NO HIDEKI MATSUI. No Chien-Ming Wang. No Phil Hughes. No Ian Kennedy. Now, no Jorge Posada.
The New York Yankees have only been able to field their No. 1 line-up on a handful of occasions this season yet, remarkably, they are managing to apply pressure on both the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox at the top of the American League East standings.
When you consider that Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon have all spent time on the Disabled List this season, and that Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi contributed next to nothing for the first two months, I don’t think the word “remarkable” is an overstatement.
This amount of injury problems would cripple most teams, even a club with the resources of the New York Yankees.
Yet a four-game winning streak since the All Star break has put the Yanks within four-and-a-half games of the lead in the AL East and just three games out in Wild Card standings.
It’s been a tough start to life as boss in the Bronx for Joe Girardi. He and his coaching staff deserve credit for papering over the many cracks.
So how have they done it?
The five-man starting rotation was slated to be Wang, Andy Pettitte, Hughes, Kennedy and Mussina.
Mussina performing well above expectations
Mussina was supposed to be the No. 4 or No. 5 starter yet he has turned out to be the ace in the pack, recovering from a 1-3 start to go 12-6, more than anyone of sane mind could have hoped for.
The Yanks, for the moment at least, are managing to ride their luck with Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner at the back end of the rotation.
Ponson, in particular, has enjoyed amazing run support – 41 in his four starts – and, to his credit, has managed to work out of some jams. His performance in last night’s 12-4 win over the Minnesota Twins was probably his best to date.
As it turned out, Joba Chamberlain’s switch from the bullpen to the rotation was essential. The fear was that the Yanks would suffer in the later innings of close games.
Yet the much-maligned Kyle Farnsworth has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances, justifying the faith Girardi has placed in him as his 8th inning guy.
The Yankees are second in the AL in terms of relief pitchers used; yet not one appears in the top 15 for innings pitched.
With Mariano Rivera enjoying one of his best ever seasons (he only seems shaky when the game is tied), the Yanks’ pitching has been rock solid given the circumstances.
The hitting hasn’t been quite so good. They have scored three runs or less in 43 of their 99 games.
Molina proves capable deputy behind the plate
Hardly surprisingly, A-Rod hasn’t managed to repeat last year’s achievements, and a niggling shoulder injury has denied the Yanks Posada’s batting and catching power.
José Molina has done a fantastic job for a man only supposed to play once every five days. He has a great percentage throwing out runners. But the one thing he can’t do is replace Posada’s run production.
With Cano and Melky Cabrera both struggling in the first half of the season, the Yanks did well to reach the All Star break five games over .500.
Now they’re at a season-high nine games over and with a three-game series coming up against the Red Sox this weekend, in a position to mount yet another second-half charge for the pennant.
That’s no more than is expected. After all, we’re talking about the New York Yankees, a club that has won 26 Championships.
Only time will tell whether they can maintain their current form up until the end of September.
But given some of the strange faces we’re seeing on a daily basis – Brett Gardner, Justin Christian and David Robertson to name but three – Yankees fans should be ecstatic just to be in contention.