When one thinks of the Yankees’ major league-leading offense this season, names like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter usually steal the spotlight. But as the 2009 regular season draws to a close and the playoffs begin, it appears that opposing pitchers will need to be equally wary of designated hitter Hideki Matsui.
Matsui has been dealing with inflammation in his left knee for most of the year — a troublesome injury for a left-handed hitter because due to weight distribution — but he still has enjoyed one of his most productive campaigns in the States.
Entering Monday night’s makeup game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Matsui owns a .275/.366/.510 line and has slammed 24 homers in just 440 at-bats. The .510 slugging percentage is Godzilla’s best since 2004, and the .875 OPS is his best since an injury-shortened 2006.
Matsui is one of two Yankees starters — the other being Nick Swisher — who have contributed more on the road than at the new Yankee Stadium this year. Though Matsui has split his home run totals equally, launching a dozen at home and a dozen on the road, the Japanese import’s OPS is more than 100 points higher away from the Bronx (.951 to .815).
Because he’s typically the fifth- or seventh-place hitter in Joe Girardi’s lineup, Matsui is easy to overlook, with flashier batters sandwiching him in the order. But doing so can be lethal, as the Baltimore Orioles’ staff learned in a 13-3 rout Sunday afternoon. Godzilla smacked a go-ahead two-run single in the sixth and tacked on a three-run tater in an eight-run eighth.
Matsui has done his best work with men on base, batting .313 in that situation and .302 when those runners are in scoring position. Godzilla has taken full advantage of pitchers getting lazy out of the stretch, feasting on fastballs left up in the zone to drive in runs. Only Teixeira (109) and A-Rod (84) have more RBIs for the Bombers than Matsui (81) this season, and Teixeira has had the benefit of 142 extra at-bats.
Perhaps most importantly, Matsui has fared well against the American League’s other playoff contenders, most notably the Red Sox, Tigers, and Rangers. Matsui has hit seven of his 24 jacks against Boston and Texas, while sporting a .440 on-base percentage against Detroit. He’ll look to improve on a 4-for-18 effort against the Halos when the Yankees meet them at home on Monday night and in a three-game series at Anaheim next week.
With monthly OPS averages over .900 in July, August, and thus far in September, Matsui is trending upward at the right time. If he’s able to maintain that pattern and his performance against the other playoff-bound clubs, Godzilla could be an invaluable weapon for the Yankees in October.
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