.A.+ marks of 146, 137 and 136. The other seven, from five different pitchers, were no better than a 118. And three of the seven came from now-departed A.J. Burnett, at a paltry 82 in 2010 and 85 in 2011.
And prior to Sabathia's acquisition, the last full season a Yankee starter had with an E.R.A.+ as good as any of Sabathia's three seasons was Mike Mussina, back in 2001.
Sabathia's 2012 has been down a bit from those lofty standards, though his E.R.A.+ of 121 is slightly lower almost exclusively because of an elevated home run rate, but with a constant fly ball rate. So fundamentally, Sabathia has been the same pitcher in 2012 as he's been, performance-wise.
But this is the second disabled list trip for Sabathia in 2012. If he is not able to not only dominate when he pitches, but do so in great volume, then the Yankees lose a weapon that few contenders have in October. Only four American League pitchers have thrown 800 innings or more since the start of 2009, with an E.R.A.+ above 100: Sabathia at 136, Jared Weaver at 138, Felix Hernandez at 145 and Justin Verlander at 145.
David Phelps is a fine alternative to help pitch the Yankees into the playoffs, particularly with New York holding a five-game lead over Tampa Bay for the American League East lead. But asking Phelps to be a Weaver or a Verlander, both of whom the Yankees could face in the playoffs, is asking too much.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
On Sunday, Jonathon Niese pitched eight great innings, and the Mets held a 6-1 lead over the Braves entering the ninth. And then the bullpen nearly gave it all back.
Carmelo Anthony said that the only thing missing from his resume now is an N.B.A. championship.
Victor Cruz is no fan of the replacement refs.
The Post speculates that a poor offensive line could lead to more Tim Tebow.
Everybody loves Connor Lade, with good reason.