With his top-notch performance in the Yankees' 10-3 win over the Orioles Wednesday night, CC Sabathia notched his 16th win to break a tie with the Tigers' Justin Verlander for the most victories in the American League. After a rocky start to his tenure in New York, Sabathia has been at the forefront of the surging Yankees' recent dominance over the entire American League.
The Yankees find themselves with the best record in all of baseball at 85-48 (.639), having won six straight games and eight out of their last 10. The team went 21-7 in the month of August, including six victories in games in which CC appeared. In those six starts Sabathia was everything the franchise envisioned when they signed him in the offseason, posting a 2.64 ERA, and surrendering only 14 runs (13 earned) on 36 hits in 44 1/3 innings, striking out 49 while walking only six.
After a terrible start to the season it looked like Sabathia might rank up there with Jack McDowell, Randy Johnson, and Kevin Brown as another in a long line of very expensive pitching mistakes by New York. Both the team and its anointed ace were struggling as volleys of cries from Yankee critics rained down over the entire franchise.
But the naysayers have been proven drastically wrong. In the early days of September, as the season winds its way down to the playoffs, the Yankees stand high atop the American League East, 7.5 games ahead of the increasingly docile Red Sox. Sabathia, after the shaky start, has more than earned his residence in the number one slot in the Yankees rotation, posting a 3.48 ERA and 167 Ks to go with his 16-7 record. His peripherals have been similarly stellar, with CC carrying a 1.134 WHIP with 7.5 K's per 9 against 2.3 BB/9 for a 3.34 K/BB ratio (one of the best of his career).
And almost as important, Sabathia has been the workhorse the Yankees critically lacked last season, leading the AL in innings (199.1), starts (29), and batters faced (807). With the Yankees bullpen developing into a unit of the highest caliber, CC's ability to pitch deep into games has been vital to New York's success, allowing manager Girardi to use Hughes/Rivera very much like his predecessor once used Rivera/Wettland.
As it stands the Yankees are nothing short of an unstoppable force in this regular season. Everyone on the team — including bench players like Eric Hinske — is hitting. The entire bullpen, bolstered by the return of Damaso Marte, has been consistent and dependable. And the starting rotation has been proficient enough (piggybacked by the prolific offense) to win games.
But when playoff time comes around having an ace — especially in the first round five-game series — is crucial, as the Yankees have found out in various recent playoff matchups. With Sabathia once again reaching elite levels late into the season, the Yankees look like they might finally be built correctly for the playoffs, And with their offense firing on all cylinders, and A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and (the recently near-perfect) Andy Pettitte ready to capably supplement Sabathia's mastery, all signs seem to point towards a path of collision with their most historic World Series rival and the manager that led the last restoration project of glory and became a Yankee legend in his own right.