Who would have thought a year ago that the only two 2012 Opening Day holdovers in the Yankees’ 2013 lineup Monday would be Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner?
But that’s the reality in the Bronx as the Yankees host the rival Red Sox this afternoon.
Three of the nine hitters in last year’s opener (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez) moved on via free agency. The other four (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson) are out with injuries for as little as a week to as much as half the season or more.
The injuries are a cause for alarm. Without four of the five best hitters in their lineup, the Yankees are expected to regularly feature Lyle Overbay at first base, former Boston foe Kevin Youkilis at third base, Eduardo Nunez at shortstop and Vernon Wells in leftfield.
Jeter could be back very soon, but Overbay and Wells, who weren’t on the Yankees roster a week ago, are going to be in the lineup most days for at least a month.
There’s a significant power drop-off between the two and the players they replace in the lineup, Granderson and Teixeira. Granderson had more home runs in each of the past two Aprils than Wells had in the last two Aprils combined. The same can be said of Teixeira and Overbay. And as bad as Teixeira’s .213 April batting average has been during the past three years, Overbay’s is a barely-better .215 in 41 less at bats over the same span.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Cano is clearly the top hitter the Yankees have, regardless of health, and he’s playing for a new contract this year. The 30-year-old second baseman hit a career-high 33 homers last season and has accumulated a .308 career batting average.
Ichiro Suzuki, acquired last July, starts in right. Although he doesn’t take many walks, he posted a .322 average after putting on the pinstripes. The 39-year-old remains a reliable source of speed (29 stolen bases in 2012).
Gardner should be at full strength this year after missing nearly all of 2012 due to elbow troubles. Like Suzuki, Gardner will put himself in scoring position by swiping bases (96 in 2010 and 2011 combined), but he’s more willing to take a walk to get on first (. 355 career OBP).