How Mark Teixeira's Injury Has Thrown the AL East Entirely Up for Grabs
It won't be long now before the New York Yankees implement a new rule: Effective immediately, all players must wear bubble wrap under their pinstripes.
It's been that kind of a season for the Bombers. Michael Pineda was the first major player to go down, and then went Brett Gardner, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia (twice), Alex Rodriguez and Ivan Nova.
Am I missing some names? Yeah, probably. Honestly, you could pick a name out of a hat full of Yankees players, and odds are, that player has spent some time on the disabled list this season.
First baseman Mark Teixeira could be next.
As Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com reported, Teixeira suffered a Grade 1 strain of his left calf in Monday night's loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the game that Teixeira could be out as many as seven days, or maybe even as long as two weeks.
Teixeira said pretty much the same thing.
"I don't know; It could be as little as a week," said the 2009 AL MVP runner-up. "Or it could be two weeks, but I don't really know."
According to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, the prognosis hasn't changed all that much a day after the fact:
Girardi said Teixeira will be out "Seven, eight or 15 days."— Mark Feinsand (@BloggingBombers) August 28, 2012
Or it could be three weeks. That's how long Derek Jeter was out when he suffered a Grade 1 calf strain in 2011. It's possible that Teixeira may not be back until the postseason is looming just overhead.
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Good luck getting anyone in the Yankees clubhouse to panic. The Bombers have been overcoming injuries all season long. The fact that they have to overcome another is basically par for the course. The fact that they have solid options such as Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Steve Pearce to share playing time in Teixeira's absence will help soothe their nerves.
Casey McGehee was optioned down to the minors to make room for Pearce, according to Feinsand, but he will also be in the mix for playing time once rosters expand.
Still, Teixeira's injury couldn't have come at a worse time. The Yankees have been struggling as of late, losing seven of their past 11 games. They've seen their lead in the AL East shrink to 3.5 games over the Baltimore Orioles, and the Tampa Bay Rays are just behind them at four games off the pace.
Because of this, you can rest assured that there's at least a little squirming going on when the doors to the Yankees' clubhouse are closed and the players are left to their own devices. They have to know that they're as ripe for the picking as they've been all season, and that Teixeira's injury could be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back.
If the AL East wasn't already up for grabs, it certainly is now.
Simmer down, Yankees fans. But before you go rushing to the comments section to Rabble!-Rabble!-Rabble! my eardrums to smithereens, hear me out on this one. Just consider what the Yankees are losing in Teixeira and what lies ahead on the schedule in his absence.
Much has been made of the fact that Teixeira is slowly wasting away as a hitter, and this is very much true. His OPS has dropped each year since his excellent 2009 season.
But it's not like he's a useless hitter. His .813 OPS on the season is good for 10th among major-league first basemen, and he has an .826 OPS since the All-Star break with eight home runs in 38 games. His total of 23 home runs on the season ties him for sixth among major-league first basemen.
He may not be an elite hitter anymore, but pitchers are still well aware of the power that Teixeira brings to the table. That's why he's spent much of this season protecting Robinson Cano in the Yankees' lineup, and that's worked out pretty well for Cano. He's currently sitting on a career-best .929 OPS.
With Teixeira out of the picture for the next week or two (or three), Girardi is going to be dealing with a shortage of options to protect Cano in the lineup. Swisher has established himself as a great fit for the No. 2 spot, and names like Chavez, Pearce and McGehee aren't going to strike as much fear into the hearts of pitchers as a name like Teixeira (though Chavez is no pushover, to say the least).
Curtis Granderson is an option to protect Cano, but he's not a lock to be a solution, seeing as how he's hitting under .200 in August.
The Yankees will be weaker offensively as long as Teixeira is out of commission. Let's not kid ourselves by thinking otherwise.
They'll also be weaker defensively, which is an area where Teixeira still shines as brightly as ever.
The only first baseman in the major leagues who's on the same kind of level as Teixeira defensively these days is Adrian Gonzalez. According to FanGraphs, he and Teixeira have the rest of the field beat by a wide margin when it comes to UZR and DRS. With Gonzalez gone to the National League, the first base Gold Glove in the AL is as good as Teixeira's.
The entire infield benefits from Teixeira's presence. He and Cano make for one of the best infield tandems in the majors, and Teixeira has always helped out the left side of the Yankees' infield defense by scooping low throws out of the dirt and doing other such things to keep dreaded E's from ending up next to their names.
Swisher can hold his own at first base, but he's not as gifted defensively as Teixeira. Same goes for whomever else the Yankees choose to put there.
And seeing as how the Yankees' pitching staff has the sixth-highest ground-ball percentage in the American League, the Yankees could actually miss Teixeira more on defense than they'll miss him on offense while he's gone.
Are the Yankees suddenly a train wreck of a team along the lines of the Houston Astros just because Teixeira's going to be out for a little while?
No. They're still going to be capable of winning ballgames. It helps that they have a pitching staff that's still somewhat intact.
But they may have to be content to tread water until Teixeira comes back, and that's a proposal that doesn't bode well given their upcoming schedule.
The Yankees don't have a lot of breathing room between them and their two pursuers in the AL East. It just so happens that a 10-game stretch against Baltimore and Tampa Bay is looming, and seven of those 10 games are going to be played on the road.
The Yankees are going to host the Orioles for a three-game series at Yankee Stadium this weekend before departing on a 10-game road trip that will include three games at the Rays, four at the Orioles and three at the Red Sox.
After it's all over, the Yankees will come home to play the Rays again in a three-game series.
Teixeira may not be back until the Yankees arrive in Baltimore. If luck is not on his side, he may not even be back before the road trip comes to a close.
Which team should the Yankees be more afraid of?
The Orioles and Rays are never going to get a better chance to make up ground than the one they're both staring at right now. If the Orioles make the most of their upcoming seven games against the Yankees, they could find themselves in first place in the division. If things really go south for the Yankees, they could find themselves sitting in third place behind both the Orioles and the Rays by the middle of September.
Likely? Not really. Perhaps by virtue of some sorcery, the Yankees tend to stay alive when they seem to be on the brink of death.
But possible? Absolutely. The Orioles are dangerous because of how clutch they are in close games and because of how obvious it is that Buck Showalter has his players believing in the team's chances this season. The Rays are a threat because their pitching staff is as good as any in baseball, and because they're simply a different team with Evan Longoria back in their lineup.
Keep in mind that it's not like the Yankees are head and shoulders better than the Orioles and Rays to begin with. Both clubs have better records than the Bombers in August, and the Yankees are just 6-5 against the Orioles and 5-7 against the Rays on the season.
So strap yourselves in. Things are already a little too close for comfort for the Yankees in the AL East. But with Teixeira out of the mix for the time being, it's going to be a free-for-all between the three teams at the top, and the Yankees shouldn't be considered the odds-on favorite to be sitting pretty in the end.
The Yankees have been fortunate in their ability to fight through whatever injuries the baseball gods have felt like dishing out this season. It may be just a matter of time before their luck finally runs out.
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