At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. First up we looked at the starting pitching, then relief pitchers. Now we’re onto the corner infielders.
The corner infielders were supposed to anchor the 2009 Yankees. Even though everyone knew Alex Rodriguez would miss more than a month after hip surgery, the general expectation was for him and Teixeira to be the best 3-4 combo in the game. This wasn’t unreasonable. Alex might be the best hitter in the game (NPD), and Teixeira was coming off one of his best seasons and is right in the prime of his career.
There’s not much more to say about the expectations. They were supposed to be the best. At least once the calendar flipped from April to May.
We’ve seen massive success from both players, but we’ve also seen them hit some pretty nasty slumps. Combined with A-Rod’s month-long absence, and it doesn’t add up to the best. They’re close, for sure. The following are the two best 3-4 combos in the league, based on the first half:
1. Ryan Braun – Prince Fielder
2. Joe Mauer – Justin Morneau
After that there are a number of third-place contenders. Alex and Tex are among them, along with Youkilis-Bay, Utley-Howard, and Pujols-Ludwick. So they’re not the best, but are certainly up there. Given Tex’s slumps and A-Rod’s absence and slump, that’s a pretty good place to be right now.
It’s hard not to have high expectations for a guy who just signed an eight-year, $180 million contract. Yankees fans held Tex to such a high standard, in fact, that they started to boo him during his protracted April slump. That ended promptly upon A-Rod’s return, as Teixeira went on a tear.
What’s often overlooked in Teixeira’s early season woes is the tendinitis he suffered in his wrist. He sat out a few games early on, but with A-Rod already out of the lineup, the Yankees could ill afford to lose the other part of their 3-4 punch. We don’t know how much pain he played through, but considering the results through the first month, it would seem that the wrist bothered him more than he let on.
Teixeira’s season has been defined by streaks and slumps. From Opening Day through May 8, he hit just .192/.336/.384. This was both worse and longer than his normal slow starts. He more than made up for it over the next month, hitting .369/.447/.844 from May 9 through June 12. Since then, though, he’s had quite the power outage, hitting .245/.341/.327 from June 13 through the All-Star Break.
While Tex’s hot streak helped the Yanks surge through May, his power outage also hurt them as they struggled with the NL East. There’s little concern that this slump will continue into the second half. Teixeira’s a pro hitter, and we’ve seen him perform better in the second half over his career: .277/.368/.515 in the first half vs. .303/.390/.574 in the second half. Last year was even more pronounced: .271/.373/.484 in the first half, .366/.464/.656 in the second half.
For all the drama he brought leading up to the regular season, it’s been all about baseball for A-Rod since he returned in May. Well, except the bit with Kate Hudson. But we won’t hold America’s obsession against him.
A-Rod returned with a bang, drilling the first pitch he saw into the left-field stands at Camden Yards for a three-run blast. This put the Yanks ahead early, which was big coming off the team’s five-game losing streak, including four to Boston and Tampa Bay. He slipped a bit from that point, but found his stroke during the Minnesota series, hitting a walk-off homer that weekend.
From May 16 through June 7, we saw the A-Rod of old. He hit .289/.419/.618, helping the Yanks steamroll the competition. The only blemish in that period was losing two of three to Philly — though in that lone win Alex hit a game-tying home run off Brad Lidge.
Then came The Slump: .088/.262/.236 from June 8 through June 18. It might have been the worst 11 days of A-Rod’s career. It was decided at that point that he’d played far too often — he hadn’t missed a game since returning, and played all but two in the field — and would sit out the first two games of the Marlins series. That, it appears, did the trick. From June 21 through the ASB, A-Rod has hit .343/.483/.716. Again, the A-Rod of old.
Expectations for the second half
It looks like A-Rod is back. Teixeira is bound to come out of the little funk he’s been in lately. Basically, they’re in the same position as the starting pitchers. They haven’t quite hit expectations, but there’s still a good chance that they do in the second half.
Remember the first line of the introduction. The Yankees are in fine shape. That’s without a good portion of their roster performing to expectations. If they get typical second-half production out of both A-Rod and Teixeira, they’ll be right back on track, and could conceivably finish the season as that feared 3-4 combo the Yanks thought they were getting when they signed Tex.
Things are good for the corner infielders. The scariest part, for the rest of the league: They could be even better.