As the Yankees pulled up lame in Game 4 of the ALCS, so did their first baseman. The Yankees had blown a bases loaded, one out opportunity in the fourth, but then threatened again in the fifth. Mark Teixeira came to the plate with runners on first and second with none out, but as he has done so frequently this postseason he hit the ball weakly on the ground. As he raced down the line to beat out the double play, it appeared as though he attempted a slide into first. Replay showed that he grabbed his hamstring and collapsed. When Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donahue helped Teixeira off the field, it was clear that he would not play another game in the 2010 postseason.
While Nick Swisher grabbed his first baseman’s glove and finished the game, Lance Berkman will man the position the rest of the way. This changes the Yankees’ lineup dynamic. Previously they were using Berkman as the DH against right-handed pitchers and Marcus Thames against lefties. With Teixeira out both Berkman and Thames are pressed into full-time duty. That’s not a situation the Yankees can be happy about.
The Yankees signed Thames to provide some pop off the bench against left-handed pitching. Because of an early-season injury to Nick Johnson he got more of an opportunity, and he ran with it. His .365 wOBA was his highest since 2006, and he actually fared better against righties than against lefties. That success has not carried over to the postseason, though, as Thames has gone just 4 for 20 with a homer and two walks.
Berkman came over in a deadline trade with Houston knowing that he’d be relegated to part-time DH duties. While he is a switch hitter in name, he has produced poor numbers against left-handed pitching in the past two years. After a .305 wOBA in 148 PA in 2009 he had a mere .236 wOBA in 92 PA against LHP this season. The Yankees have really gone out of their way to avoid having him face lefties this season, routinely substituting Thames even if they know the opposing manager will bring in a right-handed pitcher from the pen.
Unless Girardi decides that Austin Kearns is ready to stop striking out every other at-bat, it appears as though both Thames and Berkman will play every day. They will likely switch lineup spots depending on the opposing pitcher’s handedness. Against a lefty yesterday Thames hit fifth and Berkman sixth. But against a righty we could see Swisher fifth, Berkman sixth, Jorge Posada seventh, and Thames eighth. Having a .340 career wOBA player in the eighth hole illustrates the depth of the Yankees lineup, even without their No. 3 hitter.
Teixeira’s complete lack of production makes his loss easier to handle. He had an up and down season that ended up being his worst since his rookie campaign. Things did get better during the summer months, as Teixeira produced a .488 wOBA in July and a .411 wOBA in August, but he dipped back down in September and produced a .312 wOBA. It appeared as though he had put that behind him for the postseason, as he went 2 for 5, including a go-ahead two-run homer, in Game 1. For the Twins series he went 4 for 13 with a double and a homer, but once the team go to Texas Teixeira fell back into his April habits. In his four ALCS games he got on base just three times, all via the walk.
In this sense, removing him from the lineup can be a positive for the Yankees. The offense hasn’t exactly been stagnant this series, as they’ve put 47 runners on base in the five games. But every time they get men into scoring position they run into either bad luck or a slumping hitter. Of the 50 at-bats they’ve had with runners in scoring position they’ve managed a hit just eight times — and one of those didn’t score a run. Given Teixeira’s talent we can assume that his futility wouldn’t have lasted forever. But there didn’t appear to be any signs that he was going to turn it around in this series.
The real question facing the Yankees is of whether Berkman can hit left-handed pitching. His two-year downturn against them has come in a small sample, so there’s not much we can tell from the data alone. His ability to transition back into an every day player will play a large part in determining how far the Yankees make it. Even if he produces a day like yesterday, in which he went 0 for 2 with a walk and a sac fly, he can help the team even if he’s not picking up big hits from the right side. If he can’t, then it means Swisher at first and Kearns in the outfield. But then again, if he can’t then it’s not likely the Yankees will make it far enough to make that substitution.
Losing Mark Teixeira will hurt any team, but there is no team more prepared for his absence than the Yankees. They endured his slumps this season, and they’re well positioned to deal with his injury in the postseason. Having both Berkman and Thames in the lineup every day might not seem like an ideal scenario, but it’s a better solution than most teams have available. If Berkman gets hot, it might even mean a positive for the Yankees offense.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.