Last night, for just the second time since July 24 when Alex Rodriguez went down with a fractured left wrist, the New York Yankees had their entire lineup in action as Mark Teixeira returned to first base. The batting order looked to be as powerful as expected, blasting four home runs in a nine-run second inning to slam the Boston Red Sox, 10-2.
The last time Joe Girardi had the ability to pencil in his best lineup it lasted one day when Teixeira came back too soon from the left calf strain on 9/8. Rodriguez has missed 40 games this season and Teixeira 39 entering tonight’s game. As of now it looks as though Teixeira made it through last night’s game without issue and is back in today’s lineup as the Yankees continue their pursuit of the American League East title.
Besides getting the middle of the lineup bats together, the rest of the order is healthy (I’m knocking on wood) and the offense is getting production from just about every spot. The Captain, Derek Jeter seems to have shaken his ankle issues which will allow him to maintain full duty at shortstop for the remainder of the season (unless the Yankees clinch tonight and decide to forgo a fight for the #1 seed, at which point we’d probably see Eduardo Nunez at short).
Robinson Cano is wielding a big stick again. He owns 80 extra base hits on the season (48 doubles, 1 triple and 31 home runs). Over the last seven games, Cano is hitting a ridiculous .621 (18-for-29) with seven doubles and one homer. He homered and doubled in the same inning during last night’s blowout victory over the Red Sox.
Nick Swisher, Ichiro Suzuki, and Curtis Granderson have all been contributing of late and the Yankees have been getting great production out of Russell Martin over the last few weeks. The missing link was Teixeira of late and Rodriguez, while present, has yet to show much since he returned a few weeks back.
A-Rod has a triple slash of .246/.314/.350 in 118 plate appearances since his return. He has just five extra base hits (2 doubles and 3 homers) during the span. His last extra base hit was a homer on September 14. With Cano on fire, A-Rod should see his fair share of good pitches, but he’s got to be able to do something with them when they arrive. As per usual Rodriguez says the right things and thinks he’ll begin to click soon enough.
“I’m gonna go out and do the best I can, just like I did” he said on September 27. “You go out, you prepare, you leave it all out there. And that’s all you can do.”
One question that remains is if Girardi will use A-Rod as a DH with right-handed pitching on the mound so that Eric Chavez, who has more than held his own offensively (.282/.349/.498 in 312 PA, including 16 HR), can man the hot corner. Otherwise the Yankees would use Raul Ibanez as the DH with a righty on the mound and I’m thinking I’d rather go with Chavez.
As for a DH with a lefty on the mound, the Yankees have some decisions to make. Chavez is hitting .153 vs. lefties (5-for-33) so he seems to be a strict platoon option. Andruw Jones, Girardi’s once favorite “I hope he gets a hold of one today” option seems to have finally been relegated to pinch-hitting duties as Nunez is in tonight’s lineup as DH, hitting eighth against Boston’s Jon Lester. The other right-handed hitters at Girardi’s disposal are Casey McGehee, Melky Mesa and Jayson Nix though he’s hurt with a hip flexor issue.
Looking ahead, the rotations and their number of lefty-starters are as follows: Baltimore Orioles (2), Texas Rangers (2), Oakland Athletics (2) and Detroit Tigers (0). When the Yankees meet a lefty starter, their lineup is simply not as good. Another option could be to use Chris Stewart behind the plate if the chips fall right and DH Martin so that he can get time off from behind the plate.
Not only does Girardi have everyone for his starting lineup at his disposal, he has a complete bench. Brett Gardner swung a bat in a Major League game for the first time since April 17 last night which provides Girardi more than just a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. If Gardner is inserted in the lineup he’ll be able to hit if his spot comes up in the order against a right-handed bat (though Gardner can handle lefties as well) which makes Girardi’s life much easier.
The long and short of it is this; the Yankees are healthier than they have been in a long time. With a complete lineup heading into the playoffs the Yankees can focus on being productive. It is easier said than done in postseason play when pitching typically takes over, but penciling in regulars into the starting lineup is certainly better than any other alternative.