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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Yankees, Unobstructed — June 21

England hasn't won, France hasn't won, Spain hasn't won, this World Cup has been bana....wait, baseball is still on? Ugh, fine. We can talk about that.

The Yankees have recaptured first place! They've got the best record in baseball and they lead the division by a whopping one game over two teams.

Two teams? The Rays and who? While New York and Tampa have busied themselves squabbling with each other, slowly — stealthily even — the Boston Red Sox have become an unstoppable winning-machine, capable of destroying everything that's good and holy in this world....well, at least in this American League East.

But even with the (somewhat fading) Tampa Bay Rays and (totally resurgent) Boston Red Sox breathing down their necks, there's plenty for the Yankees to be thrilled about. Their pitching has been for the most part, stellar, and one through nine, the batting lineup now only has a single hole. Albeit a very big hole. The #4 spot. Álex Rodriguez.

Currently on pace for his lowest home run total since his sophomore campaign — way back in 1997 — ÁROD has just not had the "pop" we're accustomed to. He doesn't get on top of pitches as much, so he's been driving the ball less and less. And when he does drive the ball, it tends to go flat. It seems like once every two games, a ball leaves ÁROD's bat looking like a home run, only to find itself just shy of the warning track. They are pitches he used to hit for home runs, and swings that used to signal home runs. Only this season they've been long, frustrating, fly outs.

(Full Disclosure: I used the #4 pick in one of my fantasy baseball drafts for Rodriguez, so I keep an especially close watch on his production (or lack thereof).)

That isn't to say he's a waste in the clean-up spot. ÁROD is part of the growing contingent of Yankee hitters who have been shouting "Stop letting us load the bases!" to the rest of baseball.

The LoHud Yankee Blog's Josh Thomson explains:

The Yankees lead the bigs with seven grand slams (Alex Rodriguez, 2; Jorge Posada, 2; Teixeira; Curtis Granderson; Robinson Cano) after belting three this homestand alone. But check out these stats: the club is batting .420 with 37 hits and 103 RBI with the bags juiced this season.

The production already dwarfs last season when the team hit just three slams all year. Even the club record is in jeopardy this season; it sits at 10, which was accomplished in 1987 (thank Don Mattingly for that).

Postgame Notes: Yank homers are grand

Prediction time!

The fates of a lineup's third and fourth hitters are often inextricably intertwined, and so far this season, the Yankees three and four guys (Mark Teixeira and ÁROD) have both contributed lackluster production. But Tex has hit two homers in the last two games (and three in the last six), which might mean he's finally returning to form. If the guy who's up before Rodriguez is getting on base more often, than Rodriguez is much more likely to see strikes consistently, which can only be a good thing. So the prediction is that a good Teixeira equals a strong ÁROD, which in turns equals the Yankees being able to weather the coming Boston onslaught.
NOTE: Make sure to check back every week for The Yankees, Unobstructed, BNN's Yankees opinion column.

For more of Graham Kates' sports writing, check out his True/Slant blog "Coaches in the Crosshairs" (http://trueslant.com/grahamkates).


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