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Friday, April 18, 2014
Better winning through chemistry?

By Wallace Matthews

TAMPA, Fla. -- Sometimes players say things in the course of a postgame interview that fly over your head at that moment, but jump out at you when you listen back to the tape.

So it was with CC Sabathia after Thursday night's 10-2 Yankees win over the Rays. Near the end of his postgame chat, in response to an innocuous question about the current state of the Yankees, Sabathia said something that could be interpreted as significant, or even borderline explosive.

“It’s been good so far," Sabathia said. "I think the chemistry on this team is really good as opposed to the past couple of years. We’re having fun playing and the starting pitching has been great. You don't want to be that guy that messes it up. Just try to keep it going."

The operative phrase, of course, is "as opposed to the past couple of years." It raised the specter of a clubhouse cancer infecting the Yankees in previous seasons, and since four big names are no longer with the club -- Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano -- it even suggested that perhaps one of them could have been the reason. (I think we would all agree on the most obvious candidate in that list.)

So I circled back on CC this afternoon to ask him exactly what he meant.

"It just seems like the team is having more fun this year than last year," he said. "We added a lot of good guys, Mac [Brian McCann], Jacoby [Ellsbury], Carlos [Beltran]. It's just a good group of guys this year."

So then I cornered Joe Girardi and asked if he thought he had a chemistry problem in his clubhouse last year. "I wouldn't say we had a chemistry problem," he said. "But there were a lot of moving parts, with all the injuries. There was no consistency on the roster, so it was tough for guys to get to know one another. Guys were here for a while and then they were gone. This group has been together since the beginning of spring training, and it makes a difference."

Last year, the Yankees used a franchise record 56 players over the course of an injury-decimated season, including guys such as Chris Nelson, Brent Lillibridge, Reid Brignac and Alberto Gonzalez, who were Yankees for less that two weeks. Then there were guys such as Travis Ishikawa and Chris Bootcheck, who were with the club for virtually one day.

This year, the Yankees have used 29 players so far. And with the exception of Mark Teixeira, they have had their regulars pretty much intact for the first 17 games of the season.

However, the improved continuity has yet to show itself in the record. To this point in the season, the patchwork 2013 Yankees and the (so far) consistent 2014 Yankees have exactly the same record: 10-6.