If there's one player the Yankees miss, it's Mark Teixeira. Teixeira was a vital part of the New York offense all season, and with a 2015 return from his shin injury looking increasingly unlikely, the Yankees need to find a way to at least partially make up for the loss of his bat. Greg Bird has done a fine job filling in at first base, but it's no secret that Bird is hardly a Teixeira-level offensive threat (dare I add the word "yet?"). Teixeira needs to be filled in for, and Chase Headley is a crucial part of that.
Carlos Beltran is hitting, and Alex Rodriguez is coming alive again. The Yankees can bemoan the cooling of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, but they'll still do their thing on the whole, and will likely heat back up at some point soon. Brian McCann will contribute his home runs. Bird's dose of power is certainly welcome. Didi Gregorius has been legitimately good. Stephen Drew is hitting over .200 and that's got to count for something. That leaves us with Headley. There's no denying Chase Headley has been fantastic in the second half. He's hit .301/.381/.422 since the All-Star break, which is good for a 125 wRC+. That kind of bat lengthens the Yankee lineup quite a bit, and is even more important with Teixeira on the shelf.
That's why Headley's .148/.233/.148 line this month is not ideal in the slightest. It's only over a sample of 30 plate appearances of course, but it's still something that needs to be fixed immediately. Slumps are slumps and slumps happen. Nothing can be done to prevent them. Headley is not Barry Bonds, and should not be held to a slump-free standard by any stretch of the imagination. However, this slump comes at a very inopportune time. With the Blue Jays stubbornly refusing to behave like anything but a pantheon of hitting gods, the Yankees need every last scrap of positive production they can get their hands on. The Bombers are still quite likely to make the playoffs even though they sit outside of first place. As of this writing, FanGraphs gives the Yankees a 98.6% chance of reaching the postseason. Yet if things stay as they currently stand, the playoffs will come in the form of a sudden death Wild Card game. The Blue Jays are now in town to begin what may be the most important four-game stretch the Yankees have played all season. It would be a heck of a time for Headley to start hitting again.
Two things have conspired to shoot Headley's offensive game in the foot this month. He's struck out in a third of his 30 plate appearances, and he's managed just a .235 batting average on balls in play. In those 30 plate appearances, he's faced a tough group of pitchers including a decent version of Rick Porcello, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Zach Britton, and the good version of Ubaldo Jimenez. To be sure, his month could be going better.
It's normally somewhat lazy to suggest a certain player has to step up in dire circumstances and put the team on his back. The most uninteresting form of sports commentary is delivered in the language of soundbites and colloquialisms. It weaves stories of "gamers" and dirty uniforms and thriving under spotlights. It revels in its usage of clichés. Football season is now upon us and we'll all be hearing quite a bit of this kind of commentary in the coming months. It's normally somewhat lazy to indulge in this form of analysis. However, the series with Toronto is nothing if not a chance for the Yankees to shift the momentum in the AL East and shatter the current balance of power. The past month has often involved looking up the ongoing scores of the night to see just how badly the Blue Jays are destroying their opponents. We do it, and the Yankees have admitted it to doing it as well. It's almost become a basic fact of life that the Blue Jays are winning and that the Yankees have to do everything in their power to keep up.
This series is a chance to change that. Chase Headley breaking out of his slump would go a long way to helping the Yankees retake first place and sending the Blue Jays back into the the Wild Card game. This series will be won and lost on heroic back-breaking moments, and it's time for Chase Headley to become a threat once again.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.