The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles are locked in a dogfight for the right to the AL East crown, and it's looking like neither of them are going to be able to create any separation anytime soon.
This is partially because they are two evenly matched teams who aren't going to quit, but it's also partially because neither of them are at full strength for the time being.
As reported by the Associated Press, the Orioles have lost star right fielder Nick Markakis for the rest of the regular season due to a broken left thumb, a gift he got courtesy of a CC Sabathia fastball on Saturday night.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are going to be without slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira for a little while. He aggravated a left calf injury on Saturday night, and the word from the Yankees is that he's going to be out of commission for at least 10 days:
MRI on @teixeiramark25 showed irritation of his Grade 1 left calf strain. He is expected to be unavailable to play for 10-14 days.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 10, 2012
Needless to say, these injuries change things for both teams. The question now, to put it bluntly, is which team is more screwed.
That's not an easy question to answer, and you know what that means.
It's time for an immediate discussion.
What the Yankees Are Losing in Teixeira
There's been a lot of banter over the last two years about how Mark Teixeira is no longer one of the game's elite offensive players.
And this is true. His OPS has been in decline every year since 2007, and this year he ranks 11th among major league first basemen with an OPS of .814, according to FanGraphs. He also ranks 11th among his first base comrades in weighted on-base average (wOBA).
This is what happens when one walks less than one used to. Having a low .257 BABIP doesn't help either.
To be fair to Teixeira, the one thing he still does pretty well is hit home runs, and he also still has a nose for the RBI. The only Yankees with more home runs than Teixeira this season are Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, and Teixeira is second behind Granderson on the Yankees in RBI with 81.
The Yankees stand a chance of making up for Teixeira's home run and RBI prowess, but the one thing they won't be able to replace is his defense.
Teixeira is one of the best in the business at first base, and he's been as good as ever this season. In addition to his .999 fielding percentage, he boasts a 9.3 UZR and a DRS (defensive runs saved) of +16, according to FanGraphs. The only first baseman in baseball who's in the same league as Teixeira defensively is Adrian Gonzalez.
So in Teixeira, what the Yankees are going to be missing for the next 10-14 days is a power-hitting defensive stud. There aren't a whole lot of those at first base these days.
Where the Orioles Are Losing in Markakis
Nick Markakis is a player who tends to be overlooked, but it's pretty hard for even casual baseball fans to ignore what Markakis is doing this season.
Markakis' .298 batting average is his highest since he hit over .300 in 2008, and he's also sitting on an OPS of .834 and a wOBA of .357, according to FanGraphs.
As far as those latter two numbers are concerned, the Orioles are losing a hitter who's better than the one the Yankees are losing.
What's worse, Markakis had a prominent role to play in Baltimore's batting order. After spending the first half of the season in the No. 3 hole, Markakis moved into the leadoff spot after the All-Star break and proceeded to take quite a liking to it.
As a leadoff hitter this season, Markakis is hitting .335/.390/.489 with an .879 OPS. The Orioles have a record of 33-21 in games in which Markakis has hit leadoff.
Defensively, Markakis' reputation suggests that the Orioles are going to carry out the rest of the season without a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder.
This is only partially true. Markakis is an asset on defense because of his throwing arm, but he's not the most gifted defensive right fielder in the business as far as the advanced metrics are concerned. FanGraphs has his UZR at -7.8 and his DRS at -9, numbers that actually make Markakis a below-average defensive outfielder. He's no Jason Heyward or Josh Reddick.
So as strange as it feels to say it, it may actually be easier for the Orioles to replace Markakis' defense than his offense.
What the Yankees Have to Replace Teixeira
Not surprisingly, the word from the New York Daily News is that the Yankees are planning on using Nick Swisher as their primary first baseman as long as Teixeira is out of the lineup.
They could do a lot worse than Swisher. He's in the midst of a brutal slump at the moment, but it wasn't all that long ago that he had a .276 batting average and an .853 OPS. When he's right, he's capable of being one of the league's top offensive producers.
And though he makes his living as a right fielder, Swisher can hold his own at first base. He's only made one error at first base this season, and he also boasts a 9.7 UZR/150 and a +3 DRS at first, according to FanGraphs.
One concern is that Swisher may be too distracted to hit when he plays first base, as his OPS when he plays first base is 60 points lower than when he plays right field.
It likely won't be all Swisher at first base, though. Steve Pearce will probably get a start or two against lefties, and for good reason. He has an .829 OPS in his career against lefty pitchers, and nine of his 13 career home runs have come against lefties.
If Pearce plays first on a given day, Swisher can move back to right field. With Swisher at first, the Yankees are free to use Ichiro in right, where he is one of the game's elite defensive players. Girardi can also choose to use Andruw Jones in right field and platoon both Jones and Raul Ibanez in left.
Chris Dickerson, meanwhile, can play all three outfield spots, and Girardi may be inclined to give him extra playing time seeing as how he has a 1.025 OPS in limited action this season.
The Teixeira situation is obviously not ideal, but the bright side for the Yankees is that they have more than enough depth to keep from falling apart while Teixeira is gone.
What the Orioles Have to Replace Markakis
Chris Davis got the bulk of the playing time in right field when Markakis was on the disabled list earlier this season, and it's looking like Buck Showalter is going to keep going to him with Markakis out again.
Davis got the start in right field in place of Markakis on Sunday, going 1-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts.
Strikeouts are very much a part of Davis' game, as he's punching out over 30 percent of the time he comes to the plate this season. Fortunately for the Orioles, though, home runs are also a big part of Davis' game. He's hit 24 this season in 475 plate appearances.
The bad news is that Davis' offense tends to suffer when he plays right field, as he has an ugly .443 OPS when he fills Markakis' shoes. Furthermore, to say he's not a graceful defensive presence in right field would be putting it too kindly.
As such, it's a good bet that Showalter will make an effort to work Davis into the lineup as a DH, with either Nate McLouth or Lew Ford moving over to right field.
Left for dead by the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this season, McLouth has gotten a second wind in Baltimore. He has a .766 OPS in 33 games with the O's, entirely while playing either left or center field.
McLouth did play well in right field with the Pirates this season, however. Per FanGraphs, he posted a 1.2 UZR and a +2 DRS in right, impressive numbers for a mere 23 innings of work.
Ford isn't much of a hitter, but he has come through with some clutch home runs for the Orioles this season. Showalter therefore has at least one excuse to keep playing him, and Ford's work in right field throughout his career is another reason for him to get some playing time.
Ford has only made three errors in right field in his career, compiling a solid 10.4 UZR/150 and a DRS +6 at the position in the process, according to FanGraphs.
As for who will hit leadoff in Markakis' stead, McLouth got the call on Sunday. He didn't get a hit, but he did earn his first two-walk game all season.
It's only one game, but that's a good sign.
How Do Their Schedules Look?
The Yankees didn't fare so well in their stretch of games against the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, but the good news for them is that it's going to get a little easier from here on out.
The rest of the way, the Yankees will take on only two teams that are still in contention: The Rays and the Oakland A's. Aside from that, they have a couple series remaining against both the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and one series remaining against the Minnesota Twins.
The series against the Rays and A's will be rough, but on the whole the Yankees' remaining opponents have a winning percentage of .478.
Just as important: 12 of the Yankees' final 22 games will be at home.
So on balance, things could be a lot worse for the Yankees down the stretch, much of which will be tackled without any help from Teixeira.
The Orioles, meanwhile, won't have it so easy.
The O's have two series remaining against the Rays, and they will also have to take on the A's out in Oakland at the start of a nine-game road trip that will take them through Seattle and Boston.
All told, their remaining opponents have a winning percentage of an even .500, and 12 of their final 22 games will be played away from home.
Keep in mind that a .500 winning percentage doesn't account for the fact that the Mariners are 31-23 since the All-Star break. They're no pushover, especially when King Felix is on the mound.
By the time the O's get to Tampa Bay for the final series of the season for either team, a playoff spot could be at stake.
Alas, Markakis won't be around to help the Orioles grab it.
Who Will Survive?
If the season ended today, both the Yankees and the Orioles would be in the playoffs. The Yankees as the AL East champion. The Orioles as one of the American League's two wild-card teams.
If you were to twist my arm and ask me if this will be the case when the season actually ends, I'd say yes.
Between the two teams, the Orioles are in more trouble than the Yankees. The Yankees have lost a player with a bigger name, but the Orioles have lost a more vital player. They'll have a hard time replacing Markakis' offensive production, and they don't have an obvious answer to fill in for him out in right field.
Plus, their schedule is a lot tougher down the stretch. That nine-game road trip through Oakland, Seattle and Boston, in particular, is going to be a doozy.
I'm not about to count the Orioles out of the playoff race altogether, but their loss of Markakis is a bigger blow than the Yankees' loss of Teixeira. The Yankees will miss him, but they have the pieces to make up for his absence and a light schedule to take advantage of.
If they lose the AL East to the Orioles (or the Rays), it won't be because they didn't have Teixeira.
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