At 71-43, the Yankees own the best record in baseball, but lefthanded hitters in the lineup – primarily Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson – have struggled against lefty pitching.
Bruce Chen entered the game as the fourth consecutive lefty starter to face the Yankees and, despite a weakness against southpaws, the Yankees’ lineup did well in Thursday night’s 4-3 win over the Royals.
Granderson entered the game batting .206 against lefties, but he singled in the second to drive in the first run of the game and doubled off Chen in the fourth. Austin Kearns had the biggest blast in the fourth, his first homer as a Yankee, to put New York up 3-0.
Although the Bombers took care of business against Chen, the three previous starters they faced were superior lefties, the type that could oppose the Yankees in October. If stellar starters like Jon Lester, C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee were test of postseason readiness for the Yankees, they fell below a passing grade. All three reached high pitch counts early but handled the Yankees: Lester through six and one-third shutout innings, Wilson held the Yanks to two runs in five and one-third and Lee gave up four runs in just over six innings, but he also struck out 11 batters. The Yankees won only one of those games, Tuesday’s game against Lee thanks to a comeback against the Texas bullpen.
Southpaw pitchers snuffed lefthanded Yankee hitters in the three games from Monday through Wednesday, as Robinson Cano went 1-for-6, Gardner went 1-for-6 with three strikeouts and Granderson went 0-for-5 with one strikeout. Granderson did not start Tuesday or Wednesday and Gardner was out of the lineup Monday and Thursday
GM Brian Cashman brought in Lance Berkman and Kearns to supplant Granderson and Gardner and bolster the lineup against lefties. While Berkman has struggled with just one hit in the last four games, Kearns has shined. Over the last four games Kearns is 6-for-13 with two runs scored and was crucial in Wednesday’s comeback win and Thursday's victory.
It is unclear whether there will be postseason repercussions from decreasing the number of at-bats for Gardner and Granderson, outfielders who were everyday players before the trade deadline (with the exception of Granderson during his time on the DL). Kearns has shown up big lately, but what will the lineup look like in a playoff game versus a top-notch righty like Matt Garza or Gavin Floyd? Will Gardner and Granderson be sharp enough after riding the bench and getting extra days off between playoff games?
“I tinker with my swing all the time this is no big deal,” Granderson told reporters before the game. We’ll see if tinkering with the lineup becomes a bigger deal.