The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
When you look at Mark Teixiera’s career numbers you see the amazing consistency he has provided since 2004, his second season in the majors. He entered the 2012 season as the only active player who had hit 30 or more home runs and drove 100 or more runs for eight consecutive seasons.
Teixeira, 32, was on track to make it nine this season when on Aug. 27 he incurred a Grade 1 strain of his left calf.
He returned to the lineup Sept. 8 and re-injured the calf trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended a loss against the Orioles in Baltimore. He did not return until Oct. 1, when the Yankees opened their final series of the season against the Red Sox.
Though he blasted a two-run home run in his first game back, Teixeira’s contributions at the plate during the playoffs may be limited. It is unclear how long it will take him to sharpen up his stroke from both sides of the plate.
But Teixeira’s presence in the lineup means far more than what he actually contributes himself. The lineup deepens when he is back in it and, no matter what Teixeira delivers at the plate, he provides world-class defense at first base and saves the pitchers runs and his infield teammates errors.
The only real knock on his game has been the steady decline in his batting average since he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2009.
After hitting .259 in his rookie season with Texas, Teixeira batted .281, .301, .282 and .306 in his next four seasons. Teixeira hit .306 and .308 in combined seasons with Texas and Atlanta in 2007 and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
But when he joined the Yankees in 2009, Teixera found the short porch in right very inviting, much like his predecessor Jason Giambi did. He hit .292 in 2009 but since then he has hit .256, and .248.
The criticism of his low average stung a bit and Teixeira vowed this season that he would take a new approach into the season with him. He would not be a strict pull hitter, but try to go the other way with pitches. This, he hoped, would raise his average while not hurting his production.
But it was obvious early in the season that Teixeira was struggling with the new approach. In his typically slow April, he hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Teixeira abandoned the approach altogether in May and by the All-Star break he had 14 home runs 46 RBIs and a .247 average. Teixeira basically said: “I do not care what my batting average is. I am paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and that is what I am going to do.”
Judging by his numbers, Teixeira was on a pace in which he would have reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had he not been injured. Injuries are new with him, too.
Teixeira had not played less than 156 games since 2007, when he played in 132 games.
So you take two things out of Teixeira’s injury this season: No. 1, it a rare occurrence and No. 2, it is just bad luck it happened so late in the season.
Though Teixeira has fallen a notch below the elite first basemen in baseball such as Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, he is still one of the most productive hitters at his position and he is still considered the elite fielding first basemen in the game.
The proof of his fielding prowess is that Teixeira set a career low by committing only one error all season. That is not a fluke either. He has not committed more than five errors in a season since his rookie year in 2004, when he was shifted to first base by the Rangers for the first time and he was charged with 10.
The error totals don’t really measure how good Teixeira is at first base. He has unbelievable range, cat-quick reflexes, an accurate arm and an uncanny ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt.
Over the years, the Yankees have gotten excellent glove-work out of first baseman such as Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Teixeira could be considered as good as those two if not maybe a bit better. The errors he saves his fellow infielders have become part of his legend now.
So even when Teixeira is slumping at the plate, he contributes so much in the field that it does not show unless he is gone for periods of time like he was this season.
Though Nick Swisher is above average at the position, Teixeira’s defense was missed when he was gone.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
Despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi elected to use Swisher as Teixeira’s primary backup when he was injured, Swisher’s report card will be with the outfielders.
Chavez, 34, made six starts at the position and played in 10 games here during the season. The Yankees also used Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce at the position during Teixeira’s stint on the disabled list.
But Chavez is still considered the primary backup at first base and his season was magical. He avoided injury, which is always a plus considering he has not played more than 137 games since 2006.
Chavez was signed primarily as a backup at third and first base and an occasional designated hitter against right-handers. In those roles Chavez seemed to thrive because, though his midseason numbers were good (six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .270 batting average), his second-half numbers were even better.
He had 10 home runs, 21 RBIs and raised his season average 11 points.Chavez made 50 starts at third base and that is the position for which he collected six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Oakland Athletics from 2001 to 2006. First base is a little tougher for him though he committed only one error at first in his limited time there.
No one can come close to providing the defense Teixeira can at the position but Chavez does not embarrass himself either.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The fact that the Yankees were forced to trade for McGehee and sign Pearce as a free agent shows just how devoid of talent the Yankees are at the position in the minor leagues.
Pearce, 29, and former major league slugger Russell Branyan, 36, played the position at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They combined for 22 home runs (11 apiece) there but neither obviously are considered are long-term solutions at the position for the Yankees.
Of course, Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season but the Yankees still need to be looking at grooming a replacement soon.
At Double-A Trenton the Yankees had a pair of powerful right-handed-hitting first basemen in Addison Maruzak and Luke Murton.
Maruszak, 25, had 16 homers, 59 RBIs and hit ,276 and Murton, 26, put up 25 home runs, 68 RBIs and batted .249. But the Yankees do not consider either player a prospect because they are playing at the Double-A level at a decidedly advanced age.
The Yankees do not have a first baseman among their Top 20 minor-league prospects so this position could stand to be strengthened.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
As long as the Yankees have Teixeira they can count on 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a batting average in the .240s or so. In addition, they will get Gold Glove defense from arguably the best-fielding first baseman in the game.
Teixeira’s consistency is his hallmark. Up to this season, he also has been quite durable. But the Yankees are going to have to admit that as Teixeira gets older he is going to be more susceptible to injury and he will require more rest during the season.
What Teixeira will able to contribute in the playoffs is questionable right now. Because Teixeira has always been a slow starter when the season begins, it stands to reason he might be real rusty when the playoffs begin. He also is not playing at 100 percent on his left calf now.
But just having him in lineup makes it stronger and there is no doubt Teixeira can save runs and errors with is glove. So the sum of all the parts adds up to being a huge positive for the Yankees.
YANKEES 7, TIGERS 6
Sometimes you win games with clutch hits that are placed perfectly to score a run. Sometimes you win games with heroic catches to save games. Then there are times you just are patient enough to watch a young relief pitcher unravel in front of 41,200 fans at Yankee Stadium.
The latter happened to Tigers reliever Brayan Villarreal – with some help from catcher Alex Avila – on Friday and it cost him and his team a victory against the Yankees on Friday.
Villarreal (0-1) uncorked a pitch in the 10th inning that hit off the glove of Avila for a passed ball and allowed Derek Jeter to score the tie-breaking run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Yankees rallied to hand the Tigers their seventh loss in their last eight games.
The Yankees had just tied the game in the eighth inning off reliever Joaquin Benoit on a single by Alex Rodriguez, a single by Robinson Cano that advanced Rodriguez to third and a sac fly to deep center by Mark Teixeira.
Mariano Rivera (1-0) then needed only 11 pitches to retire the Tigers in order in the ninth to set the stage for the Yankees rally off the 24-year-old right-hander in the bottom of the inning.
After one out, Jeter drew a walk and he advanced to third on a Villarreal wild pitch on what was ball four to Curtis Granderson. Villarreal dug himself an even larger hole by throwing the first two pitches out of the strike zone to Rodriguez.
His third pitch also veered outside, hit off Avila’s glove and rolled to the wall behind home plate. Jeter started back to third initially but then raced home and knocked the ball out of Villarreal’s glove as he slid in safely with the winning run.
In what was thought would be a pitcher’s duel between reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova was anything but a duel as the game unfolded.
Nova surrendered six runs on 11 hits and three walks and struck out five in 5 /13 innings. However, because the Yankees rallied to tie the game after he left, Nova keeps alive his 15-game winning streak dating back to June 2011. He is just a game behind the team record set by Roger Clemens.
Verlander was victimized by a solo home run by Rodriguez in the fourth and a two-run blast by Russell Martin in the fifth. He ended up giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and struck out four in six innings.
Yankee Stadium remains the only A.L. park in which he has not won a game.
With the victory the Yankees improve to 11-8. The Tigers fall to 10-10.
- It was nice to see Rodriguez begin to swing the bat well for a change. He came into the contest hitting .221. But he was 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in the game. He stroked an opposite-field single to drive in Granderson in the first inning to give the Yankees a short-lived 1-0 lead. In the fourth he hit career homer No. 633 to the bleachers in right-center to bring the Yankees to within a run at 3-2. He then just missed hitting a second home run to center off Verlander in the fifth that would have given the Yankees a 5-3 lead. He later started the eighth-inning rally with a leadoff single and scored the tying run.
- It was also nice to see Martin hit a two-run homer off Verlander that gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead after five innings. Martin is the only Yankee regular hitting under .200. He came into the game hitting .182 with one home run and four RBIs. With one swing he doubled his home run total and plated half of his previous RBI total.
- The bullpen, once again, saved the Yankees in a huge way. After Nova left in the fifth, Cory Wade, David Robertson and Rivera combined to shut out the Tigers on a hit, a walk and struck out four over the final 3 1/3 innings. Shaky starting pitching continues to put the bullpen to the test and they keep doing the job.
- Nova entered the top of the sixth with a 4-3 lead and promptly gave it right back to the Tigers. Jhonny Peralta opened the frame with a single to left and Ryan Raburn followed with a single to right-center. Austin Jackson, who was 4-for-5 on the night, then smacked a two-run double to the wall to score Peralta and Raburn. After one out, Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally and Boone Logan was summoned to retire Cecil Fielder. But Fielder slapped his second opposite-field RBi single to left and the Yankees fell into a 6-4 hole. Nova was very lucky the Yankees rallied to tie the game up and later won it.
- I have said this before and it bears repeating: Raul Ibanez has no business playing the outfield at age 39. That became obvious in the second inning when Brad Eldred, who was just called up from Triple-A Toledo on Friday, followed a leadoff walk to Don Kelly with a pop fly to left that Ibanez played into a triple that scored Kelly and tie the game a 1-1. It is situations like this that make the Yankees appreciate the Gold Glove-quality defense they receive from Brett Gardner.
- Logan was one member of the bullpen who did not enjoy a good night. He was called upon in the sixth with runners on first and second and one out, trailing the game 5-4. Logan had to face Fielder and Kelly, a pair of lefties. Fielder singled in a run and Logan walked Kelly on a 3-2 pitch. He exited the game without retiring either lefty.
Manager Joe Girardi was ejected from the game in the bottom of the seventh inning by home-plate umpire Joe West after Martin was rung up a 1-2 Octavio Dotel pitch that replays showed was clearly outside. Girardi was not upset the pitch was called a strike. What really upset him was that a number of similar outside corner pitches from the Yankees’ pitchers were NOT called strikes. This has been an ongoing problem with West throughout his entire career. Because he has been in the game so long, West believes in his heart that those fans in the stands who fork out $150 a ticket come to see him call balls and strikes. Should you even get the thought into your head about questioning his ever-changing strike zone, he runs you out of the game with a hair-trigger temper. But I loved what the gutless fat slob did after Girardi showed him that the third strike Martin took was in the left-handed batter’s box. While Girardi’s back was turned and he was heading back to the dugout West said something. That is what cowards do when they know they are wrong. Thanks, Bud Selig, for giving us baseball fans the umpiring equivalent of Napoleon. Heck, Joe, try umpiring with your right hand tucked in your shirt. You stink! You need to retire now. The act, like you, is getting old.
The Tigers played the game without starting left fielder Delmon Young, who was arrested early Friday morning by New York City police for an alleged assault of man in front of a downtown hotel. He will be charged with aggravated harassment and it could be escalated to a hate crime, according to a police spokesman. Young remains in custody and he is awaiting arraignment. A detective told the Detroit Free Press that some “anti-Semetic remarks” were made during the incident. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers handle this considering they never punished Cabrera, their best player, for a pair of DUI charges. . . . Jeter had his 15-game hitting streak stopped on Friday. Though he was 0-for-4 starting the ninth, Jeter drew a walk and later scored the game-winning run. That is how good it has been going for Jeter. He helps win the game without getting a hit. . . . Andy Pettitte will make his next scheduled start for Double-A Trenton on Monday against the Portland Sea Dogs in Maine. Pettitte, 39, is expected to throw 90 to 95 pitches. Pettitte is on track to return to the major leagues in mid-May.
The three-game series with the Tigers continues on Saturday.
For fans planning to attend the game, I suggest you arrive early enough to see Freddy Garcia start the game for the Yankees. You may not see him for long after that. Garcia (0-1, 9.75 ERA) has not pitched six innings in any of his previous three starts and only lasted 1 2/3 innings against Boston last Saturday. Fortunately, the Yankees rallied from a 9-0 deficit and beat up on Bosox 15-9. He is 18-8 with a 3.88 ERA against the Tigers over the past 10 seasons.
The Tigers will counter with rookie left-hander Drew Smyly (0-0, 1.13 ERA), who has allowed two runs or less in his first three starts. He held the Rangers to one run on five hits and two walks on Sunday but ended up with his third no-decision. He has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.