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Top of the Yankees Lineup Has Gotten Back To Business


(New York Daily News)

The Yankees eked out a close one yesterday, as they were saved by another strong performance by Shane Greene and a timely hit by the captain. This much-needed win halted a five game losing streak that dropped the Yanks to 8 games back in the AL East and 4.5 back of the Tigers for the second wild card spot. The streak also decreased the Yankees playoff odds (per BaseballProspectus.com’s postseason probabilities metric) from 26% on August 8 to 6% at the conclusion of Friday’s 5-0 loss to the Rays.

The Yankees followed up yesterday’s win with another victory in St. Petersburg this afternoon. While the 3 runs the Bombers have scored in each of the past two games haven’t exactly been, well, bombing, they’re certainly encouraging. This is because they are largely the product of the top of the lineup’s efforts, something that was sorely missed during the five game slide.

The Yankees offense was largely dormant over the weeklong drought. The team, which has scored a middling 3.9 runs per game on the season, gave themselves little chance to win as they averaged 1.4 runs over the five games against the Indians, Orioles, and Rays. This was partly caused by the lack of production from the three guys—Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and Jacoby Ellsbury—that make up the top of the Yankees lineup.

Gardner performed poorly out of the leadoff spot, with a .150/.191/.300 slash line as his team failed to pick up a victory. Gardner couldn’t seem to make solid contact, as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was only .188. Gardner only scored one run, didn’t drive in any, and didn’t steal any bases.

Jeter likewise failed to make much of an offensive impact. He batted .200/.200/.250 without scoring a run and collected only one RBI. Strikeouts weren’t his problem but, like Gardner, he failed to hit the ball hard, as his BABIP was .235 against the low-.300s mark he’s posted for the season. The captain left 5 men on base in the 5 game slump.

Jacoby Ellsbury is a bit of a different case. His .222/.300/.444 line, while still poor, looks a lot better than those of the two men who precede him in the Yankees lineup. It isn’t quite as good, however, when you consider that his production was almost entirely concentrated within the first two games of the streak. Ellsbury turned in two 2-hit games, including a solo home run in the August 10th 4-1 loss to the Orioles. Ellsbury proceeded to embark on a 0-for-19 hitless stretch that he only broke today. Ellsbury’s problem stemmed both from whiffs and balls in play. He struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances, versus 15.7% for the entire season, and sported a .250 BABIP, much lower than his .303 BABIP for the season.

In short, the top of the lineup has been as cold as a dead fish. This isn’t a recipe for winning baseball, especially if your bullpen is going to give up 6 home runs en route to a 9.22 ERA in five games. It is essential for the first three men in the lineup to pick up the slack and not leave the brunt of the run scoring to the bottom half. In the Yankees’ 63 wins this season, the batters who have occupied the top three slots have hit .305/.369/.471. By contrast, they’ve slashed .229/.286/.340 in 59 losses. The Yankees, like any team, depend upon the top of their lineup to get on base and score or drive in runs.

That’s why it was so refreshing to see Gardner, Jeter, and Ellsbury producing again this weekend. In the two wins against the Rays, they reached base 5 times, scored 2 runs, drove in 4 more, and spurred the team with key hits. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the bullpen did its part, holding both leads without giving up a run.

If the Yankees hope to make a run for the second wild card spot, they’ll need the bullpen to deliver more performances like these and the starting rotation to continue to turn in quality starts. However, perhaps most importantly, they’ll need these three men to drive the Yankees offense.