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Tuesday, August 13, 2013
First Pitch: Can't compete without CC

By Wallace Matthews

NEW YORK -- Assuming continued good health, CC Sabathia has as many as 11 more starts to make between now and the end of the season.

Eleven more chances to make something of a deeply disappointing 2013 season. Eleven more chances to help keep alive the Yankees' improbable dream of making the playoffs.

CC Sabathia
Sabathia has been puzzled by his lack of success this season.
If Joe Girardi's math is correct, that the Yankees will need to win another 33 games to be assured of October baseball -- they won No. 60 last night, 2-1, over the Los Angeles Angels -- then Sabathia is going to need to win the majority of those starts, or at least leave his team in a position to win them.

Because not only has Sabathia lost his last four decisions, but the Yankees have lost seven of the last eight games he has started.

His position as ace of the staff has long since been usurped by Hiroki Kuroda, who in a world without Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish would be an almost odds-on favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award this year. But worse than that, for the past two-and-a-half months, the Yankees aren't even likely to win on the days that Sabathia pitches.

His struggles this year have been a mystery. He had an elbow cleanout last winter, which presumably eliminated the pain he was feeling through much of the second half of last season. He dropped a good amount of weight, and has kept it off. And even though his gun readings seem to be permanently down -- his fastball now rarely gets above 93 mph and generally dwells at about 91 -- he was able to win with what he had earlier in the season.

But lately, he has struggled more and more, and perhaps more disturbingly, has struggled even harder to come up with reasons for his struggles.

His last outing, on Wednesday in Chicago, was his best in a month, and he left the game in the eighth inning with a 4-3 lead. But that was the night Mariano Rivera blew his first of three straight saves, on Adam Dunn's game-tying single, and Sabathia came away with a no-decision.

He has not won a game since July 3.

That needs to end Tuesday night, if the Yankees are to have any hope of making the playoffs.

Sabathia's record against the Angels is mediocre -- 7-8, 4.08 ERA in 17 career starts -- but as a Yankee he has been better (2-3, 3.25). And as a good omen, the last time Sabathia faced Los Angeles, he got a win, allowing just two runs on five hits over eight innings on June 16. That started a little run in which he won three of four starts. Tuesday's game would be a good time for him to begin another one.

Otherwise, there's no way the numbers are going to add up. Kuroda is as close to a sure thing as the Yankees have, and Ivan Nova has been a wonderful surprise since returning from the DL.

As long as they continue to perform, Sabathia doesn't have to be an ace, just a solid No. 3. But for his past eight starts, even that has seemed too much to ask. Now, he's got 11 more make up for them.

QUESTION: Do you have faith in Sabathia to finish the season strong enough to give the Yankees a fighting chance at a wild-card spot? Let us know in the comments section, or via my Twitter feed, @ESPNNYYankees.

UP NOW: Matt Ehalt's got the Rapid Reaction from last night's 2-1 win over the Angels, as well as postgame blogs on Kuroda's masterful performance and Curtis Granderson's vital HR. I've got a column on what the ninth inning will look like in the post-Mariano era.

ON DECK: Game 2 of this three-game series, Sabathia (9-10, 4.73) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (6-4, 3.65), first pitch at 7:05 p.m. Ehalt and I will be there when the clubhouse opens at 3:20 p.m., and we'll be posting the lineups and all the pregame news shortly thereafter. And as always, thanks for reading.