It's only May, but after Mark Teixeira's brutal start, the high-priced free agent was already starting to hear the infamous Bronx cheers with every feeble pop out and weak ground ball the slugger produced. The return of Alex Rodriguez has changed all of that. While the homer-less David Ortiz continues to look for his first dinger of the season without Manny Ramirez backing him in the lineup, Teixeira has turned those incessant boos into rabid cheers, and is finally paying dividends on the Yankees' massive investment in the allstar first basemen.
Before the 8th of May Mark Teixeira's stats were nothing short of abysmal. With a sub-.200 batting average and a paultry .339 OPS, the questions as to whether the 29-year-old career .288 hitter with 211 home runs was wilting under the glare of the Bronx spotlight were already abound in the New York media. Mark looked uncomfortable at the plate, unable to find his notoriously sweet stroke, and failing badly, especially with runners in scoring positions.
Fast-forward to May 8th. Since the return of Rodriguez, Teixeira has been on fire, batting .367 with three home runs, nine RBIs and a 1.211 OPS. Compare that to his .198 average with only five home runs pre-A-Rod's return, and the value of protection in the lineup is incredibly obvious.
This is not to postulate that Mark isn't capable of hitting without a prolific hitter behind him. His success with Texas demonstrates that he is more than capable of serving as the focal point of any lineup. But when combining the extreme pressures of wearing the pinstripes, along with the early all-encompassing offensive struggles of the club, it is logical to see the value A-Rod brings in forcing opposing pitchers to deal with Teixeira directly – as opposed to pitching around him — as was the case when Mark was essentially the lone true power source in a decimated Yankees lineup.
Currently the Yankees sit at third place in the AL East, 4.5 games behind the division leading Blue Jays. The return of A-Rod is an indication that this could soon change. While the Yanks have shown their share of offensive prowess — fueled in part by the strong starts of Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano — Teixeira and Rodriguez are sluggers that will provide power and run production consistently over the course of the season. And with A-Rod backing up Mark in the four hole, opposing pitchers can no longer pitch around the first baseman, taking their chances with the less dangerous Nick Swisher or Melky Cabrera. And as the Yankees slowly get healthy — returning Hideki Matsui and eventually Jorge Posada — the lineup will only get tougher and more productive. Teixeira analyzed the effects of the return of A-Rod on himself, commenting on his tremendous performance Saturday against the Minnesota Twins, "I'm getting some pitches to hit. I got four pitches to hit today and I didn't miss any."
The Teixeira-Rodriguez effect was definately on full display in the Yankees afore mentioned dramatic 11th inning win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday. After a Teixeira walk, A-Rod slammed an 0-1 pitch into the New York evening, giving the Yankees a two-run victory, and fully demonstrating the potency of their new offensive makeup. As Joe Girardi commented, when questioned as to why he left a struggling Teixeira in the important three hole of his lineup, "Mark's a great hitter and you can't keep a guy that's a great hitter down forever," Girardi said."Alex is a beast behind him. You have to make a pick, which one you want to get."
And while it was A-Rod's cinematic home run that stole most of the headlines on Saturday, Mark Teixeira provided the majority of production that led to the Yankee victory. His outstanding 4-for-4 night with a double, a home run, and four RBIs were absolutely crucial to the 6-4 win. It was that output that undoubtedly led Twins hurler Craig Breslow to pitch around Teixeira and to instead deal with the struggling Rodriguez, a move that would prove to be his, and his team's, downfall on that day. As Girardi stated, with these two great sluggers you essentially pick your poison and hope for the best. In this case, the decision to go after the slumping Rodriguez proved fatal for Minnesota, as it will for many teams over the course of the season as the Yankees make a run towards the playoffs.
It was inevitable that Teixeira would start to hit. But any great hitter, when not protected properly in the lineup, will prove less efffective to some degree. And with the rash of injuries that has nearly cripple the Yankees' lineup this factor is more than likely the explanation for Teixeira's slow start. But with Mark, and now Alex Rodriguez, hitting behind Derek Jeter and the unconsciously hot Johnny Damon, the Yankees' ability to produce runs has yet to be fully realized or demonstrated. That means bad news for the rest of the AL East, unless Manny Ramirez returns from his 50-game suspension with a Red Sox jersey on.