|Andy Pettitte has been key to the Yankees season. (AP photo)|
By Brad CarrollThe New York Yankees finally put an end to its free fall over the past three weeks with a much-needed 12-8 victory over the Detroit Tigers. The game wasn't a complete must-win, but with CC Sabathia on the mound, this was as close as it gets during the regular season.
The Yankees had lost 12 of their previous 18 games and have seen their once seemingly-insurmountable lead in the AL East shrink to just 4.5 games over the Baltimore Orioles heading into Thursday. So, the victory Wednesday night in Detroit was huge in so many ways.
If the Yankees had lost the game, however, we here at GameDay would have finally pushed the panic button, something we've been reluctant to do, even with a record 7-12 since finishing off a sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays on July 18.
While full-on panic was deemed unnecessary, for now anyway, it brought us to try and pinpoint why the team has played so poorly.
Right away, the injury to Alex Rodriguez can be brought up as one big reason. The Yankees are 6-7 without their regular third baseman in the lineup. His injury against Seattle came at the worst possible time for Rodriguez, as he was in the midst of a six-game hit streak and was 9-for23 during that stretch. He's batting .276 with 15 homers and 44 RBI on the season.
There's no doubt the Yankees miss his bat. But Eric Chavez has done a nice job in his absence. After going 0-for-12 right after the injury, Chavez is batting 12-for-26 since with three home runs and eight RBI. He's 7-for-12 with two doubles, a home run and four RBI in the first three games against Detroit alone.
So, A-Rod has been missed, but we have a much bigger missing piece to the Yankees' championship puzzle and who might just explain why the Yankees have gone from unbeatable to clinging to a postseason berth in short order.
That piece is Andy Pettitte.
Before Pettitte made his way back to the ball club, the Yankees were treading water and were anything but a juggernaut. They were 19-14 on the season and the starting pitchers had combined for an 11-12 record and a 5.55 ERA.
Then Pettitte arrived and everything changed. It wasn't just the pitching staff that improved immediately, although Pettitte quickly became the team's No. 2 starter after a few starts, but the entire team did as well. The Yankees pitched better, they hit better and, most of all, they won.
In the 40 games Pettitte played in before breaking his ankle, the team was 26-14. The difference in record is obvious. Without Pettitte this season the Yankees are a mere five games over .500, with a 37-32 record. That .536 win percentage would be good enough for 12th best in the majors if compared to everyone in the major leagues at this point.
Pettitte was 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA on the season, which are good, but not great numbers. What Pettitte brought to the team was a winning attitude and work ethic. He was part of the Yankees dynasty, a huge part, and when he entered that clubhouse, everything changed. Without him, the Yankees not only lost their No. 2 starter, but that must-win attitude.
Pettitte is all about intangibles and without him the Yankees are back to treading in the battle for the postseason. Pettitte and the Yankees are still banking on a return in September. That return may be the difference between another world championship season or one that might not even include a postseason berth. Pettitte can't get back soon enough for the Yankees and their fans.