Are these Yankees oldies but goodies?
Veteran Yankees leading team.
Last month, the New York Yankees’ held their 69th Annual Old-Timers Day, where the likes of Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Reggie Jackson, Bernie Williams and countless other former Yankee greats returned for the festivities. On Sunday afternoon, the Yankees welcomed the Seattle Mariners and Felix Hernandez to the Bronx, but it was their current cast of Yankee Old Timers who stole the headlines.
Struggling lefty C.C. Sabathia who is celebrating his 35th birthday today, matched King Felix pitch for pitch, allowing one run in six strong innings. Just off the disabled list, 38-year old Carlos Beltran, hit a game-tying single off Hernandez in the sixth inning, and 35-year old Mark Teixeira continued his resurgent season with a game-winning homer off Fernando Rodney in the eighth inning.
While there were plenty of off-season prognosticators claiming the Yankees’ elder statesmen couldn’t contribute anymore, the aging core four of Teixeira, Beltran, Sabathia and a soon-to-be 40-year old Alex Rodriguez have remained mostly healthy and a big part behind the team building a four game lead in the American League East. Teixeira has looked like his old self, ARod has been better than anyone could of imagined, Beltran has rallied from a slow start and even Sabathia has showed signs of life in his last three outings.
When the 2015 season started, Yankees fans weren’t expecting much from the Teixeira-Rodriguez AARP duo. If the former middle-of-the-order stars simply stayed healthy and were half the players they once were, it would have been a bonus. But the duo has instead been arguably the best 3-4 combo in any American League lineup, no offense to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
Teixeira tore a wrist sheath that needed surgery in 2013 and ended that season after 15 games. He looked like a shell of his former self last season, but they say a wrist injury takes two years to fully recover from. In fact, Teixeira finished last year with the exact home run (22) and RBI (62) numbers he put up in the first half this year, which shows how far he has come. He just participated in his third Midsummer Classic, and he is not only the MVP of the Yankees thus far but he should also be in the conversation for MVP of the entire American League.
Teixiera hasn’t been the only one to turn back the clock, as ARod has played his best baseball in years. Through 85 games, the full-time designated hitter, who missed all of last year due to being suspended by Major League Baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs, has amassed 52 RBIs, a .893 OPS and 19 longballs, the most he’s had in a year since 2010 when he hit 30 dingers and drove in 125 runs. He is also the only Yankee this season to hit 2 go-ahead homers in the 7th inning or later.
Rodriguez came out of the All-Star break with the seventh-highest wRC+ (148) in the league, according to FanGraphs. He also had a 147 adjusted OPS, which would be his highest mark since 2008 when it was 150. Not many people expected this kind of renaissance from Rodriguez, but the Yankees will need it to continue for any chance of making it back to the playoffs.
Speaking of the postseason, that time of year is the main reason why the Yankees gave Beltran $45 million last winter. He played through the entire 2014 campaign with an elbow injury and had surgery in the offseason to fix it. But he had to field questions about his health and age in April after posting a .162/. 216/. 265 slash line with no homers during the opening month.
He is no longer the player he once was, especially in the outfield, but after a slow start he has dramatically picked things up since May 1st, hitting .300 with seven home runs. After going 1-for-2 with a walk on Sunday, Beltran is now batting .340 with six runs, five doubles, three homers and eight RBIs in his past 15 games — with his nearly three-week absence in between. Following the 2-1 victory, Beltran even drew a parallel between himself and Sabathia, a pair of veteran players on the downside of their careers trying to rediscover some of their old tricks.
“I’m hoping for him the same second half I’m hoping for myself,” Beltran said. “If we can hold it together, we can help this team.”
Sabathia has been even more disappointing than Beltran, but he has pitched much better of late. In his last three starts, he has allowed 7 earned runs with just four walks and seven strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. He has been cerebral in his approach and he’s admitted that he is no longer the ace. The Yankees saw another veteran left hander, Andy Pettitte, become effective later in his career with diminished stuff, so perhaps Sabathia can finally make that transition as well.
Sabathia had an awful first half, becoming the first Yankee to finish the first half of the season with at least eight losses and an ERA above 5.00 since Tim Leary (4-8, 6.30 ERA) in 1991. But there are certain underlying statistics that do give some hope that he can be better and of use in the team’s playoff push. While his ERA is still an unsightly 5.25, his FIP is a much more palatable 4.32. His effort on Sunday was more than encouraging for manager Joe Girardi to continue to believe Sabathia will be an important contributor over these last 2½ months.
“I told him, ‘You’re the guy who understands these times,” Girardi said. “He’s the (only) one (of the five starters) who’s been through it and we need him to be big for us.”
With the dog days of August fast approaching, the Yankees will need Sabathia and all four of their old dogs to remain effective and most importantly, on the field.
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