Thursday, September 29, 2011

A-Rod Will Be Yankees X-Factor In ALDS

If you ask Alex Rodriguez, his surgically-repaired right knee and sprained left thumb are fine and sitting out last night's season finale against the Tampa Bay Rays was just precautionary.  The New York Yankees third baseman made it clear that he intends on being in the lineup tomorrow night for Game 1 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers.

Last week, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that one of his intentions was to get A-Rod a full week of at-bats to get him ready for the upcoming series.  Last night, all he got was a session in the batting cage.

"I was going to go out and take one or two at-bats, but we felt it was probably smarter to stay off the turf for one night," Rodriguez said.  "Turf is always an issue when you play multiple days back-to-back.  there was just a little soreness, but it's all the turf.  Since surgery, I haven't felt any pain or discomfort."

If it's not the knee, maybe it's the thumb.

There must be some reason he is hitting .171 (6-for-35) with one home run and six RBI's over his last 10 games.  Not exactly boot-shaking numbers.

Rodriguez, missed six games from Sept. 10 to Sept. 16 after the thumb flared up but hitting coach Kevin Long believes his aging charge is not favoring the knee or the thumb.

"His timing is off," said Long.  "We are working with his leg kick and and getting better pitches to hit.  As long as he is healthy, he can help us at the next level."

The next level is exactly where the Yankees will need A-Rod's help.

Just because the Yankees are loaded with power doesn't mean A-Rod is expendable.  The team did lose the last four "meaningless" games of the season.

For the Yankees to battle the Tigers' 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, Rodriguez will have to revert back to his 2009 form.  Remember when the slugger carried the Yankees to the World Series with his first certifiable monstrous postseason?  During that run, he hit .455 in the ALDS and .429 in the ALCS with five home runs and 12 RBI's.

This year, the 36 year-old Rodriguez finished this regular season by playing in the fewest games of his career (99) with a .276 average and career lows in home runs (16) and RBI's (62).  Not prototypical cleanup numbers.

If the Yankees can't depend on Rodriguez to be their big time bat, they have other offensive power at their disposal.  Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano have combined for 108 home runs and an impressive 348 RBI's, but combine them with a robust A-Rod and you have the Roar Four.

All three of those players have been shuffled between the No. 3, 4 and 5 spots all season, but now with Granderson safely ensconced in the No. 2 slot, it's up to A-Rod to be No. 4 and make it more difficult for the Tigers pitchers to go around anyone in the middle of the lineup.

If Rodriguez is not healthy, Girardi will have to choose between either rookie Eduardo Nunez or veteran Eric Chavez.

Nunez is more of an offensive threat over the slumping Chavez--  although the fresh legs that gave Nunez 22 stolen bases belong to the same inexperienced head which made numerous mental errors in the field.  The youngster has 22 errors and, in the playoffs where every play counts, that's a real concern.

Chavez, on the other hand, is flawless Gold Glove infielder who has been known to get timely hits but has faded down the stretch.

Both are capable, if not dangerous, replacements if Rodriguez's physical ailments continue to pester him.  A bigger concern could be A-Rod's head.

After his sensational playoffs two years ago, A-Rod withered back to his old big-game habits.

He followed up 2009's breakout postseason play with a dismal outing last year against the Texas Rangers-- batting .190 with 2 RBI's in 25 plate appearances.

"I don't really have a concern about him [Rodriguez]," said Girardi about last night's sitting.  "The turf can do that to you sometimes.  He'll be ready to go (tomorrow)."

Now the hurting Rodriguez faces another October.  Which A-Rod will show up?

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