Soriano changed Yanks' season
Alex Rodriguez has filled the Yankees' third-base void, and provided welcome on-base ability and some pop since early August. But Alfonso Soriano is New York's best second-half pickup for a more visceral and cosmic reason: He changed the narrative.
When Soriano arrived from the Cubs by trade in late July, the Yankees were in dire need of a pick-me-up. Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells had run their course as the team's cleanup hitters, and New York had gone a month without a home run from the right side of the plate.
Soriano changed all that. In his third game back, he went 4-for-5 with a home run and a walk-off single against Tampa Bay. During a memorable two-game onslaught against the Angels, he hit four homers and drove in 13 runs. Soriano hit .682 (15-for-22) over one five-game stretch, and joined Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio on a list of six players to drive in 18 runs over four.
"It's like he's playing slow-pitch softball," an incredulous A-Rod observed in mid-August.
Since his Yankees debut, Soriano leads the majors with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs, and has eight stolen bases and a .525 slugging percentage. With the exception of A-Rod's post-plunking homer off Ryan Dempster three weeks ago, he has been the focal point of just about every big moment during the Yankees' recent surge. He even made a spectacular catch to steal a home run from Manny Machado on Thursday in Baltimore.
The Yankees had no idea what they would get out of A-Rod, but they were pretty sure he would return at some point this season. Soriano, in contrast, basically fell out of the sky. Even though he was a productive player for much of his tenure in Chicago, he labored under the perception that he was a $136 million albatross for the franchise. The expectations were modest, but he has given the Yankees a big thumper and an energetic, positive presence that resonates every day in the clubhouse.
When impact midseason acquisitions come to mind, I think of Rick Sutcliffe taking charge at the top of the 1984 Cubs' rotation, not Edward Mujica shoring up the back end of St. Louis' 2012 bullpen. A-Rod has been a positive addition and a batting order stabilizer. But how many Yankees fans are going to postpone restroom visits in anticipation of his drawing a key walk out of the No. 2 hole? Since his first series, Soriano has postponed concession stand visits, restroom visits and early departures to the subway station as New York's main right-handed counterpart to Robinson Cano. More than any other single player, he has changed the storyline in the Bronx.
A-Rod swinging bat like an All-Star
When Alex Rodriguez returned to the field Aug. 5 after recovering from hip surgery, he was considered a sideshow. After all, he hadn't played all season and was in the midst of an appeal of a 211-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
That controversy has taken over the A-Rod narrative this year, and it has completed distracted the baseball world from just how valuable he has been to the Yankees on the field.
In 146 plate appearances, Rodriguez is hitting .280/.384/.480 (BA/OBP/SLG), which is good for an .864 OPS, his best mark since 2009. Among third basemen with at least 100 PAs, that OBP ranks third behind only Miguel Cabrera and David Wright, and his slugging ranks eighth. In other words, A-Rod is performing at an All-Star level.
That performance has been especially "clutch" for the Yankees, whose production from third base ranked among MLB's worst prior to A-Rod's return. Not surprisingly, going from being terrible at third to fantastic at third has worked out well in the standings, as the Yankees were 57-53 (.518 winning percentage) when A-Rod returned to action and are 22-17 (.564) since.
As for Alfonso Soriano, he has had a nice run, but what he's doing is nothing out of the ordinary. Just take a look at his line with the Yankees this year as compared to his line with the Cubs.
2013 NYY: .251/.299/.525, 15 HR
2013 CHC: .254/.287/.467, 17 HR
2012 CHC: .262/.322/.499, 32 HR
As you can see, Soriano has done pretty much what you would expect him to do. The fact that the Yankees' acquisition of him was met with a collective shrug just shows that people weren't paying attention to what he was doing on the North Side, which is what he has been doing for the past few years of his career: running into a bunch of homers while striking out a lot and playing passable defense. (It just so happens that he has run into homers a little more frequently with New York, although his average and OBP have barely moved.)
This isn't to suggest that Soriano hasn't helped the Yankees (he has), but A-Rod's return to All-Star form at a position from which the Yankees were getting no help has been far more valuable.