CC Sabathia can stop skid with his slider

The New York Yankees had a 10-game lead in the American League East entering play on July 19.

On Friday, the Yankees will arrive at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a two and-a-half-game division lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s the Yankees smallest lead since the end of the day on June 24.

Are the Yankees on the verge of an epic collapse? Blowing a 10-game lead is not unprecedented in baseball (see last September), but it would be a historical event for the franchise. The Yankees have never had a division or league lead of more than six games and not won the division or league, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

However, this is not the first time the Yankees have had a double-digit lead in the late summer dwindle to just a few games. In 1996, they had a 12-game division lead on July 28. By September 10, it was down to two and-a-half games. The Yankees ended up winning the division by four games and won the World Series.

The Rays were 10 and-a-half games back entering July 19, but their play of late has helped them close the gap. They've won 23 of their last 33 games and are 14-3 since Evan Longoria returned to the lineup.

However, the biggest difference in the two teams since July 19 has been the pitching (see chart).

Yankees, Rays Since July 19

New York's bullpen has been a big culprit of late. The Yankees are 2-5 in their last seven games, and the bullpen has a 7.04 ERA and opponents have hit .391 against them in that span.

The only consistent starter for the Yankees since July 19 has been Hiroki Kuroda, who is 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA in six starts. The rest of the rotation is 10-11 with a 5.00 ERA.

Kuroda could get some much-needed help with the return of CC Sabathia, who will start on Friday. It will be Sabathia’s first start since going on the disabled list on August 12 with elbow inflammation.

Before going on the DL, Sabathia’s first two August starts were quality ones, and his slider was nasty. Sabathia threw 65 sliders, which netted him 22 outs (including 12 strikeouts). He allowed just two base runners, opponents missed on half of their swings, and chased half of the sliders thrown out of the strike zone.

The Yankees enter play on Friday on a three-game losing streak; however, Sabathia hasn’t always been the answer to stopping skids. Since joining the team in 2009, the Yankees are 3-5 in Sabathia’s starts when the team has lost at least three straight games. And two of those wins came in 2009.