Will Left-Hander Return To Dominant Form?

By Joe Giglio
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The impending returns of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis should give a boost to a Yankees offense that was stymied by Mets pitching this week, arriving just in time for a key American League East showdown with the first-place Boston Red Sox.

While there’s little doubt that the professional, accomplished corner infielders will make the New York lineup better, they aren’t saviors.

In fact, considering Teixeira’s preseason claims to the Wall Street Journal about accepting his decline and Youkilis’ frequent health issues, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much the offense will be buoyed over the next few months by their additions.

Despite playing very good baseball until running into the Mets, the 2013 Yankees will go as far as their starting pitching takes them. This was the case in February and figures to be even more so as the summer rolls on.

That’s why Friday evening’s spotlight should be more on CC Sabathia than the middle of Joe Girardi’s order. If the Yankees’ ace can’t escape his May funk, return to being a top-of-the-rotation anchor and lead the staff with big performances, there won’t be October baseball in New York this upcoming fall.

Due to the nature of the Yankees roster — a collection of accomplished names with track records of excellence – it’s easy to blur the line between past performance and expected performance.

While adding back Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis would boost any offense, those four aren’t stars anymore. The days of All-Star Game starts, MVPs and dominance from that quartet have come and gone.

Curtis Granderson, likely out until the All-Star break, represents a player who can provide game-changing impact into the lineup, but he seems destined to have his 2013 season stuck in quicksand.

For this Yankee team to soar above the deep, talented AL East slate, Robinson Cano and Sabathia need to perform at MVP and Cy Young levels. For Cano, the task feels robotic and predictable. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll be a great hitter and an anchor in the lineup.

Sabathia’s dip in performance has taken him down from his former level of greatness. While panicking over his recent slump is foolish, wondering if he’ll ever reclaim the form necessary for this Yankee team to win isn’t outlandish.
While it’s easy to write off a month-long slump for any pitcher, Sabathia’s decline is actually a longer, more troublesome slope.

After spending two stints on the disabled list in 2012, Sabathia is living with the realization that his offseason elbow surgery and career workload might permanently cost him the 94-96 MPH fastball that was such a regular part of his arsenal.

On the surface, he’s smart and crafty enough as a pitcher to overcome the velocity and win games at the big-league level, but with a declining strikeout rate, increase in home runs allowed and more ground balls becoming line driver off of hitters’ bats, the results haven’t accompanied the faith that New York has in the lefty.

There’s little doubt that Sabathia can be good in 2013 and beyond, but this particular Yankees team, regardless of the cavalry returning, isn’t going to profile as a top offense. This team has questions after its ace in the rotation, and it showed little room for error in the Subway Series.

Welcome back, Tex and Youk, but pay close attention to Sabathia. His season will give a much better indication of where the Yankees are heading.

Joe Giglio was the winner of Fantasy Phenom III in 2012. You can hear him on WFAN this Saturday from 1-3 a.m. Twitter? He’s on it @JoeGiglioSports.

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