Barely two weeks ago who would have figured the return of Alex Rodriguez would, gasp, actually help the New York Yankees. As Yankees play-by-play man John Sterling might chuckle, “that’s baseball.”
The Yankees are only 5-5 since making Rodriguez made his debut (and getting suspended on the same day) on Aug. 5. They’d recently won 5 out of 6 until Thursday afternoon’s loss to the Angels. Is it enough to start banging the drum that the Yankees are ‘back,’ as some in the New York media (cough, cough Mike Francesa) have proclaimed? Probably not. New York is still a distant 8.5 games out of first place behind the Red Sox — who they face at Fenway Park starting Friday night for a three-game series — and six back in the Wild Card. Even with their recent hot stretch the Yanks still only 11-14 in the second half.
Fenway Park figures to be a media zoo Friday night in light of the latest report about A-Rod and the Biogenesis mess that he ratted out Ryan Braun and teammate Francisco Cervelli. Prior to the game, Rodriguez denied the truth of the 60 Minutes report. (At this point he has to buy the rights to ‘Why Always Me?’ from Mario Balotelli.)
Still, the Yankees do seem like they’re playing better. Their lineup with Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano and a healthy Curtis Granderson is much tougher for opposing pitchers to navigate. Rodriguez is likely still worth more in the lineup for his “presence” than his actual contributions, but he does have a hit in all but one of the game’s he’s played since coming off the DL.
Until Rodriguez’s latest imbroglio, Soriano actually stole the New York headlines away (briefly) due to his four home run, 13 RBI performance in back-to-back games vs. the Angels on Tuesday and Wednesday. Soriano, whom the Yankees acquired on the cheap from the Cubs before the trade deadline, is who he is at this point. You’ll get some pop — the 13 RBIs in two games are an extreme — but he’s also a guy you can get out, as his 17 strikeouts in 13 games in August would attest. Still, he’s helped the Yankees get some balance from the right side after Vernon Wells reverted back to form following a quick start in early April.
The key for the Yankees, who likely won’t get Derek Jeter back any time soon at shortstop, remains starting pitching. There’s been a clear dichotomy in the Bombers staff after the All-Star Break. Huroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova have been great, while CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes have been mostly awful.
In 71 innings since the break Kuroda and Nova have allowed a combined 13 earned runs. The other three Yankees starters have allowed 57 runs in 77+ innings. Sabathia has been particularly off, posting a 7.45 ERA since the break. This weekend in Boston New York starts Pettitte, Kuroda and Sabathia Sunday night.
Perhaps the best case you can make for the Yankees finding a way into the playoffs is the other teams ahead of them in the Wild Card have cooled off. New York still would have to leapfrog Baltimore, Cleveland and Kansas City, but both Central team have come back to earth and so has Tampa Bay, who currently lead the Wild Card standings with Oakland. The Orioles were just swept in a three-game set by the Diamondbacks, too.
However this shakes out, the never-ending A-Rod drama will outweigh the playoff chase drama. Maybe the two can combine to form some perfect New York media maelstrom … only if we’re lucky!