By Sweeny Murti
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This is when the Yankees need Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes the most, and so far the jury is out.

With another injury to CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte still down, and the Yankees’ once double-digit division lead not as insurmountable as it once appeared, Nova and Hughes need to step up now.  The Yankees have managed to overcome a lot of injuries this year, and even this latest one is minor at the moment (with Sabathia back in  less than two weeks), but some big performances by two guys who were 4th and 5th starters at one point this year would be a nice boost.

Are we sure yet that they are capable of doing it?

Both Nova and Hughes have been good at times, but now their starts become more important and their recent struggles force us to question whether they are enough to get the Yankees over another hump and deep into October.  Assuming they make it into the postseason, the Yankees will be counting on two pitchers currently on the DL and a third—Hiroki Kuroda—who has pitched well, but isn’t playoff tested (2-1 in three postseason starts for the Dodgers, but was knocked out in the second inning of the one loss in 2009).

Nova had a bounce-back start in Toronto over the weekend.  After getting pounded for 21 hits and 16 runs over his two previous starts, Nova found his curve and slider, wherever they had been hiding, and held the Blue Jays to two runs in 7 1/3 on Saturday.  It was a confidence builder for sure.  His next start comes this week against Texas, a more formidable offensive team.

Hughes has actually been very good over a three-month stretch, 10-5 with a 3.44 ERA since May 6.  Hughes scuffled in Detroit and was lit up by the Blue Jays on Sunday, as uninspiring a performance as he’s ever had considering the injury to Sabathia required a game that didn’t tax the Yankee bullpen heading into Monday’s series opener against the Rangers.

There seems to be universal disappointment in Hughes amongst Yankee fans, but that is way too extreme.  He certainly needs to be more consistent and limiting the damage even slightly on Sunday in Toronto could have been enough for the Yankees to turn a 4-3 road trip into a 5-2 one.

The problem comes down to this: Do the Yankees have enough pitching to win the World Series?  Many around baseball feel the Yankees are short, and that was before Sabathia’s latest trip to the DL.

The Yankees are certainly able to compete with the other top contenders in the AL like the Rangers, Angels, A’s, White Sox, Rays and Orioles.  They just aren’t the sure-fire favorite based on the subpar play over the last month, the injuries that have taken their toll on the lineup, and the inconsistency from starting pitchers who can’t afford to give up 6 runs in 1 inning of a playoff game.

There is still time for this team to play like the team that’s been in first place for the last nine weeks.  But October will bring a new set of challenges, and the next seven weeks will tell us whether this Yankees team is ready to meet them.

Sweeny Murti

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