This one would have to go in the “impossible to believe” file back in Spring Training. If you told the Yankees organization it would be going to the playoffs and its success would hinge on A-Rod’s performance, most executives would have laughed off the idea as absurd. Some 87 wins and 32 A-Rod home runs later, the Yankees are in that position in the most ironic twist of the 2015 season.
After clinching a Wild Card spot October 1, the New York Yankees guaranteed themselves at least an entry to the postseason, which (barring a bizarre weekend) will begin at Yankee Stadium October 6. The Yankees will take the field with one of the most lefty-heavy lineups in baseball, a weakness that has been exacerbated by the injury to Mark Teixeira, the team’s leading slugger at the time he went on the disabled list.
When Brian McCann catches and Dustin Ackley plays second base against right-handed pitchers, the team actually features eight left-handed hitters in the lineup besides A-Rod. (Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley are switch-hitters.) That leaves the bulk of the right-handed hitting duties to A-Rod and, to a lesser extent, the rejuvenated Beltran.
Judging by the run A-Rod has been on, that doesn’t bode well for the New York offense. Over the two weeks prior to clinching, A-Rod hit .216 with 1 HR and a .699 OPS, averaging one strikeout per game. Recent slides by Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Brian McCann have made the Yankees easy pickings for left-handed pitchers.
Since September 21, the New York lineups have been shut down by the likes of Eduardo Rodriguez, Rich Hill, Carlos Rodon, John Danks, and, of course, David Price. There’s only one brand name southpaw in that group. If the Yankees end up facing Houston, they will get one of the toughest lefties in the business: Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel completely dominated the Yankees in two starts this season, winning both games without allowing a run and striking out 21 in 16.0 IP — stats that make Price (3-1, 4.08 ERA vs. NYY) appear hittable by contrast. Should Houston be able to hold off the Angels and Twins through the weekend, New York is sure to see the Astros ace on the mound to kick off the postseason.
It wasn’t long ago that Alex Rodriguez was Major League Baseball’s one true pariah. He had lawsuits pending against the MLBPA (which includes every active baseball player) as well as the Yankees organization. A-Rod was on the verge of turning 40 and still recovering from two surgically repaired hips and a year off following a humiliating suspension. Somehow, the slugger has shrugged off the distractions and had a season that could win him AL Comeback Player of the Year.
Throughout the year, Yankees fans have declared a truce with A-Rod and cheered him on as he met milestones (including his 3,000th hit) and led the team to victory as the anchor of the offense. But the boo birds have not left Yankee Stadium. Some could be heard just days before the Yankees clinched, and they will surely return should he fail in the postseason.
The relationship between A-Rod and Yankees universe will likely remain transactional, but you can’t mention the franchise without including its performance in the postseason. It’s a club that lusts for championships in a way that would seem illogical for any GM trying to keep an organization strong. Tuesday will mark what the Yankees hope will be a deep march into October, with much of it riding on No. 13. Considering how the season started, it’s hard to imagine a more unlikely finish.