Could CC Sabathia become the first Yankee to win 25 games since Ron Guidry in 1978?
The Yankees are on pace to win 100 games this season. If you're a student of the game, and looked at what was on paper on March 31, this is fairly remarkable.
(OK, this is the Yankees, an organization that spends more freely than 1992 MC Hammer at a gold-plated bathroom fixture convention. Just play along.)
Several things had to go right for the Yankees to be in this position a week before the All-Star break, and nearly all of them resided in the starting pitching department:
1) Back end of rotation: After Andy Pettitte walked, Cliff Lee got cold feet, and Phil Hughes broke down, Brian Cashman had to hit on some bargain basement alternatives to fill out the rotation. He did just that with the troika of veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia along with newbie Ivan Nova, who have combined to go 21-13 with a 3.37 ERA over 270 innings. I don't care if you're Buster Olney, Bill James, or a sports almanac-toting Biff in Back To The Future II, there's no way anybody could've predicted this.
2) Burnett bounce back: If the rotation had any chance of forming a cohesive unit, A.J. Burnett needed to rebound from a disasterous 2010 in which he may have single-handedly cost the Yankees from returning to the World Series. Burnett has hardly been great (8-7, 4.12 ERA over 113 2/3 innings), but he's far from the trainwreck liability he was last year ... at least for now. If nothing else, he's been consistent, posting ERAs of 3.93, 4.06, and 4.15 in the first three months of the season. He's on pace for right around 15 wins, which is basically the most you could ask from him.
And last but certainly not least ...
3) The Big Man had to be The Big Man
Given all the obstacles the Yankees faced, CC Sabathia had to deliver a season that bordered on the best of his career. Of course, he's done just that. After throwing seven more scoreless innings in a win over the Indians last night, Carsten Charles now stands at 12-4 with a 2.90 ERA over 136 2/3 innings. He might not be an All-Star (dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb), but Sabathia is the closest you can get to a sure thing in baseball right now.
The standard-bearer for all Yankee pitching seasons is Ron Guidry in 1978. The Gator went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA over a whopping 273 2/3 innings that year, winning the Cy Young unanimously and leading the Yankees to their 22nd title. He finished with nine shutouts and struck out 248. I had less dominating seasons playing MVP Baseball 2005 on my old PS2. Aces such as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez have posted similarly impressive seasons in subsequent years, but I'll take Guidry's '78 campaign as the best of the past 35 years.
Sabathia won't match the dizzying heights Guidry reached in the disco days, but he's every bit as important to this Yankees team as Guidry was to his. Translation? Cashman might as well rip up CC's contract right now. The Big Man has earned a raise.
Dan Hanzus is a regular contributor to Pinstripe Alley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danhanzus.