Through 57 games, slightly more than one-third of the season, the Yankees hold a 32-25 record — and have as good a chance to win the AL East as the Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles do. The Yankees can look forward to a healthy Jeter returning after the All Star break, Granderson re-returning from a hand/wrist injury, and (sigh) Alex Rodriguez’s potential return from oblivion. Michael Pineda is set to begin a rehab assignment this week, and could return for the pennant race. But there is one player who can have as big an impact on the remainder of the 2013 season as anyone: Mark Teixeira.
Is Mark Teixeira the best player on the Yankees? No. At this point in his career, I’d rank him behind Cano and Sabathia — somewhere closer to Granderson and Jeter (when healthy). Is he the most important player for the Yankees as they enter the final 105 games this season? I guess if you don’t rank as the best player on the team, then no, Tex is not the most important Yankee. Cano’s everyday presence in the lineup is more crucial to the success of the team than Teixeira’s, as is consistency from CC, Kuroda, and Pettitte.
So then why can Teixeira make-or-break the Yankees down the stretch? It’s simple: other than Cano, the Yankees do not have a consistent force in the lineup.
Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner have done an admirable job through the first two months; but we have already seen Wells’ volatility (he is 4 for his last 40 – even I can do the math on that one, that is a whopping .100 batting average). Hafner, while he does have 9 home runs, is a check-swing away from another shoulder or back strain. The Yankees lineup has even gotten to the point where Girardi was forced to put Lyle Overbay in right field on Monday night for the first time in his 13 year career (Overbay had never played anywhere other than first base).
On most nights the Yankees lineup is filled with players closer to AARP than the prime of their careers, so 2.5 games out of first place in early June is an accomplishment at the very least. But if the Yankees are going to make a run at the American League then Mark Teixeira, almost by default, will have to perform on an MVP-type level this summer. The strike outs will have to come down and the slugging percentage will have to go up, which will in turn give some protection to Cano, who we all know is far-and-away the Yankees best hitter. In 2009 Teixeira was the Yankees best hitter. He finished second in AL MVP voting, led the league in home runs, RBIs, and total bases, and was a legitimate force in the middle of the Yankees lineup.
The Yankees will need some of that ’09 magic – which wasn’t that long ago – from Teixeira to win the Division and make a run at the pennant in 2013.