New York Yankees: CC Sabathia could be biggest X-factor in ALCS

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 11: CC Sabathia
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 11: CC Sabathia /
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The veteran lefty pitched well in Game 5 against the Indians, striking out nine. But can he be as effective during the ALCS against a more potent offense?

Youth carried the New York Yankees to the the American League Champion Series, but one old dog played an essential role in the their final victory.

Veteran southpaw CC Sabathia dramatically changed everything, from his delivery to his mentality, to become relevant again. New York’s former ace isn’t the same overpowering pitcher he was in 2009. But he’s reinvented himself, and it paid off in Wednesday night’s victory.

The six-time All-Star tossed just 4 1/3 innings, but racked up nine strikeouts and yielded just two runs. In a winner-take-all game, it’s not surprise that manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen early.

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Nevertheless, Sabathia did his job by disallowing the Indians to gain any momentum. Sure, Didi Gregorius’ pair of homers helped too. But Sabathia’s performance was much needed considering that starting pitchers across the league have struggled this postseason.

The former Cy Young winner wasn’t a reliable option following his first knee procedure in 2014. He boasted a abhorrent 4.73 ERA in 2015, giving fans reason to wave the white flag and give up on the hefty lefty.

While he still owned a higher ERA in 2016 than almost every other season in his career, he showed improvement. But health remained an issue. Questions surrounded his knee, and they still do.

Sabathia still showcased some promise. He pitched to a shiny 0.49 ERA in June across three starts. Overall, he finished the year with a 3.61 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP and 120 strikeouts – a career-low.

Few expected Sabathia to even be a part of the playoff rotation. With phenom Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray, the Yankees could probably run a three-man rotation as they did in 2009.

But Girardi had confidence in the seasoned pitcher. And he still does.

Sabathia is slated to pitch Game 3 at home against Houston. The Astros haven’t faced Sabathia or his sweeping slider this season. They haven’t faced him often throughout his career, either.

In two games at Houston, Sabathia pitched 12 2/3 innings, allowing eight earned runs and four home runs. He whiffed 11 while walking three.

The Astros own the best offense in the land, ranking first in the league in runs scored and second in home runs. They ranked fifth in runs scored against left-handed pitchers in the regular season and third in slugging percentage.

If the trend continues, there should be a lot of home runs in the series, as Houston and New York possess several bombers each. And Sabathia is prone to the long ball, surrendering 21 round-trippers in 148 2/3 innings. That’s about one per seven innings.

Next: Girardi saved his job with his Game 5 victory

Sabathia will never be as effective as he was in 2009, when he earned his first ring after signing his gargantuan deal with the Yankees. But even after several highs and some lows, the tenured southpaw remains a crucial part of the team.

And two strong showings from him could help New York reach its first World Series since 2009.