If there was one thing that defined the Yankees for the first three months of the season, it was inconsistency. Every three-game win streak seemed to be followed by a three-game losing streak, every surge in the standings muted by a subsequent slide back to the pack in the crowded AL East.
The erratic performance of the rotation was undoubtedly a huge reason why the Yankees struggled to build momentum in the early part of the season. The steadying force of their lockdown bullpen, though, helped to offset some of those problems with the starting staff. However, it could do little to counter another key roster issue that frequently stalled the team — a top-heavy lineup featuring four bright, shiny stars and five massive black holes.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira shouldered much of the offensive load from the one-through-four spots in the order during the first few months, while the bottom half of the order languished, providing little support to the Big Four. This imbalance did have one positive by-product — first-inning runs! — but the lack of length in the lineup also made it really difficult to manufacture any sort of rally when the Yankees’ starting pitcher inevitably coughed up that early lead. Through the end of June, the team had yet to come back and win a game after trailing by more than three runs.
Over the past few weeks, however, the bottom of the lineup has suddenly caught fire and started to pull its weight on offense. Since the All-Star break, the regular bottom-of-the-order hitters — Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, John Ryan Murphy, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan — are each hitting at least .275 with OPS’s above .800.
Perhaps the most important part of their offensive surge is that they’ve also become key run producers. In the second half of the season, the 7-8-9 hitters have combined for 39 of the team’s 114 RBIs (34 percent), a much higher rate than came from those same lineup slots in the first half of the season (21 percent). That’s led to some explosive innings and high-scoring games recently. They’ve scored 12-or-more runs four times in their last seven games, after doing that just four times in their first 92 games.
With this dramatic improvement from the bottom of the order, the Yankees now have arguably the deepest and most dangerous lineup one-through-nine in the majors. They have eight guys with at least 200 plate appearances and a park-adjusted OPS better than the league average, the most such players of any team in baseball. They also have an MLB-high seven guys with an offensive WAR of 1.5 or better, and not a single position player on the active roster has a negative total WAR.
A lopsided lineup that once was riddled with question marks and clogged by inconsistency at the bottom has been transformed into a balanced, machine-like offense capable of putting up crooked numbers on a daily basis. With few automatic outs in the lineup and more guys capable of providing an offensive spark, the Yankees should present a ton of problems for opposing pitching staffs over the final two months of the season. Now, about stabilizing that rotation …