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Contrary to popular belief, Alex Rodriguez is only one of many hitters in a lineup that is struggling to score runs.
The Yankees really have no one to blame but themselves for the fact that the ALDS has come down to a decisive Game 5 for the right to move on and play the Detroit Tigers. The pitching staff has held the Orioles' hitters mostly in check, but the Yankee offense is full of struggling hitters that aren't coming through in big spots with few exceptions.
Derek Jeter has continued doing what he's done all season so far in the playoffs, but the problem is that the Captain doesn't have the power to put runs on the board at will when others aren't on base to be driven in and aren't hitting behind him once he gets on. Jeter's admittedly small sample size success so far is, possibly surprisingly, followed by Mark Teixeira, who has managed a .333 average in the playoffs so far. Watching some of his frustrating at bats alone, it might not appear that he's come through, but he is hitting and that's more than most of the lineup can say for themselves.
Aside from those two hitters, the remaining regulars are really struggling. I'm not sure I've seen Curtis Granderson look so bad at the plate since he was barely used as more than a platoon player in 2010. Nearly all of his swings aren't even close, and he's expanded the zone so much that pitches on ground look as hittable to him as something down the middle, even in favorable hitting counts. No one in baseball was as hot as Robinson Cano to end the regular season, but he's failed to do much of anything offensively in the series against the Orioles. He's unquestionably the best hitter on the team, but he's unfortunately hitting like just another guy in a lineup that looks rather lost at the moment.
Then there's Alex Rodriguez. You would think he was single-handedly responsible for the fact that this team is struggling on offense right now, but he actually left less men on base last night than Nick Swisher or Cano. A-Rod certainly isn't hitting either, but acting as if someone else has hit well enough to earn being moved into his spot is simply incorrect. Until a better option presents itself, no matter where you bat struggling hitters, they will come up in an important situation at some point. If it isn't A-Rod, it'll be a flailing Granderson, or a lost Swisher. Putting the blame solely at his doorstep is just ignoring the obviousness of the Yankee offense right now.
So, what can Joe Girardi do? CC Sabathia was brilliant in the series opener, but the team very nearly got him the loss before Russell Martin came through against Jim Johnson. How can you hide so many current weak spots in a game that is the difference between at least four more games and booking tee times with the Red Sox? The first step is probably not to cave into the pressure from the fans and media. Two nights ago, Girardi flipped the right switch by giving the red-hot Raul Ibanez the bat at the right time. Giving him one at bat tonight for Jayson Nix, who had actually gotten two hits on the night and necessitated putting Eduardo Nunez in the field in a tie game, was a poor use of resources. Derek Jeter couldn't go to shortstop because of his injury and Ibanez is a liability in the field, but the Girardi's timing of using the previous night's hero was questionable at best.
To end last night's game, though, Girardi called upon Eric Chavez who had failed to do much of anything on offense the night before. With all respect to the fine season Chavez has had, he hasn't come up big like Ibanez has recently, and the move of putting him in for A-Rod in the 12th seemed pretty suspect to me. Had Alex taken that final at bat of the game and struck out, he'd have heard it from the entirety of Yankee Stadium, but not letting him take it will fuel the frenzy even more because it seems like Girardi has lost all confidence in a player who simply isn't going anywhere.
I don't believe that batting order matters as much as people would like to pretend it does sometimes, but Joe Girardi has to manage this game carefully if the Yankees want to still be playing come tomorrow. Would you bench Curtis Granderson, who seems like he wouldn't find a metal baseball with a magnet glued to his bat? Who do you put in his place if that's the call you make, and is a bad series even enough to put 43 home runs on the bench in a game that is must-win? Do you cave into the A-Rod hating and bat him even lower than 5th, despite the fact that no one has proven they deserve his spot and he has good numbers against the opposing pitcher? What would your lineup for Game 5 be?
I'm just glad I'm not the one who has to make these decisions.