After watching this past series against the Rangers, one thing has become increasingly evident: Texas has a new weapon in its arsenal. More specifically, they have speed. The Rangers completely victimized the Yankees on the basepaths in what seemed like every conceivable way. Typically, I associate this aggressive style of play with teams like Tampa or Anaheim. This mode of generating offense often supplements a team's inability to consistently produce runs. The Rangers, however, don't exactly have that problem. As a team, they boast a .276 AVG (1st in MLB), .339 OBP (7th), and .421 slugging (6th).
As I mentioned in my prior post regarding the Yankees' catchers, Texas attempted 5 stolen bases. Each attempt was successful. On a few of the occasions, the Yankee catchers didn't even attempt to throw the runner out. I'm sure some of this was due to the pitch location and general handling of the ball. However, for a guy to take a stolen base uncontested, he typically has to have a pretty good start. As a team, the Rangers have five players who have double-digit steals on the season. If Josh Hamilton returns to the lineup, the Rangers will have a sixth player (in all likelihood) to add to the list.
Curiously enough though, two of the Rangers' more aggressive basestealers (Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus) both get thrown out frequently. Borbon has been caught stealing 7 times out of his 19 attempts, and Andrus 14 of his 44 attempts. That makes the defensive plight of the Yankee catcher all the more maddening.
During last night's endeavor, Andrus started the bottom of the sixth off with a walk. After having stolen second, he then immediately went for third on a Michael Young pop fly. David Murphy hit a hard single to first and Mark Teixeira decided to forfeit the guaranteed out and throw home to prevent the run. Unfortunately, the second Murphy made contact, Andrus had taken off. He beat the throw. Murphy was safe. That damage was done.
In case you missed the sixth, Ian Kinsler decided to repeat the "lead off walk procedure" in the seventh. As Mitch Moreland flew out to right field, Kinsler tagged up and made it to second. Matt Treanor followed suit by flying out to right field, and once again Kinsler tagged up and progressed to third. With two outs Borbon laid down a perfect (albeit gutsy) bunt and managed to single. Instead of a tie ball game two outs and a man on first and second, the score was now 2-1. (Editor's note: I thought this was an amazing -- if not incredibly high-risk -- play by Borbon, which obviously worked out as well as the Rangers could have hoped for due to the perfect execution. That being said, I can only imagine I would've had a heart attack had the Yankees attempted to do something like this. I hate bunts to begin with; bunting with two outs would've probably made my head explode).
From there, the damage only worsened. Borbon easily stole second. Andrus singled allowing Borbon to speed around the bases and score. Of course, Andrus then made it to second on the throw home. Michael Young promptly did what he does best and singled on a line drive to center field, thus resulting in yet another run from second base. The rest, as they say, is history. What could have been a relatively harmless inning became devastating due to excellent base running.
Tonight, the Yankees will have to face the Rays. If it were any other team, I'd say they were probably considering mimicking the Rangers' aggressive play. In this instance, the Rays don't need to alter their strategy because they always do that! I'm not entirely sure how the Yankees plan on mitigating this type of offensive play, but one smart place to start would be to stop allowing the lead off walk.