Without looking at the New York Yankees record and position in the standings; if you were told that the Bombers lost Michael Pineda to a season-ending injury before the season started, Brett Gardner for the year nine games into the season, Mariano Rivera for the season at the end of April, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte for at least eight-ten weeks each in addition to DL stints for CC Sabathia (two), David Robertson and most recently Ivan Nova would you guess they’d be 20 games over .500 and in first place in the ultra competitive American League East? Me neither.
But, that is where the Yankees stand today after a heart-breaking loss to the Toronto Blue Jays due in part to a blown save by Rafael Soriano who took over as closer when Robertson went down just two weeks after Rivera was lost for the season. Last night aside, Soriano has been spectacular, closing out 33-of-36 chances, and could be viewed as one of the players who have kept the Yankees afloat for so long.
The list of role players who have made contributions at various stages this season is just as long as the list of players hindered by injuries thus the amazing record considering the caliber of players who went down. There is no shortage of instances where a role player has stepped into a starter’s role and lifted the team to victory. Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones did it for a while, Eric Chavez has found the fountain of youth since A-Rod suffered a fractured left hand after being hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch. Dewayne Wise (now with the Chicago White Sox), Jayson Nix, Cody Eppley, and Clay Rapada are some non-household names who have made significant contributions.
The Yankees have received big seasons from Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Curtis Granderson is doing what he does, bang homers and strikeout often, but many of his homers early on seemed to be difference makers. Nick Swisher has been hitting everything in sight this month. Hiroki Kuroda has been a rock and Phil Hughes may have turned the corner. Nova has been inconsistent, but even he contributed to a bunch of wins in June/July when the Yankees surged to the top of the AL East.
There’s a ‘but’ coming; is the Yankees’ most recent injury, a left calf strain suffered last night by Mark Teixeira the final straw? Teixeira has missed ample time himself this year (without a DL-stint) with a wrist injury. Can the Yankees somehow continue to get production out of players who were expected to be on the bench or not even be a part of the MLB-roster? Can Jeter, Cano, Granderson and Swisher continue to shoulder the load? Does trade deadline acquisition Ichiro Suzuki have a month-plus of stellar hitting in his bat? Maybe Russell Martin will provide some offensive help which has mostly been missing this season to date?
Will Rodriguez have much to give when he returns? Can Pettitte’s 40-year-old body bounce back and provide valuable innings for the last couple weeks of September? There are so many question marks, but so far this season they’ve been answered positively by the Yankees each time.
The 2012 New York Yankees’ season is defined by a team effort. There isn’t one player having a season which completely blows anyone away and can be said to be one which has carried the team on its own. Instead, they have received stretches of performances from various players; starting position players, utility players, rotation members and the bullpen alike. The perseverance has given the Yankees confidence that any ailment can be overcome. They are 128 games into the season and no one would suggest otherwise. They have not wallowed when injuries beset them; they’ve buckled down and stepped up.
Teixeira’s is a big bat and glove to replace. Who will be the next spare part to assert himself as a starter? Which regular position player will have a hot streak to help maintain the Yankees’ slim division lead? Which pitcher will carry the load and relieve some pressure on the offense? Can the bullpen depth continue to secure leads and stave off opponents in late-game situations?
They’ve overcome injuries time and again this season. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see them do it again. The Yankees mettle could prove to be the driving force at the end of September and into the postseason, should they hold on. There is no Mystique and Aura in 2012; just hard work and resiliency in the face of adversity. There is a rallying cry there which has enveloped the Yankees’ clubhouse. They believe they can overcome anything and so do I.