Monday, April 15, 2013

Lineup Vs. Lefties Still Needs Work

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Despite having two consecutive games rained out in the middle of a major offensive outburst, the Yankees didn't miss too many beats this past weekend against Baltimore, winning the series and continuing the positive trends that we started to see last week.  Their top two starting pitchers each threw their best games to date on Friday and Sunday, combining to allow just 1 ER in 17 IP; they continued to get production from their collection of new guys as their injured lineup core mends; Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis continued to pace the middle of the lineup with patience and power, and even Brett Gardner started to show some signs of life at the plate.

There is still one key area on this team that needs to be addressed, however, and that's the lineup against lefties.  It hasn't gotten much attention lately as the Yankees have faced a long string of right-handed pitchers, but against Wei-Yin Chen last night Joe made wholesale changes to his lineup card to try and generate some more offense and, save for one inning, his changes didn't lead to much.

The most noticeable difference last night was at the top of the batting order, where Joe tried to ride the hot (and patient) bat of Vernon Wells by moving him into the 2-hole and bumping Cano and Youkilis back down to the 3 and 4 spots.  While this surely put a smile on the face of close-minded baseball people like Wally Matthews, who lamented Cano's transfer out of a traditional "run producing" spot in the order last week, it didn't bear any run producing fruit last night.  One game is hardly enough to call the experiment a failure, though, and Wells actually wouldn't be a bad option for the second spot in the order if he can continue to make solid contact and draw walks like he has early on (5 BB in 37 PA).

The problem with moving Wells up to second in the order is that it leaves the middle of the lineup behind Youkilis incredibly weak.  The idea of Ben Francisco as a DH hitting 5th in any lineup is almost as comical as watching it play out on the field, and many of his swings last night had me cursing the dugout railing that Ronnier Mustelier crashed into late in spring camp.  Ichiro has been punchless at the plate so far and got another night on the bench as a reward last night.  Brennan Boesch hit in his place, and although he did come through with a pair of singles and a run, it remains to be seen how useful he can be against LHP on a consistent basis.  Cervelli and Nix are what they are at the bottom of the order, and despite coming up with a hit last night, I think both Lyle Overbay and Joe would prefer that Overbay not be out there taking regular hacks against southpaws.

The already iffy lineup against lefties was stretched even thinner last night with the absence of Eduardo Nunez.  I imagine Joe's preference would be to stick with his Opening Day Lineup of Youkilis at first, Nunez at short, and Nix at third, and if Nunez ever gets lucky enough to stop being a target for errant pitches inside that's probably what we'll see moving forward.  But that still leaves the middle of the batting order un-addressed and it's that hole in the lineup that's more glaring than who's hitting 7th or 8th.  Even in just 10 PA, Francisco doesn't look even remotely capable of being a viable DH option, and someone from the Ichiro-Boesch tandem needs to step up and prove he's worthy of sticking in the lineup when the pitcher turns around.

Joe won't have to wait long to make his next move against LHPs.  The Yanks are scheduled to face two of them in a row on Wednesday and Thursday when the D-backs come to town.  By then Nunez should be recovered from his latest HBP and back on the field, which will make things a little easier for Joe, but there's still work to be done in trying to find the winning lineup combination against lefties.  With anywhere from 4-6 weeks until C-Grand and Teix get back, it's work worth doing to maximize the team's win potential.

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