As the Yankees entered a four-game series with the surprising Orioles at Camden Yards on Thursday, all hell had broken loose. Derek Jeter was being asked whether his team was panicking. The voracious New York media were already using headlines insinuating a historic collapse was afoot. You would think given the hysteria that the Yankees already had been knocked from the playoffs as Boston and Atlanta were last season in disastrous collapses.
Take it easy, everybody. Instead we should be praising New York, not burying it. As fun as it is to see the Evil Empire struggle and flail, the cold fact is the Yankees aren't the Yankees right now.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez finally returned this week after breaking his hand in late July. They haven't had legendary closer Mariano Rivera most of the season after he tore his ACL shagging fly balls during a batting practice in Kansas City. Spark plug outfielder Brett Gardner went down in April for the year as did promising pitcher Michael Pineda, acquired in a blockbuster trade over the winter with Seattle.
Ace pitcher CC Sabathia has spent time on the disabled list. First baseman Mark Teixeira has missed over a week with a calf injury and hoped to return against Baltimore. A patchwork starting rotation has dealt with the loss of Ivan Nova (shoulder tendinitis) last month and Andy Pettitte (broken leg) in June.
Fans around the league will shed crocodile tears for the league's economic powerhouse. But few teams in baseball could have withstood so many blows. The fact that Jeter has continued to defy his age with a fine season in the twilight of his career and that veterans like Eric Chavez have revitalized their careers shows New York is still formidable if most of its other key pieces return down the stretch as expected.
Yes, Baltimore is on fire and will have four boisterous sellout crowds at home this weekend. And Tampa Bay, with its endless supply of starting pitching and strong defense, may be better than both. But for this season at least, you count the Yankees out at your peril.
- Brian McNally