‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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The baton has been passed over to Robinson Cano to become the main force in the Yankees’ lineup.  Lately, Cano has taken the baton and ran with it, as he’s carrying the Bombers on his back.

Over the past 10 games, Cano has blasted seven home runs.  His timely stroke has delivered important hits in late-game situations.  On Wednesday, Cano launched the go-ahead home run that pulled the Yankees ahead of the Indians in the bottom of the 6th inning.  Eric Chavez’s 8th-inning RBI proved crucial as the Yankees won, 5-4.

Cano was undoubtedly the Yankees’ star slugger on Wednesday as he completed a 3-for-4 day, drove in two runs and scored twice.

On Sunday, Cano broke up a 5-5 deadlock in the top of the 8th at Citi Field by crushing a solo shot to straightaway center field off Mets’ reliever Miguel Batista.  The Yankees held on to win, 6-5, and haven’t looked back as they completed a sweep of the Indians on Wednesday.

Cano’s hot bat will be especially crucial in the weeks ahead, while the Yankees’ rotation is shorthanded.  CC Sabathia has been shelved on the 15-day DL with a strained groin and Andy Pettitte suffered a fractured leg that will force him to miss at least six weeks.

It’s up to Cano and the Yankees’ offense to do the heavy lifting without their two top arms available.  The Yankees are about to embark upon three important series before the All-Star break, starting with the American League Central-leading White Sox. The Bombers will then play two crucial road series against their main rivals, the Rays and Red Sox.

Cano has also been overcompensating for the regressing stars in the middle of the Yankees’ order.

Alex Rodriguez has become a shadow of his former self.  He is no longer the feared middle of the order, 120-RBI masher and perennial MVP candidate.

A-Rod is on pace for just 74 RBIs, should he play in a projected 158 games.  His slugging percentage has fallen to .438, which is a whopping 125 points below his career slugging percentage of .563.

We’ve always expected A-Rod to be a minimum 100-RBI man, but age has caught up to him.  Rodriguez will turn 37 in July and is on the Yankees’ books until 2017, when he’ll be 42.

It’s safe to say that A-Rod will continue to have his moments in pinstripes, but with far less frequency than years past.  He’s collected three home runs in his past six games, but it remains to be seen whether he can fully turn around a down season.

Mark Teixeira has gone long stretches without delivering the long ball, and his numbers continue to take a decline each season.  His on-base percentage has fallen dramatically since he’s put on the pinstripes.

2009 – .383 OBP

2010 – .365 OBP

2011 – .341 OBP

2012 – .328 OBP

Teixeira’s slugging percentage has dipped to .450 in 2012, 44 points below his 2011 mark of .494.

Meanwhile, Cano is putting together the finest season of his career.  His on-base+slugging (OPS) of .953 is a career-best.  He is currently projected to finish with 39 home runs, demolishing his previous high of 29 — should he stay healthy.

At 29, Cano is putting it all together.  He’s finally discovered the power stroke that scouts and baseball analysts expected him to one day master.  Cano is now a legitimate all-around offensive juggernaut as he’s added power to his assortment of abilities at the plate.

As players around him in the Yankees’ lineup continue to age and regress, Cano is stepping up and becoming the key man that Yankees fans can pin their hopes upon for years to come.

What do you predict Cano’s line will be at the end of the season? Sound off with your comments below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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