By James Ward
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This Yankees team is too good to be 23-21 on May 25th, or is it?
Last year’s team won 97 games in the regular season and were favored to win the World Series at the start of the postseason. They upgraded their starting rotation in the offseason with the additions of Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to replace A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon. So far Kuroda has been up and down, much like Burnett was as a Yankee, but Pettitte has been strong in his three starts.
The only major change to the lineup was the addition of Raul Ibanez at DH — a job filled by Jorge Posada for most of 2011. Through 44 games, Ibanez is tied with Nick Swisher for the team lead in RBI’s and second on the team in home runs — production that no one expected from him at age 40.
Anyone who has watched the Yankees this year knows that they haven’t hit with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Yankees are hitting .223 with runners in scoring position. It’s a terrible average, but I’m surprised that it’s not lower, because they never seem to get the job done.
One strength of the Yankees has always been the depth of their lineup. In the past, when the stars in the lineup struggled, the bottom of the lineup picked up the slack. Let’s face it: if first baseman Mark Teixeira, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and, to a lesser extent, Robinson Cano were doing their jobs, no one would be discussing the bottom of the Yankees’ order. But they aren’t.
In 2009, when the Yankees won the World Series, Robinson Cano primarily hit 7th, Melky Cabrera hit 8th and the 9th spot was split between Cabrera, Jose Molina and Brett Gardner.
The injury to Gardner and the demotion of Eduardo Nunez has hurt the bottom of the Yankees’ lineup tremendously. Gardner is the best 9th hitter in baseball, and his speed gives the Yankees another dimension. For all of Nunez’s defensive difficulties, he is a good Major League bat, capable of hitting leadoff or second on any team. With Nunez and Gardner hitting 8th and 9th, the Yankees had one of the deepest lineups in baseball. Instead of playing station-to-station baseball and waiting on a home run or an extra-base hit, Gardner and Nunez allowed the Yankees to manufacture runs.
With Joe Girardi’s propensity to give his aging stars frequent rest, Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise have seen a lot of action. Both players are good defensively, but neither is a good Major League hitter.
After a solid 2011 season and talks of a contract extension, Russell Martin has been in a season-long slump. He is batting .173, and even though he is a good defensive catcher and pitchers love throwing to him, he is having a terrible year at the plate.
The bottom of the lineup will be upgraded when Gardner returns, but after another setback to his elbow, the Yankees will need something else to spark them in the meantime.
In 2005, the Yankees got off to a horrible start; they finished April with a 10-14 record. In hopes of jump-starting an aging team, the Yankees called up a young second baseman to take Tony Womack’s place in the lineup. Robinson Cano never went back to the Minors, and after losing the first four games with Cano in the lineup, they rattled off 10 straight wins. The emergence of Chien-Ming Wang also sparked the team.
The Yankees of 2009 hovered around .500 until mid-June when Brian Cashman joined the team in Atlanta. After a Francisco Cervelli home run changed the momentum in the ensuing game, the Yankees went 13-2 in their next 15 games on their way to a World Series title.
Cashman joined the Yankees in Kansas City on Tuesday, and since the meeting they have won two games in a row. Will his pep talk to the club have the same results as they did in 2009?
This offense is too good not to bounce back with a vengeance soon, isn’t it? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…