YANKEES 8, TWINS 5
There are certain baseball sluggers than fans flock to see do magical things at the plate whether they loved them or hated them. Players like Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and, yes, even Alex Rodriguez. The 40-year-old designated hitter had one of those historic nights you would have wanted to see at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday.
With the Yankees trailing 5-0, Rodriguez proceeded to hit three long blasts – his final home run tying the game in the top of the ninth – and John Ryan Murphy later added a tie-breaking three-run shot in the same inning off All-Star closer Glen Perkins as New York pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat on a stunned Minnesota team.
Rodriguez’s three home runs in a game marked the fifth time in his career he has done it and – two days shy of his 40th birthday – he also became the fifth oldest player in Major-League history to hit three home runs in a game behind Stan Musial (41, 229 days), Jason Giambi (40, 131 days), Jackson (40, 125 days) and Ruth (40, 108 days).
His first home run was a solo shot into the left-field bleachers off left-hander Tommy Milone with two out in the fourth inning. That was the only hit the Yankees could muster off Milone in the first six innings.
After losing to the Twins 10-1 on Friday, the Yankees were looking at a possible potential sweep of the series by the Twins on Sunday after managing just two runs in the first 15 innings of the series.
But the Yankees turned the game (and possibly the series) around after the Twins had loaded the bases with out the benefit of a hit of a hit off left-hander CC Sabathia after two were out in the sixth inning. Sabathia walked Kurt Suzuki, hit Danny Santana with a pitch and then walked Brian Dozier.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Sabathia with right-hander Adam Warren, who managed to work into a 3-2 count on Aaron Hicks. His 3-2 pitch was called a strike by home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson.
Twins rookie manager Paul Molitor argued the call so vehemently that Nelson ejected him from the game.
The Yankees then opened the seventh with a leadoff single by Chris Young and Rodriguez followed by depositing Milone’s 1-1 pitch into the center-field bleachers for a two-run homer.
Mark Teixeira then doubled and left-hander Brian Duensing was summoned to replace Milone. Carlos Beltran launched a deep line drive to center that advanced Teixeira to third and Chase Headley scored Teixeira on a sacrifice fly.
Trailing 5-4 in the ninth, Rodriguez launched Perkins’ first offering into the center-field bleachers for his third home run of the night and 23rd of the season to tie the game.
Perkins (0-2) closed out the American League’s 6-3 victory in the 2015 All-Star Game and had blown only one save this season prior to Saturday. He carried a 1.37 ERA and a American-League-leading 29 saves into the contest.
With one out and Carlos Beltran at first after an out call at first base by umpire Tom Woodring was overturned to negate a double play, Headley laced a single to center to advance Beltran to third. Murphy, who entered the game with one career homer and none in 81 at-bats this season, sent a long drive into the center-field bleachers for a three-run home run to complete the improbable eight-run comeback.
Warren (6-5) pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory. Left-hander Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth inning to notch his 23rd save in 23 chances this season.
The Twins took an early 2-0 lead on Sabathia and the Yankees when the light-hitting Hicks followed a leadoff single by Dozier with only his fourth home run of the season.
Hicks created more trouble in the third with a leadoff bloop single to center. One out later, rookie slugger Miguel Sano rolled a ball against the shift to the right side for an infield single. Torii Hunter then cranked an opposite-field homer to right to give the Twins their seemingly insurmountable 5-0 margin.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season mark to 54-42 and they are 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Twins dropped to 52-45.
- These are the games that stoke legends and Rodriguez’s magical night drew the Yankees back from the depths of despair. His numbers defy explanation after missing most of the past two seasons. He is batting .277 with 23 homers and 58 RBIs. If anyone saw this coming you are a better man than me. He and Mark Teixeira have combined to hit 47 homers and drive in 123 runs with 66 games left in the season.
- The Yankees were more than content to go to the bottom of the ninth with a tie score but Murphy’s home run provided a three-run margin. Give Murphy, 24, credit for putting up a tough battle with a good closer. Backup catchers are paid to play good defense and give the starter a rest. If they provide anything offensively it is a bonus and Murphy is now hitting .271 with a homer and eight RBIs in his 23 starts.
- Sabathia may have yielded five runs on six hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. But give him credit for this: From the moment Hunter cranked his 16th homer of the season, Sabathia, Warren and Miller held the Twins to just one hit (a two-out single by Suzuki in the eighth) the rest of the game. If the pitching did not keep the Twins off the board the Yankees likely would not have won.
- The Yankees pretty much were sleepwalking through this series until the seventh inning on Saturday. They had just one hit in the first six innings and ended the night with 10. In fact, they outhit the Twins 10 to 7. Phil Hughes shut them out for seven innings on Friday and Milone held them to one run in six until he finally unraveled in the seventh. That is embarrassing.
- Michael Pineda and Sabathia combined to yield 10 runs on 14 hits and three walks in 10 2/3 innings the past two nights. That is an 8.44 ERA. Starting pitching had been a strong suit of the Yankees 9-2 run up until Friday. The starters have to keep the Yankees in the game in order for them to unleash their strong bullpen.
Girardi told reporters on Saturday that the Yankees will not pitch Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers in order to give the 26-year-old right-hander an extra day of rest. The Yankees likely will start either Warren or left-hander Chris Capuano and give each pitcher about 50 pitches. Girardi said top pitching prospect Luis Severino and right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who are both pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, are not viable options. The right-handed Severino pitched on Friday and Mitchell pitched on Saturday. Tanaka will start against the Rangers on Wednesday because the team is managing his innings in the wake of his partially torn elbow ligament that sidelined him for two months last season. . . . The Yankees signed right-hander Nick Goody to a Major-League contract and called him up from Scranton to add a fresh arm to the bullpen. In order to get Goody on the 25-man roster right-hander Branden Pinder was sent back to Scranton and to get him on the 40-man roster the team designated for assignment infielder Gregorio Petit. Goody, 24, has a 1.35 ERA in five appearances at Scranton after being promoted from Double-A Trenton. Pinder, 26, had a 2.92 ERA in 11 appearances with the Yankees this season. Petit, 30, hit .167 with no homers and five RBIs in 42 at-bats with the Yankees.
The Yankees will now look to build upon their miracle comeback victory to win the three-game series with the Twins on Sunday.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (9-2, 4.43 ERA) will start the finale. Eovaldi, 25, gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a game the Yankees eventually won against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He has never faced the Twins.
Eovaldi will be opposed by right-hander Kyle Gibson (8-7, 3.19 ERA). Gibson, 27, was shelled for six runs on 10 hits and one walk with six strikeouts in five-plus innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.
Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
When it comes to the New York Yankees it seems the team is always thrown into a negative light every time something awful surfaces about Alex Rodriguez.
The latest flap about Rodriguez concerns a report from the Miami New Times that Rodriguez’s name – along with five other major-league players – was found among documents obtained from an anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis. Those six players were accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs from the clinic run by Anthony Bosch.
Not to be outdone by a small potatoes newspaper, Sports Illustrated managed to uncover additional documents that linked Rodriguez to 19 drugs and supplements, including several banned substances.
Major League Baseball met with the editors of the Miami New Times on Monday to gain access to the documents they uncovered in their investigation.
Rodriguez, for his part, has vehemently denied the allegations through a spokesman and claims he never was treated or advised by Bosch.
But probably the most telling comment from Rodriguez was published in the New York Daily News saying that Rodriguez is fearful that his own team and Major League Baseball are conspiring to end his baseball career, sources said.
If, in fact, this is a statement coming from Rodriguez it shows a lot about how he thinks of himself as a victim and never in terms of someone who is potentially hurting a franchise and a very popular brand like the Yankees.
A-Rod has failed to complete a full healthy season with the Yankees since his 2007 MVP season when he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted .314. During spring training 2009, he admitted – after a SI report surfaced – that he took PEDs while he was a member of the Texas Rangers through the 2003 season.
He very pointedly said that he taken not PEDs since 2003.
Because the rules regarding steroids had not been implemented prior to the 2004 season, Major League Baseball was prohibited from imposing a suspension on Rodriguez since they had no positive drug test from him past that point.
In the meantime, Rodriguez has been plagued by a series of injuries (a right hip that required surgery, a knee, a finger, a hand) that kept him on the disabled list over the past four seasons.
After another disastrous postseason in which Rodriguez hit .120 with 12 strikeouts in 25 at-bats and that forced manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for him on a few occasions, it was revealed he was suffering from a congenital left hip problem that would require surgery and shelve him for at least half of the 2013 season.
Because the Yankees are on the hook to pay A-Rod $114,000,000 through the 2017 season, the Yankees are very much concerned about their investment in a player who is 37 years old, is declining markedly in production, is mostly unavailable to play and perhaps again could have been dabbling with PEDs.
But the odds of Yankees deliberately smearing Rodriguez’s name or possibly being complicit in a scheme to get him out of baseball seems implausible.
If anything the Yankees have bent over backwards to support their controversial third baseman. They have never publicly commented about his past transgressions or embarrassed him in anyway.
Rodriguez has a way of doing that just fine on his own:
(1) His stupid comments belittling Derek Jeter during a magazine interview.
(2) Being caught walking the streets of Toronto with a woman who was not his wife and who turned out to be an exotic dancer.
(3) His divorce and his subsequent dalliances with Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and a former WWE wrestler and model.
It is extremely doubtful that Major League Baseball or the Yankees would risk the discovery of fraudulent documents in order to keep Rodriguez from ever playing baseball again.
In addition, teammates such as Mariano Rivera and Mark Teixeira have recently issued statements of support of Rodriguez. If the Yankees were “against” A-Rod wouldn’t they issue edicts to the players not to comment at all?
If it turns out that Rodriguez did use PEDs again with the help of his Bosch fellow than I would be very offended if I was accused of being part of a conspiracy against him. So I would think the Yankees would have every right to look at Rodriguez’s contract in an effort to void it.
The Yankees were unable to do so when they looked at Jason Giambi’s contract in 2004. I doubt seriously they would have much luck now with A-Rod’s.
MLB rules call for a first-time suspension of 50 games if A-Rod is judged to be guilty of what he is accused. He would not be paid, which would cost him about $8 million but the Yankees would still be obligated to honor his contract.
The Yankees could release him and just eat the contract, however, the Yankees would not receive any relief regarding their overall payroll or the luxury tax.
About the only way the Yankees could get out of the deal would be for A-Rod to retire, which would then forfeit the remainder of his contract and what he is owed. But that is about as likely as fans at Fenway Park giving Rodriguez a standing ovation.
So the Yankees are forced to live under a hanging cloud throughout the 2013 season. Rodriguez is rehabbing from his January hip surgery and is hoping to return sometime after the All-Star break.
There is a possibility that Rodriguez may not be quite ready to resume baseball activities then and he could miss the entire season.
In the meantime, MLB will continue to investigate Rodriguez and the other players named in the published reports. They could suspend Rodriguez at any time over the next several months.
However, Rodriguez’s suspension would not take effect until he is pronounced fit to play. That means the 50-game suspension could be imposed to start at the beginning of the 2014 season if A-Rod is out for the 2013 season.
That means the Yankees would have lost A-Rod for a total of 212 games. They would have to pay him for 162 of them despite the fact they were getting nothing from him. In addition, a suspension would leave the team with yet another stain on it – a stain Rodriguez would leave on it as long as he wears the pinstripes.
The Yankees could possibly look to unload their rapidly aging former superstar but that route would mean not getting a comparable value in return because A-Rod’s value is about half of what it was in 2007.
There also would have to be a stipulation in the deal that the Yankees would be obligated to continue to pay some portion if not most of his salary. After all, the Yankees had to do that to unload A.J. Burnett last spring.
I hate to be bearer of such depressing news but the Yankees made a terrible mistake in signing Rodriguez to that 10-year contract five years ago after his agent Scott Boras goaded Rodriguez into opting out of his contract and cost the Yankees about $9 million the Texas Rangers were paying him.
Instead, Rodriguez came to the Yankees with is tail between his legs begging the Yankees to sign him without Boras around. The Yankees have received very little from Rodriguez since then and the next five seasons are not looking much brighter.
The fact is Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross that will be hanging around the Yankees’ necks for many years to come.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
The one thing you could count on every season from Mark Teixeira was 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs driven in. He had, after all, done it in eight consecutive seasons when the 2012 season began.
But for the first time since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Teixeira failed to reach those totals for the New York Yankees. A pulled calf muscle that limited him to only four at-bats in September took away any hope that Teixeira had to extend the streak.
It was hardly the season Teixeira had envisioned for himself after taking a lot of criticism for batting .256 in 2010 and a career-low .248 in 2011. Teixeira had pledged that he try to go back to hitting to “all fields” instead of the pull-happy approach he had developed with that inviting short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium.
He even said he might bunt against the exaggerated shifts teams had employed against him when he was batting left-handed.
That never happened, however.
In fact, once Teixeira got off to another one of his annual slow starts in April (three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .244 average), he abandoned the “all fields” idea altogether and just hit. There is no doubt he would have likely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had not suffered the injury, but Teixeira decision was also directed to Yankee fans.
He basically was telling them he was not going to be hitter that hit a combined .306 with the Rangers and the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and .308 with the Braves and Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He even was not going to be the player that hit .292 in his first season with the Yankees.
Nope. If Teixeira was to be the productive hitter the Yankees wanted him to be Yankee fans would just have to settle for .250 batting averages from now on. That is just going to be the way it is.
Teixeira, 32, is reaching the same stage Jason Giambi did after his Most Valuable Player season with the Oakland Athletics in 2001 when he hit .342 with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.
Giambi hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2002 in his first season with the Yankees. Then his batting averages fell off a cliff to .250, .208 (in an injury-racked 2004 season), .271, .253, .236 and .247.
Teixeira is headed to similar fate and, though it does not make Yankee fans happy, it appears they will have to accept it because Teixeira has another four years on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed with the team in 2009.
Yankee Stadium has actually become somewhat of “The Killing Fields” for Teixeira. He hit just .218 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2012 while he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs on the road. That does not bode well looking ahead to 2013.
Teixeira is also having problems hitting right-handers. He hit only .239 against them last season while he hit .269 against lefties. That also does not look good when you consider he will bat a lot more left-handed than he will right-handed because of the dearth of quality left-hand pitching in baseball.
Like most of the Yankees last season, Teixeira also failed to hit well with runners in scoring position (.230) and with two outs in an inning (.190).
Unlike Giambi, however, Teixeira actually can play a little a defense and that is putting it mildly.
Teixeira is the gold standard of fielding first basemen. Last season he collected his fifth Gold Glove Award and his third since joining the Yankees. But the real story is how he won the award.
Teixeira committed just one error in 1,055 total chances for a fielding percentage of .999, which broke a Yankee record of .998 established by Don Mattingly in 1994 (two errors in 989 total chances). In fact, Teixeira’s .999 mark was the tenth best fielding mark recorded in the modern era (after 1900).
So to say Teixeira can play a little first base is like saying Jimi Hendrix could play a little guitar. Teixeira is simply the best fielding first baseman of his generation and there aren’t as many who are close.
Tex combines the range of the former third baseman he was and catlike reflexes that allow him to stop line drives and grounders that other first baseman would have left on the board as doubles down the line. Combine that with the fact that Teixeira saves his fellow Yankee infielders numerous errors by scooping and snagging poor throws to first, you have pretty much summed up what makes Teixeira special with the glove.
Here is another statistic for you: Teixeira committed 10 errors with the Rangers in 2004. In all of his major-league seasons since, Teixeira has not committed more than five errors. In his four seasons with the Yankees he has not committed more than four. Any way you slice it, Teixeira is very special as a fielder.
The biggest concern about Teixeira in 2013 has nothing to do with Teixeira himself. It has to do with who will back him at the position this season.
When Teixeira was injured last season, the Yankees had the luxury of being able to slide Nick Swisher in from right field or they could used veteran Eric Chavez if they needed another left-handed bat.
They will not have that ability this season. The Yankees elected to let Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and Chavez opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. So the Yankees find themselves very thin at first base.
Of course, Teixeira has been somewhat durable throughout his career. He has played less than 145 games only twice in nine seasons. Last season was one of those.
Still, Yankee fans would feel more comfortable if the Yankees had someone like Swisher (24 home runs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA) or Chavez (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA) playing behind Teixeira just in case they are needed.
For now Yankee fans have to hope that the acquisition off waivers of Cleveland Indians utility man Russ Canzler is the answer.
Canzler, 26, had three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 in just 98 at-bats in September with the Indians in 2012.
The right-handed Canzler can play first base, left field and serve as a designated hitter for the Yankees. He does have power in that he hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 130 games with Triple-A Columbus before being called by the Indians as a late-season addition to the roster.
Though Canzler did lead the International League in doubles (36) as well as home runs and RBIs, he is still a far cry for a proven veteran backup at first like Swisher and Chavez.
General manager Brian Cashman may still be looking to find a veteran to come into camp and bolster the bench.
Slick-fielding Casey Kotchman, 29, and Lyle Overbay, 36, are still available on the free-agent market. Of course, so are former Yankees Giambi, 41, and Nick Johnson, 34, but they are real longshots.
The Yankees also might look to the trade route. The point is don’t expect Canzler to be handed the backup job. He will have competition.
Of course, that competition will not be forthcoming from the Yankees’ minor-league system.
Steve Pearce, 29, came up for a brief period with the Yankees last season and hit .160 with one home run and four RBIs in 25 at-bats after he was released by the Houston Astros and he hit .318 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
He signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles for 2013.
Russell Branyan, 37, was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Yankees as a non-roster invitee but a back injury shelved him throughout camp and he played in only 36 games last season, hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with Scranton.
However, Russell and his muscle bat have taken their act to spring camp with the Angels in 2013.
Addison Maruszak, 26, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 117 games at Double-A Trenton. Maruszak, a right-hand hitter, split time at first base with Luke Murton, 26, a left-hand hitter who hit .249 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games.
Though Murton led the Yankees’ minor leaguers in home runs, his and Maruszak’s advanced age at the Double-A level do not make them future prospects for the Yankees.
Kyle Roller, 24, hit .266 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League. He is perhaps worth watching in 2013 but he does not carry a high prospect label and he is several years away from helping the Yankees at the major-league level.
Because the Yankees do not have a proven major-league backup to Teixeira and their minor-league talent is severely lacking at first base, the position ranks as one of the weakest on the roster. Cashman is aware of this and it would seem to be a priority in the coming weeks to shore up the position before camp opens.
Nonetheless, the Yankees are lucky to have a durable starter in Teixeira to man the position. If he can be forgiven for hitting .250, his 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs will be vital to the Yankees’ success in 2013. His glove actually is an even bigger asset.
Teixeira will likely bat between third and fifth in the Yankee lineup and with the loss of power hitters such as Swisher, Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for at least half the season, Teixeira is a vital piece to the Yankee puzzle in 2013. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.
There is not much behind him on the depth chart.
NEXT: LEFT FIELD
PART 3: THE STARTING LINEUP
The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty in their starting lineup than they have in the past two decades.
A combination of committed contracts to aging veterans, expired contracts to some helpful contributors, injuries and underperformance have left the Yankees in a real bind to fix their problems knowing they have an edict by the boss Hal Steinbrenner to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014.
The most significant issue is the impending January left hip surgery for third baseman Alex Rodriguez which will shelve him for at least half the season. Because Rodriguez has not played a full healthy season of baseball since 2007 it should not be considered that big a deal.
However, it points up the problem with offering lengthy and lucrative contracts to players past the age of 30. Players break down at a rapid rate after that and that is particularly true of players who have dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs as A-Rod has.
The plain fact of the matter is that Rodriguez IS NOT nor WILL HE EVER BE AGAIN the impact player he was in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Yankees are committed to paying him through the 2017 season.
If you want to look up the definition of the euphemism “albatross around the neck” A-Rod’s picture would be displayed prominently.
Seemingly healthy to begin the 2012 season, Rodriguez neither produced with power or run production. Every day manager Joe Girardi cautioned the media that A-Rod always produced home runs in bunches and it would be any day now. But that day never arrived.
He was struck in the left hand by a pitch from Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on July 24 and the injury sidelined him until the first week of September. At season’s end, Rodriguez had 18 home runs and 57 RBIs and batted .272. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch when he was healthy either.
With runners in scoring position he hit a miserable .230 and with the bases loaded he hit .200.
Unfortunately, the Yankees may be saddled with A-Rod for the remainder of his contract because his skills have eroded so fast no team would be willing to take him and his bloated contract now that he is 37.
So all the Yankees can do is look to find a replacement for him for 2013 because there is no guarantee he will be able to come back in July.
Last year’s insurance policy, Eric Chavez, who hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs in 278 at-bats, has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Nunez fielded to so poorly at third base he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees have vowed to keep him primarily at shortstop.
So the Yankees have signed free-agent Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis, 33, has had some injury issues of his own. He does not have a season in which he has played more than 147 games. He had not played but one season in which he passed 136 games in four seasons. His all-out style was popular in Boston but it also led to some significant injuries and a decline in production.
After a 2011 season in which he hit only .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs, Youkilis ran afoul of then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He ended up hitting a career-low .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.
But the Yankees hope he can help fill the void at third while Rodriguez is out and fall into a right-handed designated hitter and corner infield backup role when Rodriguez returns. Though it may seem odd that the heart and soul of the Red Sox would be wearing pinstripes, Johnny Damon had no trouble adapting to life in the Yankee Universe. Neither did Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens. “Youk” would seem to be in the same mold.
There is an issue at shortstop as well.
Though Derek Jeter vows his broken ankle will be healed and he will be ready to go by Opening Day of 2013, he also is 38 years old. So the Yankees will want their captain and emotional leader to be cautious in spring training.
Jeter’s injury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers pretty much sounded the death knell for a team that was already reeling in the midst of an horrific team batting slump.
Jeter was one of the few who actually contributed positively to the offense in 2012.
He led the major leagues in hits with 219 and he ended up hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though this is the not the Jeter who hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999, the Yankees are happy to have this more mature Jeter, who has learned how to adapt to his age and still produce positively to the team.
He simply was the team Most Valuable Player last season and the Yankees seem to have stopped talking nonsense like moving him to center-field or resting him two days a week. He will rest some but he will play a lot in 2013 because the Yankees need him at the top of the lineup.
The Yankees’ best player is also one who poses the most uncertainty heading into 2013. Robinson Cano, 30, is simply the best second baseman in baseball both with his glove and his bat. He also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2013 while batting over .300 (.308) for the seventh time in his eight major-league seasons.
However, Cano hardly could call 2012 his “breakout” season because he drove in a paltry 94 runs hitting in the heart of baseball’s top run-scoring team. The reason: He hit poorly most of the season with runners in scoring position. Also, in a huge reversal in a trend, Cano hit just .239 against left-handers.
That will have to change in 2013 because he figures to continue to see a steady diet of them.
There is a big incentive for Cano to improve. His contract for 2013 was renewed by the Yankees but he can become a free agent after this season. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll, Cano’s impending free agency presents a huge challenge. Will general manager Brian Cashman have the financial backing to present a package that can keep Cano in pinstripes for the rest of his career?
That is huge question only the Steinbrenner family can answer. But one thing is certain: The Yankees would certainly regress in 2014 without their best player.
Speaking of regression, Mark Teixeira has found out just how fast a career can regress when you follow former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi’s pull-happy approach at Yankee Stadium.
Teixeira, however, changed his tune about it in 2012. Instead of trying to change back as he did at the start of the 2012 season, he decided to keep the “pull” approach figuring the Yankees pay him to hit home runs and drive in runs. So he hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 runs in a season that was cut to just 123 games due to a calf injury he suffered in August.
He hit just .251 but that is coming off seasons in which he hit .256 (2010) and .248 (2011). So Yankee fans are just going to have to accept lower batting averages and big production out of Teixeira. He more than makes up for it with his glove.
He and Cano both won Gold Gloves in 2012 and they form the best right side of an infield in baseball history from a fielding and production standpoint. Can you name a better pair?
The Yankees will have one huge hole filled in their lineup in left-field with the return of Brett Gardner and having to fill two more at catcher and in right-field.
Gardner’s loss last season proved to be more problematic in hindsight than it was at the time. With Gardner, 29, sidelined and Nunez in the minors the Yankees lost their two best base-stealers for most of the 2012 season. That made the Yankees much more of a station-to-station team and brought to the forefront their reliance on the home run to win games.
It also goes beyond saying that Gardner’s Gold-Glove quality in defense in left was missed, too. The Yankees need Gardner to come back healthy, get on base consistently and be disruptive to the team’s opponents on the bases.
For the past two seasons, the Yankees have reaped the benefit of having a stalwart defensive catcher in Russell Martin, who actually deterred teams who like to run the bases with reckless abandon. Though Martin struggled most of the season hitting under the “Mendoza Line” until he got hot in September, his power will be missed also.
But Martin has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees are looking for a new catcher in 2013.
At the moment, the Yankees list Francisco Cervelli as the heir apparent. Cervelli, 26, was the primary backup for three seasons from 2009 through 2011 until the Yankees acquired San Francisco Giants catcher Chris Stewart in a trade just as spring training drew to a close.
Because Stewart, 30, was out of options, the Yankees elected to keep Stewart as the backup catcher in 2012 and shipped Cervelli to Scranton.
Cervelli hit .246 with two home and 39 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton in 2012. His defense is fine but his throwing can be erratic at times.
Stewart surprisingly hit .241 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 55 games with the Yankees. His defense and throwing are superior to Cervelli but his offense is severely lacking.
The Yankees did sign former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to a minor-league contract. Wilson was non-tendered a contract by the Blue Jays after he hit .211 with three home runs and 13 RBIs with the Angels in 2012. Wilson is excellent defensively but is a career .208 hitter in the majors. So it is hard to see how he will figure in as anything but a potential backup and insurance in case the Yankees need to trade a catcher or sustain an injury.
The Yankees do have very high hopes for 24-year-old rookie Austin Romine. They believe his defensive skills make him a major-league ready receiver but his bat and his chronic back issues have been delaying his progess. He missed most all of the 2012 season with a back injury.
He has been cleared to come to spring training and he has a shot at supplanting either Cervelli or Stewart if he can show some improved skills with the bat. But realistically, the team may take a more cautious approach with Romine and he could head back to Scranton to convince the front office his back issues are over.
This area seems ripe for a deal to obtain a free agent. Cashman did have former Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in mind. Pierzynski, 35, would fit in with the Yankees because he hits left-handed and he has some power. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBis in 2012.
But Pierzynski elected to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers. So unless the Yankees elect to make a trade they will be choosing between the four catchers they have now.
The biggest hole in the Yankees lineup and perhaps the biggest blow to the bleacher bums in right-field will be the loss of fan favorite Nick Swisher.
Swisher might not have been a superstar but his consistency was his calling card. What you saw was what you got.
Swisher, 32, has played four seasons in pinstripes and did not deviate from between 24 through 29 home runs and between 82 and 93 RBIs. There are not many outfielders who can claim that and the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the level, except perhaps the oft-injured star Josh Hamilton.
The Yankees did have an opportunity to sign the former Texas Rangers’ star if they wanted. But they have some restriction to them doing so.
If the Yankees were to sign Hamilton, Cano’s departure would be a foregone conclusion unless there was a major dump of salary after the 2013 season. Hamilton signed with the Angels and the Yankees played it safe.
The Yankees instead decided to bring back Ichiro Suzuki, who came over in a trade in June and sparked the Yankees down the stretch. At age 39, Suzuki is no longer the player he was when he was the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 but he showed a renewed vigor in the Bronx in 2012, hitting over .300 after the deal.
He ended the season hitting. 283 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs and he stole 29 bases.
It is obvious if the Yankees want to return to a slash and dash attack Girardi favors, Suzuki would be the correct choice.
Center-field is an interesting situation for the Yankees.
The team renewed Curtis Granderson’s contract for 2012 but there are all kinds of rumors swirling around about him.
The Yankees first floated the idea they could move Gardner from left to center and put Granderson in left next season. They also sent Granderson to an eye specialist to check his vision because of his habit of losing balls in flight to the outfield and his penchant for swinging at pitches that bounced in front of home plate.
Granderson struck out a team record 195 times last season. The Yankees can live with the strikeouts for his 43 home runs and 106 RBIs, which were both team highs in 2012. But his .232 average is 30 points below his career average of .262 and he hit just .218 against left-handers last season. Granderson is also in the final year of his contract.
The Yankees also seemed intent on keeping outfielder and left-handed DH Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez, 40, was forced to play more than he was expected in the outfield because of Gardner’s injury. But Ibanez came through with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while hitting .24o in 384 at-bats. But Ibanez’s biggest impact was the clutch home runs he hit down the stretch against the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox to get the Yankees into the playoffs.
He carried that into the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
His clutch hitting was not lost on the front office and they wanted him back badly in 2013. But Ibanez dealt a blow to the Yankees by electing to sign with his old Mariners team so the Yankees now have a huge hole at the DH spot.
The Yankees made it clear that right-hand DH Andruw Jones would not retained for the 2012 season and Jones shopped himself to a team in Japan. The Yankees likely will use a veteran free agent to fill the role until A-Rod returns in July. Rodriguez figures to DH a lot when he returns and Youkilis can fill the role when A-Rod does play third.
Nunez figures to have an opportunity to win the right-hand DH role until A-Rod returns. The left side of the equation might come down to an offer to Jim Thome or a similar veteran.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, most of their best minor-league hitting prospects are a few years away of making an impact at the major-league level.
The top prospect in the organization, catcher Gary Sanchez, is only 20. But he may be worth the wait because he hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2012. Sanchez is being touted as “Jesus Montero with defense.” However, his glovework slipped a notch last season.
But the Yankees still believe he is their future behind the plate.
Outfielder Mason Wiiliams, 21, had a torn labrum ended his season his August. However, Williams was able to flash some five-tool talent by hitting a combined .298 with a 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases at Charleston and Tampa.
Some are comparing him to another Williams named Bernie. He has a good bat and he is developing power as he progresses through the system. The Yankees absolutely love his high ceiling for improvement. The lefty swinger looks like a future center-fielder for the Yankees.
Somewhat lost in all the talk about Sanchez and Williams is 21-year-old outfielder Tyler Austin, who hit an organization-best .354 in 2011 and hit .322 in four minor-league stops in 2012. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs while stealing 23 bases.
Austin played his first two minor-league seasons at the corner infield spots but was moved to right-field last season and the Yankees see him as the real deal as a right-hand hitter.
The Yankees also have a trio of promising outfielders in power-hitting Zoilo Almonte, 23, who hit 21 bombs at Double-A Trenton, and slash-and-dash hitters in 2009 No. 1 draft pick Slade Heathcott, 22, and Ramon Flores, 20.
Third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., 20, the team’s first selection in the 2011 draft, hit only three home runs at Charleston in 2012 but the Yankees believe he will develop into the kind of power hitter his father was. Called up to appear in an exhibition game against the Astros last March, Bichette hit a pair of solo home runs in only two exhibition at-bats. His star is definitely on the rise.
The Yankees also have a trio in promising infielders in Angelo Gumbs, 20; Jose Pirela, 23; and Austin Aune, 19. However, only Pirela has advanced as far as Double A and Gumbs and Aune may eventually be moved to the outfield. For now Gumbs and Pirela are second basemen and Aune is power-hitting shortstop.
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 6, TWINS 3
Whenever manager Ron Gardenhire sees Andy Pettitte scheduled to pitch against his Twins he must cringe. After all, Pettitte last lost to the Twins in 2001 in a complete game he lost to Brad Radke 2-1.
Monday was no different for Pettitte and the Yankees took a little target practice at the outfield seats at Target Field.
In his second game back after coming off the disabled list, Pettitte threw six shutout innings and four Yankees hit home runs as New York extended its lead in the American League East by defeating Minnesota in front of paid crowd of 33,720.
Pettitte (5-3) scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out three batters to extend his record his against the Twins to 10-0 with a 2.53 ERA in his last 12 starts against them dating back to the 2009 season.
Meanwhile, the Yankee offense staked him to a first-inning lead against rookie right-hander Liam Hendriks (1-8) when Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and Ichiro Suzuki doubled to to right field.
One out later, Robinson Cano scored Jeter with an infield grounder and Nick Swisher followed with a two-run blast into the second deck in right-center, his 23rd home run of the season and the first of the four-homer deluge the Yankees put on the Twins. It was the most home runs the Twins have given up in a game all season.
With one out in the fourth inning, Curtis Granderson took Hendriks deep for his 40th home run of the season, becoming the only player in the major leagues who has has hit 40 or more home runs the past two seasons. He also is the fifth Yankee player to hit 40 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi.
Raul Ibanez led off the seventh inning with a tape=measure blast down the right-field line and into the third deck of the stadium for his 18th home run of the season and his third in his past three games.
One-out later, Eric Chavez lined an opposite-field shot just out of the reach of left-fielder Josh Willingham for his 14th home run of the season and Hendriks’ evening was mercifully ended with him trailing 6-0.
Hendriks was tagged for eight hits, he walked one batter and he fanned four in 6 1/3 innings.
Though Petitte was far from perfect – he had only two 1-2-3 innings – he managed to get out of trouble on ground balls, a strikeout and with a great defensive play by Granderson.
Pettitte gave up a pair of singles to Denard Span and Ben Revere to start the first inning and he walked Willingham with one out o load the bases. But he escaped any damage by striking out Justin Morneau looking and getting Ryan Doumit to bounce into a forceout.
Span and Mauer singled and were on first and third with one out in the third but Pettitte induced Willingham to hit into an inning-ending double play.
In the fourth, Doumit hit a one-out double to center and with two out Jamey Carroll singled up the middle. Granderson charged the ball in shallow center and fired it on one-hop home to catcher Russell Martin, who tagged Doumit on the left shoulder before he could reach home plate.
The Twins ruined the shutout in the eighth when rookie Pedro Florimon hit his first major-league home run off reliever Cory Wade.
They added two runs in the ninth after left-hander Justin Thomas gave up a one-out single to Morneau and walked Doumit. David Robertson came in to strike out Trevor Plouffe but pinch-hitter Chris Parmalee cracked a triple off the wall in center to score both runners.
Robertson then ended the contest by getting Florimon to ground out to Cano at second.
The Yankees have now won 26 of their last 33 games against the Twins and, combined with the Baltimore Orioles’ split of a doubleheader with the Toronto Blue Jays, they now have a 1 1/2-game lead in the division with eight games left to play.
The Yankees season record is now 89-64. The Twins fell to 64-90.
- In his two starts since coming off the disabled list with a fractured fibula, Pettitte is 2-0 and he has held the opposition scoreless over 11 innings, giving up 11 hits and three walks while striking out six. Pettitte will have one more start before the playoffs and he would be in line to start either a tie-breaker game or the wild-card playoff game, if necessary.
- Jeter’s singled in the ninth inning to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. He is 30-for-81 (.370) with a home run and 11 RBIs in those 16 contests. Suzuki’s double in the first extended his hitting streak to seven games. Over than span, Suzuki is 16-for-30 (.533) with two home runs, four doubles and five RBIs. With Jeter and Suzuki at the top of the order the Yankees have been rolling.
- After looking absolutely lost at the plate for most of the past month, Ibanez looks to be coming out of his long slump with a flourish. In the past three games, Ibanez is 7-for-12 (.583) with three home runs and five RBIs.
I could quibble about the Yankees giving up three runs late but Wade and Thomas are two pitchers who will not be on the team’s playoff roster. Manager Joe Girardi was hoping to rest Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan and Robertson, but he was forced to bring in Robertson in the ninth. That was the only real negative.
Mark Teixiera took batting practice, fielded ground balls and ran the bases at half-speed at the Yankees’ minor-league complex in Tampa, FL, on Monday as he tries to recover from a Grade 1 strain of his left calf. Though general manager Brian Cashman targeted Thursday for Teixeira’s return, Girardi expressed concern about playing Teixeira on the artificial surface at Rogers Centre in Toronto. . . . Veteran right-handed reliever David Aardsma was with the team on Monday and he could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. Aardsma, 30, has not pitched not pitched in the major leagues since he was with the Seattle Mariners in 2010. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2011 and he was signed by the Yankees as a free agent in February. Aardsma recorded 31 saves for the Mariners in 2010 after saving 38 games with a 2.53 ERA in 2009. . . . Chavez was highly critical of the current members of his former Oakland Athletics club and their antics over the weekend. Chavez was not happy with the way the team was celebrating in the visitor’s dugout after they hit three home runs to take a 9-5 lead in the 13th inning of Saturday’s game. Chavez called the display immature and unprofessional. The Yankees, however, had the last laugh by scoring four runs in the bottom of the 13th before scoring the winning run in the 14th on a bases-loaded error.
The Yankees will continue their three-game series in Minneapolis with the Twins on Tuesday.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (16-12) will start for the Yankees. Hughes earned his third straight victory, despite giving up four runs in five innings against the Blue Jays in his last start. Hughes is 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA lifetime against the Twins, including a victory against them on April 19 in which he gave up two runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings.
The Twins will counter with right-hander Esmerling Vasquez (0-2, 6.75 ERA). Vasquez, 28, has failed to turn in quality start in any of his four outings this season, including his last start against the Cleveland Indians. He has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:10 EDT and the game will be telecast locally by MY9.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (14 HRs, 46 RBIs, .247 BA)
When Mark Teixeira arrived at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, he vowed we would see a whole new player this season. He said he would bunt against the shift teams employ against him and he would look to go the opposite field to bring his batting average up to his career average of .280.
But that never really happened.
Teixeira, 32, junked that strategy early in the 2012 season because it was not working. He decided the old way would produce home runs and drive in runs. Of course, that is the reason Teixeira is being paid by the Yankees.
What we have left in Teixeira is just a shell of what he was when he hit a combined .308 with 33 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels and Atlanta Braves in 2008, a year before he signed his lucrative seven-year contract with the Yankees.
Teixeira has altered his stroke to take advantage of the short porch in right-field in Yankee Stadium. The result is the same thing that happened to Jason Giambi when he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Yankees in the winter of 2002.
Giambi was coming off a season in which he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs in a not-so-hitter-friendly Oakland Coliseum for the Athletics. Giambi’s career with the Yankees was marked by precipitous drop in batting average while he remained productive in hitting home runs and driving in runs.
In his final season with the Yankees in 2008, Giambi hit .247 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Teixeira not only took the reins at first base from Giambi in 2009, he became Giambi – even down to Giambi’s annual slow starts in April.
It is a shame that such a talented switch-hitter that could hit with power to all fields has become a “pull-happy” hitter prone to pitchers who feed him a steady diet of breaking pitches in the dirt. But that is pretty much what Teixeira has become.
His numbers this season are just horrendous, too. He is on a pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 92 runs after hitting 39 home runs and driving in 111 runs last season. Of course, Teixeira was plagued for more than a month with a bronchial infection that did sap him of some strength. He is fine now.
Of course, is does not mean Teixeira can’t go on a tear in the second half and improve those numbers. But he better get busy.
The issue with Teixeira is not just the drop in batting average and production, though. It is his .216 average with runners in scoring position.
He is not alone with this problem. It is pretty much team wide. But Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano are the players who are expected to drive the big runs and it did not happen, for the most part, in the first half.
For the Yankees to be able to succeed in winning the American League East and getting deep into the playoffs, Teixeira is going to have to step it up big time. Home runs are nice but it also comes down to hitting that two-out double in the seventh to tie a game or a single with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a lead.
Those hits are important and Teixeira has just not been getting them with regularity this season.
What you can count on with Teixeira is his exceptional defense. He nearly made it through the entire first half without making a single error. His first was on Monday and it cost the Yankees a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
But that was the small exception to what has been a huge rule.
Teixeira’s glove at first is simply golden and he been decorated with four of them. If I was doing the voting this season, he would win his fifth.
Teixeira plays with exceptional range around first and his quick reactions allow him to stop a lot of line drives that would be rattling off the right-field wall if he was not there.
You add to that his ability to scoop bad throws to first out of the dirt and you have the consummate first baseman. In this respect, Teixeira is not anything like his predecessor Giambi. But the Yankees have come to expect flashy defense from their first baseman since they got so much of it from Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez.
Teixeira also is a durable player. He has started 74 games at first base and played in 77 of the team’s 81 games. At age 32, he can use a day off here and there to keep him sharp. But the Yankees really need his defense at first.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)
Chavez, 34, is primarily a third baseman by trade and he has played more this season there to back up Rodriguez.
But he also can play some first and he has made four starts there.
After a 2011 season in which he missed more than two months with a fractured bone in his left foot, Chavez has provided the Yankees with quality work off the bench this season.
He is hitting for a decent average considering he does not get regular at-bats and he is providing some power at the bottom of the batting order.
Chavez also has six Gold Gloves in his trophy case when he was third baseman with the Athletics so his value is immense with the Yankees needing to rest Rodriguez a lot and Teixeira some.
There is no way Chavez will provide Teixeira’s level of defense to first base. But he will hold his own here and he really is not needed to play the position much.
The Yankees are also fortunate to have Nick Swisher available to play first on occasion. Swisher has also started three games at first and there is no dropoff in offense when he is there. Oddly, enough Swisher is not really that bad a fielder either. He is no Teixeira, but then who is?
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
The Yankees do not have a high-ranking young first baseman in the minor leagues. At this time, they are fielding a platoon of former major leaguers at first base at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Lefty slugger Russell Branyan, 36, is hitting .298 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. Righty slugger Steve Pearce, 29, is hitting .321 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.
Branyan, who has the two longest home runs in the new Yankee Stadium, was invited to spring training as a non-roster player but injured his back as was unable to play in any exhibitions. Pearce was acquired a free-agent out of the Pirates’ organization.
Both are there as insurance in case of injury to either Teixeira or Chavez.
At Double-A Trenton, the Yankees have a right-handed line-drive hitting first baseman in Addison Maruszak, 25, who is hitting .278 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs, and a right-handed power-hitter in Luke Murton, 26, who is hitting .257 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Neither is considered a top prospect.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
The Yankees’ success in the first half has been tempered by the slow starts of Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano and their lack of production with runners in scoring position.
I guess the Yankees are just going to have to accept Teixeira as a 30 home run, 100 RBI player who is going to hit below .260 for the rest his stint in pinstripes.
That said, Teixeira can certainly improve on the 14 home runs and 46 RBIs he has produced thus far – not to mention his horrible .216 average with runners in scoring position.
Though Teixeira’s defense is exceptional, the Yankees need his bat if they want to succeed heading into the postseason. Teixeira’s season will be judged harshly if the Yankees fail to make it to the World Series.
He has got to step it up if he wants to bring a 28th world title to the Bronx.
The New York Yankees have played 33 percent of the season and their record stands just about where it was in 2011 when the Yankees were 31-23. That team ended up winning 97 games to lead the American League. The question is in 2012 can the Yankees reach the same heights with the loss of Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, young right-handed starter Michael Pineda and an offense that seems to sputter with runners in scoring position. Let’s examine how the Yankees have fared.
Last season the Yankees wielded a powerful offense despite the fact only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had what could be called good seasons. Their hope in 2012 was that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner would join them along with new designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who replaced the retired Jorge Posada.
Instead, the Yankees can actually only point to one hitter who has truly carried the offense throughout the season and that is Jeter. The 37-year-old shortstop has reached the one-third mark with the third-highest batting average in the American League at .336 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.
It is an extension of the way he has hit since he returned from the disabled list last July and it has finally silenced talk throughout Yankee Universe that his productive days were behind him.
The only disappointing part of Jeter’s season is his run scored total of 30. That number points to the problems the Yankees have had in scoring runs this season when they are not hitting home runs.
The team’s batting average with runners in scoring position is atrocious. Jeter leads the team in that category hitting a mere .262. Ibanez is hitting .256. The rest is abysmal: Swisher, .236; Granderson, .222; Teixeira, .218; Martin, .172; Rodriguez, .170; and Cano, .140.
What is manager Joe Girardi to do? Should he bench A-Rod and Cano in favor of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix? Should he bat A-Rod leadoff because he is hitting .346 with the bases empty and make Jeter the cleanup hitter?
The problem is all Girardi can do is trust that these hitters will begin to hit more like they have in the past and the law of averages will mean the Yankees will start to begin to punish pitchers who dare to load the bases. The Yankees are 9-for-57 (.158) in those situations this season.
The Yankees have also suffered from a dramatic shift in their offense away from speed because Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow that has been slow to heal. In addition, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he continued to butcher balls so badly fielding he earned the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” With it, Nunez took his 22 steals playing half the time in 2011.
Without Gardner and Nunez, the Yankees are less of a threat on the bases. Rodriguez has six steals and that ties him for the team lead with Nunez, who had six before his demotion on May 11.
The Yankees hope to have Gardner back within a week and it will be a welcome sight. Gardner was hitting .321 when he was injured and he has the ability to spark the offense with his speed. His exceptional Gold Glove-worthy defense in left-field has also been missed.
There are also hopeful signs that Teixeira is coming out his usual early-season struggles at the plate. In his last 10 games, Tex is hitting .351 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has abandoned his “put the ball in play” strategy to increase his batting average and gone back to his “swing for production” approach and it appears to be working.
Just don’t expect Teixeira to anywhere near the .308 average he hit in the season before he joined the Yankees. Those days seem to be behind him much like they were for his predecessor Jason Giambi after he left Oakland.
Cano and Rodroguez also are showing signs of life with the bat. Rodriguez has four home runs in his last four games and Cano was hitting .308 on May 26 until a recent 4-for-29 (.138) slide has dropped his average back to .284.
The truth is that the Yankees only will go as far as the productive bats of Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira take them. If you triple their current numbers, Cano would have 24 home runs and 72 RBIs, Rodriguez would have 27 homers and 66 RBIs and Teixeira would have 27 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Would anyone like to bet the house that those numbers will actually be their final numbers? It would be a fool’s bet, for sure. But they have to start hitting and soon.
Granderson is having a season much like his breakout 2011 season. He has 17 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .261 average is only a point lower than he hit last season. No problem there. But there are some negatives, too.
Granderson has struck out 61 times in 207 at-bats and that translates to 183 strikeouts for a full season. He also has stolen three bases in six attempts. He also has only one triple.
It would be nice to see Granderson elevate his speed game and cut the strikeouts as the season progresses.
Swisher helped carry the offense in April by hitting .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. But in May, Swisher suffered a hamstring injury and he has slumped ever since. He hit just .207 in May with two home runs and nine RBIs. With this being his contract year, Swisher has all the motivation in the world to get busy hitting again. Let’s see if he can.
Ibanez, meanwhile, has been a revelation. Only signed to be a left-handed DH, Ibanez has been forced to play left-field in Gardner’s absence and he has done fine there. Ibanez has also contributed nine home runs and 29 RBIs while hitting.252. Gardner’s return should allow him to get some occasional rest at age 40 and it also might help him stay fresh the remainder of the season.
Andruw Jones, the right-handed half of the DH platoon, is off to a slow start similar to his 2011 season. He has five home runs and 11 RBIs and he hitting .233.
The biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ offense this season has been Martin.
Last season, Martin hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs despite hitting .237. This season, Martin is hitting a mere .194 and has four home runs and 12 RBIs. With Martin’s defensive gifts behind the plate, it is inconceivable that Girardi would replace him.
But the Yankees have ben spoiled by the offense Posada provided and there are Yankee fans who are still angry that general manager Brian Cashman traded rookie catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. To make them even madder, Montero is on a pace to hit 21 home runs and drive in 81 runs with the Mariners this season.
Martin better pick it up and fast. Backup catcher Chris Stewart is hitting .227 with six RBIs catching just once a week.
The Yankees got tired of hearing that the quality of their starting pitching began and ended with CC Sabathia.
In 2011, they cobbled a starting staff together with retreads like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and a promising rookie in Ivan Nova and somehow won 97 games and made the playoffs. But they were quickly eliminated to a staff of pitchers that were better in the Tigers.
This season, they ignored the extravagant fixes like C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish and decided instead to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract and trade megastar Montero for Pineda. They also re-signed the 35-year-old Garcia after his 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA.
They were counting on Nova’s continued development after a 16-4 mark and a 3.70 ERA and the return of 25-year-old Phil Hughes, who was throwing with velocity again much like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.16 ERA.
A funny thing happened on the way to the start of the regular season. None of this really worked out as Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.
Pineda showed up to camp this winter overweight by 20 pounds and the velocity on his fastball was down considerably. As spring training unfolded, Pineda never regained the velocity he had last season and after a late spring start he revealed he was pitching with a sore right shoulder.
He underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his right shoulder and he hopes to return in the early stages of the 2013 season. Scratch Pineda.
The Yankees then hoped Garcia would be able to provide the same ability to keep them in games he showed last season. Unfortunately, Garcia was unable to regain even the modest velocity on his pitches he had last season and he was lit up like bottle rockets at the start of the Chinese New Year.
After four April starts in which he was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, Garcia was banished to long relief in the bullpen and there he sits. He has not pitched a game since May 21. Scratch Garcia.
The Yankees big surprise was when 39-year-old left-handed legend Andy Petitte decided to return to the Yankees after one year in retirement. After allowing Pettitte to build up his arm and legs in the minors early this season, Pettitte returned to the majors on May 13.
In his four starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. By all measures it does not appear that Pettitte has suffered any regression of his abilities when he was idle. After the loss of Pineda for the season and Garcia’s demise, Pettitte has provided some optimism to the Yankees’ rotation.
The rest of the staff has been down early and getting better lately.
Kuroda in six of his 11 starts is 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA. In his other five starts he is 0-5 with a 8.03 ERA. Inconsistency with his command and perhaps having to adjust to a new league has a lot to do with the bad numbers. But, Kuroda is showing signs of improvement since April 24. Since then he is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA.
The Yankees have hope the 37-year-old right-hander will continue to improve as the season goes along as he adjusts to a much tougher division like the American League East.
Hughes has also shown signs of finding his rhythm after missing most all of 2011 with weakness in his right shoulder.
The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in April. Since then he is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and he is coming off the first nine-inning complete game of his career as he held the Tigers to one run and struck out eight on Sunday. Hughes is beginning to show the form that he showed when he made the American League All-Star team in 2010.
The enigma of the group has been Nova.
When he is good, it seems he gets little support or he gives up a key home run that beats him. When he is shaky, the Yankees score a lot of runs and he wins anyway.
So Nova is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA. That is a far cry from his 2011 rookie season when he won 13 straight games.
The home-run ball is killing Nova. Last season he gave up 13 in 165 1/3 innings. This season he has given up 13 in 62 2/3 innings.
The odd thing is Nova probably has more electric stuff than any starter apart from Sabathia. The problem is Nova has been unable to harness it. When you can’t command the strike zone you are reduced to throwing fastballs over the plate and fastballs over the plate can end up in the seats.
So the answer to Nova’s troubles might be easily fixed when he begins to harness that command. He struck out 12 Reds in six innings on May 19 but lost because of three-run home run hit by Joey Votto. That is pretty much defined Nova’s odd season so far.
But at age 25, Nova is capable of good things and the Yankees have to trust he will continue to improve as he gets older. As long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes are pitching well, Nova will be given that chance to grow. The alternatives of Garcia or rookie David Phelps or minor leaguers like D.J. Mitchell do not have the same arsenal Nova possesses.
That is why the Yankees have to continue to use him.
Sabathia has been, well, like Sabathia always has been.
At times shaky early in the season, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and his WHIP is 1.24.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sabathia is simply off to another season like his first three with the Yankees in which he 59-23 with a 3.05 ERA. The 31-year-old left-hander is the rock and foundation of this rotation.
He is pitching like it and as long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes provide quality innings behind him, the Yankees should win enough as Nova develops. If they don’t this season is simply doomed to be a pretty bad one for the Yankees. It is just that simple.
For all intents and purposes the Yankees’ 2012 season should have ended on May 3 when All-Universe closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging a fly ball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium.
No doubt about it, losing Rivera was a big blow to the Bronx Bombers.
But Girardi had faith that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano would pick up the slack and the Yankees would be able to carry on without their precious Mo.
However, not more than 12 days later Robertson ended up on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.
Suddenly, the team with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball was no longer as deep or perceived to be as good.
However, Soriano has been successful in all seven of his save opportunities and he is 2-0 with a 1.89 RRA. Those are not too far from Mo numbers so the Yankees still have faith in their bullpen.
Girardi is hoping Robertson is a few weeks away to returning to the team. It is unclear if Robertson will get another opportunity to close. It is more likely he will resume his eighth-inning setup role.
In the meantime, Girardi is getting yeoman work from a mix-and-match righty combination of Cory Wade (2.55 ERA) and Cody Eppley (4.22) and a lefty combination of Boone Logan (2.79) and Clay Rapada (3.86). Phelps is providing quality long relief (2.94 ERA).
So somehow the Yankees’ bullpen is getting the job done despite the injuries and that is a credit to Girardi and Rothschild.
The long-term prospects for the bullpen also appear bright because the Yankees have a number of possible replacements in the pipeline.
One is David Aardsma, a former Mariners closer who is hoping to return to the majors at around the All-Star break. The Yankees also have sinkerball specialist Mitchell a phone call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell is a starter but his long-term major-league career may translate to the bullpen.
The Yankees are also holding out some hope that Joba Chamberlain may recover from his Tommy John surgery and the horrific ankle injury he suffered this spring to pitch some this season. The jury is out but he insists he is ahead of schedule.
The Yankees are pretty much paddling water like most of the other teams in the American League East.
They stand 1 1/2 games out of first place and they are playing the first-place Rays at home beginning on Tuesday.
That will allow the Yankees to get into position to make a push over the next 54 games. After the Rays they will open their interleague schedule starting against the Mets at home this weekend.
The Yankees have the best interleague record in baseball and this period will give them a chance to press into the lead in the division while pretenders like the Orioles and Jays are poised for a slide downward. The Rays and Red Sox look to be ready to keep pace with the Yankees moving into the summer.
The biggest keys to the Yankees’ success lies in its offense being able to turn itself around and begin to hit with runners in scoring position. The team also must get more consistent pitching from Kuroda, Hughes and Nova behind Pettitte and Sabathia.
The bullpen has held together for now and Girardi must hope it continues to hold up in the absence of Rivera.
If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the Yankees standing atop this division at the the two-thirds mark of the season. There is just too much talent on this roster for it not to start asserting itself.
The Yankees have always been a second-half team. They seem to be able to turn it on in the summer months and steam ahead of the pack. I see this happening again soon. The question is who will be with them.
The Rays, boosted by their pitching, should be one. I am not sure how much steam the Red Sox have but I do know that the Orioles and Jays do not look capable of staying with the big boys.
The Orioles are in a slide already and it appears that the ball is over for this Cinderella. The Jays have struggled all season and their pitching is not capable of keeping them in it over the long haul.
So even with no Mo, the Yankees seem to have enough “mo” (as in momentum) to carry them into the summer.
YANKEES 5, RAYS 3
Just like the swallows who return to San Juan Capistrano every year and the upstream swim of the salmon, you can pretty much set your clock about this time every season when CC Sabathia gets on a roll.
Sabathia (5-0) gave up two runs (neither of them earned) on seven hits and one walk and he struck out a season-high 10 in eight strong innings on Thursday as he outdueled David Price and defeated Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium for his fifth straight victory.
With the victory, the Yankees won the three-game series with the Rays.
Price (5-2), who was 3-0 in his five previous matchups against Sabathia, took the loss this time, giving up five runs on 11 hits and three walks and striking out four in seven innings.
The key blows for the Yankees were one-out RBI single by Chris Stewart in the second inning that tied the score at 2-2 and a two-run home run by Robinson Cano in the fifth inning that put the Yankees ahead of the Rays to stay.
Rafael Soriano, who was summoned to pitch the ninth inning because closer David Robertson was unavailable to pitch, gave up a run but still managed to get credit his first save of the season.
Curtis Granderson also homered for the Yankees. His solo shot to lead off the second inning was his 11th of the season.
The Rays scored a pair of unearned runs in each of the first two innings aided by errors by Eduardo Nunez.
With two out and runners on first and second, Nunez mishandled a bouncer off the bat of Brandon Guyer that loaded the bases and Carlos Pena followed with an RBI single but Nick Swisher was able to cut down Jeff Keppinger trying to score at home plate to end the inning.
In the second inning, Nunez fielded an easy grounder off the bat of Chris Gimenez but tossed the potential double-play relay to Robinson Cano into right-field that allowed Elliot Johnson to slide safely into second. Johnson later scored on a two-out single by Sean Rodriguez.
With the victory the Yankees improved to 17-14. The Rays fell to 20-12.
- Sabathia is on a full-fledged roll now. In his last five starts, he has pitched 39 1/3 innings and has given up just 11 runs on 29 hits and five walks and he has struck out 38 batters. That is an ERA of 2.52 and a WHIP of 0.86 in that span. Over the final six innings, Sabathia held the Rays to no runs on just three singles.
- Cano is back to his old self and it shows. He was 3-for-4 in the game with two singles and his two-run home run. Cano now has an eight-game hitting streak and during that span he is 12-for-32 (.375) with two home runs and seven RBIs. He has raised his season average to .286. Opposing pitchers, beware!
- Stewart will never be compared to Matt Wieters or Joe Mauer at the plate, but his RBI single tied the game and set the stage for the Yankees ability to take the lead in the fifth. Stewart is hitting just .240 and he plays largely because of his defense. But he has four big RBIs for the Yankees this season.
- I think even manager Joe Girardi has had enough of “Eduardo Scissorhands” Nunez and his careless errors. Nunez misplayed Guyer’s grounder because he was rushing to step on third before he even had the ball. The errant throw in the second inning was just carelessness. Nunez led the Yankees in errors last season with 20 despite the fact he played only half the time. He leads the team with six errors this season and Girardi actually put Jayson Nix in at third in the SIXTH inning as a defensive replacement for Nunez.
- Though he did draw a walk in the fifth, Mark Teixeira was 0-for-3 in the game and his season average dipped to .212. He was hitting .288 on April 23 but since then he is 8-for-59 (.136) with a home run and six RBIs. I think we have seen the final transformation of Teixiera into what Jason Giambi was in 2008 when he hit 32 home runs, drove in 96 runs and hit .247.
- Derek Jeter took a rare 0-for-4 and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Jeter’s batting average dipped to .376. But he can be forgiven the mini-slump because he has been carrying the team for most of the season with his bat.
Brett Gardner has suffered a setback in his attempt to come back from a right elbow strain. Girardi told reporters that another MRI exam indicated that Gardner has a further strain of a muscle in his elbow and he will miss two to four more weeks of action. Gardner has been sidelined since he injured the elbow making a diving catch on April 18. He was on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday when he reported a lingering pain in his elbow after the game. Girardi said Gardner will not swing a bat for 10 days and then will be re-evaluated. . . . Eric Chavez was not activated from the seven-day disabled list on Thursday as expected because he has not been cleared by Major League Baseball. League officials were concerned about one aspect of Chavez’s concussion test. But Chavez participated in a second test and he hopes to be cleared to play soon.
The Yankees will open a three-game home weekend series with the Seattle Mariners on Friday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-4, 3.75 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda is coming off a disappointing start in which he gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings on Saturday to the Kansas City Royals. He is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in his career against the Mariners.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-1, 1.89 ERA) will get the start for the Mariners. He is coming off a seven-inning, one-hit shutout victory over the Minnesota Twins. He is 6-4 with a 3.29 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
When the Grapefruit League season begins in earnest for the New York Yankees on Saturday afternoon I have 10 things I will be looking at very closely. If these things look good than I will feel very good about the Yankees’ chances of returning to the World Series and perhaps their 28th world championship. If I don’t see them than the Yankees’ 2012 season may be a repeat of 2011. What I am looking for includes:
- HITTING WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION. I understand that in spring training we will see a lot of young players and minor leaguers in the lineup. But I will be focused on the players who start and those who will make the team as reserves. I want to see those players hit with runners in scoring position consistently. This was a weakness of the offense in 2011 and who could forget the innings of futility as the Yankees trailed the Detroit Tigers by a run in that disappointing Game 5 of the playoffs? Good habits are built upon in spring training and I want to see the Yankee hitters driving in runs consistently this spring.
- MARK TEIXEIRA’S BATTING AVERAGE AGAINST RIGHT-HANDERS. Last season, Teixeira hit .223 off right-handers. 223! That is one reason he hit just .248 overall after hitting just .256 in 2010. Teixeira came to the Yankees as an hitter who could hit to the opposite field. Much like Jason Giambi before him, he has become pull happy and it has left him vulnerable to breaking pitches. Teixiera has been working with hitting coach Kevin Long to improve his left-handed approach and he also has talked about bunting to discourage the radical shift teams employ on him. But the bottom line is that he has to improve hitting left-handed for the Yankees’ offense to click.
- BRETT GARDNER’S AVERAGE AGAINST LEFT-HANDERS. Gardner hit .233 against left-handers in 2011 and it became quite a liability for the offense in 2011. Andruw Jones could force his way into a platoon in left-field if Gardner does not improve his hitting against lefties this season. For all of Gardner’s speed, it is still surprising that he has not developed into an adept bunter. I want to see marked improvement there also. Gardner can be a real weapon if he is able to showcase his speed. He can’t do that if he is habitually walking back to the dugout with his bat in his hand.
- THE VELOCITY ON PHIL HUGHES’ FASTBALL. When Phil Hughes was healthy he was a productive pitcher for the Yankees. In 2009, his shift to the bullpen to set up Mariano Rivera was a key to the Yankees’ world championship season. In 2011, he won a spot in the rotation, made the American League All-Star team and finished the season 18-8 with 4.19 ERA. Last season, weakness in his right shoulder put him on the disabled list and a late season back injury cut short a pretty impressive comeback. He enters this spring as a candidate for the No. 5 spot, as he was in 2010. He is still only 25 and he has plenty of time to establish himself as the quality pitcher he was thought to be when he was a No. 1 draft choice in 2004. Initial reports indicate Hughes is throwing well and without any pain. If he is back anywhere close to his 2010 form the Yankees will have a No. 5 starter who won 18 games. How many teams can say that?
- THE HEALTH OF RUSSELL MARTIN. The Jorge Posada era ended in 2010 and the Russell Martin era begin in 2011. Martin came into camp last season rehabbing his left knee after surgery. Though he was able to hit the ground running in April (hitting .292 with six home runs and 19 RBIs) he did not hit over .213 in any month until August. That is because a toe injury followed by back injury slowed him down considerably. With Posada retired and Jesus Montero traded to the Mariners, Martin is the team’s best offensive weapon at the position. He has to stay healthy for the Yankees to be able to make a run at a championship. His excellent defense is just a bonus.
- THE REAL DEREK JETER NEEDS TO SHOW UP. In 2010, Jeter hit a miserable – for him – .270. He worked with Long on a new approach that featured no stride. But Jeter wasn’t comfortable with the change and he was hitting .242 on May 1. But after a calf injury shelved him in July, Jeter reworked his swing and he hit .334 the rest of the way. The Jeter who hit .334 must be the one that shows up this season. Jeter is the table-setter at the top of the lineup and when he is getting on base, the team scores a lot of runs. When he doesn’t, the team struggles.
- CC SABATHIA NEEDS TO MAINTAIN HIS WEIGHT. CC might love Cap’n Crunch cereal but he is going to have to lay off the stuff as the season progresses. Though Sabathia disagrees, it is a fact that as he gained weight down the stretch his ERA went up. Sabathia was on track to win 20 games easily but he had to settle for 19 again. He also was ineffective the playoffs against the Tigers. If you see CC’s girth expanding, you can bet the Yankees’ postseason chances are shrinking. He has vowed to maintain his training regimen until the end of the season and let’s hope he does it. Sabathia is still the ace and the pitcher teams fear most.
- THE RETURN OF JOBA CHAMBERLAIN. Because of the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen and the presence of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, Joba is almost a forgotten man this spring. Chamberlain is rehabbing after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in July and he is not expected to be able to return to the team until this July. The Yankees can afford to bring him back slowly and they will. If he comes back strong the Yankees might have easily the best bullpen in baseball. Chamberlain is only 26 and he still can be a productive pitcher with the Yankees. His return might be a real shot in the arm during a potential pennant chase.
- THE FIELDING OF EDUARDO NUNEZ. Nunez won the backup infielder job last spring with good reason He is an excellent hitter, with line-drive power and he can run like the wind. When he received regular playing time when Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were injured he shined at the plate. However, the increased playing time also exposed his weakness in the field. Nunez committed a team-high 21 errors and most of them were due to his poor footwork. Nunez needs to show the Yankees he has turned the corner is learning how to play in the field. At age 24 he could be Jeter’s eventual replacement at short. He just has to prove he can do it.
- THE MOST IMPORTANT THING – ALEX RODRIGUEZ MUST REMAIN HEALTHY ALL SEASON. Injuries have dogged Rodriguez for the past four seasons. Last spring, he reported to camp lighter, looked quick in the field and he was hammering the ball all through the exhibition season. A lot of good it did. Rodriguez hurt his knee in June, tried to play through it, admitted he couldn’t and then had to undergo knee surgery. After missing six weeks, A-Rod returned and he promptly sprained his left thumb in the first game he played. That injury pretty much knocked out his ability to hit the rest of the season. Rodriguez must avoid all those serious aches and pains in 2012 for the Yankees to have even a prayer of advancing to the World Series. A-Rod is the hitter pitchers fear most when he is locked in. The Yankees need him desperately this season. He is they key to it all.