(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
If Mark Teixeira was healthy last September and into October, and if the New York Yankees also had newcomer Starlin Castro in the lineup, well perhaps they would have overcome the good pitching of Dallas Keuchel and defeated the Houston Astros in that one-game wild card elimination game in the Bronx.
But that was then and this is now, and Teixeira is feeling good. Castro, acquired in the offseason from the Chicago Cubs makes the Yankees younger and more athletic and the two were once again instrumental in the Yankees 8-5 win over the Astros Thursday afternoon in the Bronx.
The Yankees would have loved to see this last October. For now, taking two of three over Houston in their season opening series is good enough to say this could be a special season. But it has to be consistent, the offense and the pitching, and of course the rest of this Yankees lineup must remain healthy.
And for the first time this young season, manager Joe Girardi went to three of four components out of the bullpen. Minus Aroldis Chapman who is serving a 30-game MLB imposed suspension for domestic violence, Girardi went Chasen Shreve in the seventh, Dellin Betances in the eighth.
Andrew Miller would get the save and Girardi knows, minus Chapman this is the Yankees plan with or without Chapman. That bullpen combination combined with the offense is something the Yankees lacked in the latter parts of last season.
Said Miller about the bullpen, “I think we have all seen little bits and pieces of what they can do,” referring to Shreve and Betances. Miller walked the first two Astros’ and then struck out three to get his first saves and pitched without a brace on his non pitching right hand that was injured last week in the final days of spring training.
The part of that “Three-headed Monster with Betances and Chapman, Andrew Miller, closed the game for the save in a role that Chapman will have when he returns. And though Nathan Eovaldi did not have his best stuff, five innings and five earned runs, Yankees pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts.
But it was Teixeira that had Girardi possibly thinking, if only he was here in October.
“When we don’t have him, we miss him,” Girardi said. “We’re glad to have him back. He’s productive from both sides.” Teixeira, in the last season of an eight-year multi-million contract, hit the game winning three-run home run in the seventh inning to the opposite field in left his second three-run homer in as many games.
Yes, the Yankees are happy to have their first baseman hitting home runs again in the Bronx. In the Yankees first 50 games last season, Teixeira hit 15 home runs and drove in 40, compiling 20 home runs through the first 81 games which was a club record. There was the title of MVP in the discussion until a foul pitch off his right leg in August, later revealed to be a fracture to the right shin that shut him down.
“I’m hoping for a long season this year,” said Teixeira. The home run was his 193rd as a Yankee that surpassed Tino Martinez for sole possession of 17th place on the team’s all-time home run list. More importantly if Teixeira stays injury free, this torrid pace in the early going could lead to that MVP season.
But baseball is a long season. Teixeira and the Yankees know that there are 159 games to go, and that scoring 24 runs as a team in their first three games does not come easy but it was a good way to start their first road trip of the season with three games in Detroit and three more at defending AL East champ Toronto.
And if the Yankees lineup can hit and score runs, that inconsistent pitching staff that was a question coming into the season will not matter. The plan was to score runs with a healthy lineup and get to the bullpen which many tab to be the best in baseball with Betances, Miller, and Chapman.
And the ball was flying out of the ballpark in the Bronx the last two games, partly due to the wind that was blowing with the April winds in the Bronx, but it was impressive and Castro the new addition does make a difference in the lineup. He could eventually be placed out of the eight hole if he keeps up the numbers.
Regardless, Castro is showing that he can hit and got accustomed fast to his new surroundings. Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez had extensive talks with their new teammate in spring training and that seemed to help the Yankees new 26-year old second baseman.
He went 2-for-4 Thursday and hit his second home run in two days, including a single. A 7-for-12 start with eight runs batted in, is the most for a Yankee in the first three games, and right now GM Brian Cashman is a genius getting Castro for a valuable arm in Adam Warren.
Said Castro about his talks with Beltran and Rodriguez, “You feel more comfortable to have those guys with you and you can see it when they’re hitting. You see it from the dugout and you see their approach. I think that’s a really big thing for me and it helps me.”
Whatever it is, the Yankees and Girardi hope this torrid pace from Castro will continue. And if it does, it can only lead to a special season in the Bronx, but Teixeira has to stay healthy, along with Beltran and Rodriguez who got his first hit of the season off an 0-2 pitch. Brian McCann also hit his first home run of the season in the fourth and that was also a good sign.
And after an Opening Day loss Tuesday, all signs were good taking two of their first three games. Said Girardi, “I like the way our guys bounced back.” More so, Girardi and the Yankees have to like the way Teixeira is approaching his at bats and how the runs are being scored.