When the Yankee lineup was released before Tuesday’s game, there were two noticeable aspects to it.
The first was that Robinson Cano was hitting third against a right-handed pitcher. The second was that the lineup contained five straight left-handed hitters.
The Yankees do not necessarily like to do that, though they have done it with four straight lefties at the top once this season. (keep reading to find out when). The combination of right-handed hitters and switch hitters currently unavailable along struggling right-handed bats helped that lineup happen.
Also influencing the decision is the opposition.
A team does not reach to 19 losses in the first 27 games without a whole slew of negative statistics and the one relevant to employing this type of lineup was the .319 batting average left-handed hitters have accumulated off Houston’s pitching, including the .468 mark against Philip Humber.
“They did a good job tonight,” Girardi said. “We knew that Humber had struggled with lefties this year and a lot of my lefties I’m going to leave in against a lefty anyways, so I decided I’m going to stack them.”
That’s how Brett Gardner led off followed by Ichiro Suzuki. That’s how Travis Hafner hit behind Cano for the second time this season. That’s how Brennan Boesch was the starting fifth-place hitter for the third time.
Granted the Astros are playing worse than anyone in the American League, so it probably was not surprising that it would be a productive grouping.
The final stats on those five were 8-for-21 with four runs scored and four RBI. The bulk of the hitting was produced by Ichiro, Cano and Hafner who went 8-for-14 but Gardner and Boesch helped out and those five reached base 13 times.
Among the ways everyone helped was Gardner starting the game with a walk, stealing second and breaking for first as soon as Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez threw to first base in an attempt to get Ichiro. That led to Hafner lining a single to left field that allowed Gardner to easily score.
The manufacturing aspect came up again in the third. Ichiro struck out swinging but reached on a wild pitch. With one out, he stole second on the first pitch to Hafner. That put the Astros in a shift and Hafner poked a curveball up the middle.
“They were great,” Girardi said of Hafner’s at-bats. “He didn’t get the big home run for us but he got three hits with runners in scoring position. You just see that his approach is good and he’s been great in that four-hole for us and with all the people that we have out, he’s really done a good job in our lineup.”
In the fifth, the theme was productive out. Ichiro reached on another infield single to third, took second on a single by Cano. A wild pitch forced the Astros to intentionally walk Hafner and although Boesch grounded into a force play, his avoidance of the double play allowed a run to score and the inning to continue.
Going into the eighth, it didn’t seem like those five were going to get up again (four now because Vernon Wells batted for Boesch). That inning proved even more important as Hafner singled.
Hafner had a three-hit game and all were singles. His night was a key component of a 9-for-25 night by the six left-handed bats. The top five in the lineup were 6-for-17 with men on base and 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
That group had all singles and 12 of the 15 hits were not for extra bases. The combination of capitalizing on breaks created by inferior opposition and making things happen without sending the ball over the fence led to key run creation.
And because of that, the Yankees have produced 16 wins while scoring 120 runs. They have produced their most wins in April under Girardi by averaging 4.6 runs per game 8.8 hits.
And a lot has to do with those lefty bats regardless of where they’re placed.
Overall they’re hitting .294, averaging 5.1 hits and 17.3 at-bats. Last night the nine hits and 25 at-bats were the second-highest totals produced by the lefties.
They had those opportunities because at the top of the lineup, you’re more likely to see more at-bats.
“That’s kind of why you want to put them there,” Lyle Overbay, “Those guys are going to set the tone. If you get in the late innings you’re going to pinch hit at some point but the most at-bats are going to be against Humber, so I don’t think it’s too big of a deal.
“It’s just something that in the right situation, Gardy’s leadoff and Ichi can spread the ball around and do what he’s capable of. It’s a good lineup.”
The previous best was 13-for-26 on April 9 in a 14-1 win at Cleveland but that was a night where the lineup had two lefties at the top in Gardner and Cano while alternating the rest of the way through.
As the Yankees have evolved into a team that is playing well, so have the left-handed hitters as evidenced below by the progression.
The season began with the left-handed bats hitting .202 (18-for-89). As the Yankees began rebounding, the lefties batted .375 (36-for-96) while reaching .500.
In the third week of the season as the Yankees went over .500 for good, those bats “cooled” by hitting .307 (32-for-104) and the record moved to 10-6.
In the fourth week, the Girardi tried stacking the lefties for the first time when he had Gardner, Ichiro, Cano and Hafner 1-2-3-4 on April 24. That night Girardi guessed wrong as they went 2-for-15 against Alex Cobb and left-handed hitters were 3-for-21. That was part of a brief slump of three losses in four games when the lefties batted .205 (14-for-68)
That was not stunning since through Monday, Tampa Bay had allowed a .240 average to lefties. Toronto allows a .252 average (through Monday) and started three lefties in Mark Buehrle, Aaron Laffey and J.A. Happ. In those three games, the Yankee lefties hit .326 (15-for-46) and although they were 4-for-16 against R.A. Dickey Sunday that accounted for all three runs.
The Yankees face a lefty who is not pitching well in Erik Bedard Wednesday.
They face right-handers A.J. Griffin and Bartolo Colon over the weekend against Oakland. Lefties are hitting .260 (13-for-50) off Griffin and .237 (14-for-59) off Colon, which is a vast difference than Humber’s performance against those hitters.
That being said, you’d still like to see the performance improve against lefties. The Yankees are batting .213 as a team against southpaws but the left-handed bats are at .235 after batting .300 over the weekend against Toronto, so perhaps they’re making progress in that aspect of things.