Not much else can describe the power display Alfonso Soriano has put on this week at Yankee Stadium. With 13 RBIs and 4 home runs in two games, Soriano finds himself in the midst of a definitive hot streak. His recent surge has made the newly acquired outfielder MLB’s 2nd half leader in RBIs and home runs, and, by providing the Yankees the jolt of offensive power they’ve been missing all year long, he’s brought his team to the verge of completing a big sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.
The terrific success the Yankees have enjoyed the last couple of games make it easy to forget that, not too long ago, New York's lineup was in shambles. On July 24th, the day before Soriano was traded to New York, Brent Lillibridge (and his horrendous .176 batting average) was hitting second, Vernon Wells was in the cleanup slot, and no one in the 5-9 spots had a BA above .250. Three Yankee starters were hitting below the Mendoza Line, the team was quickly losing ground in the AL East, and no one had hit a home run since before the All-Star break.
A key member of the World Series winning Yankee teams of 1999 and 2000, Soriano has 21 RBIs in 17 games since his return to the Bronx, providing some much needed power and pop for a team that is 22nd in the majors in runs scored. Soriano has been one of the better run producers in the game this year; he’s in in the top 20 in runs batted in, and he’s the only Yankee not named Robinson Cano that, for the season, is in the top seventy-five in RBIs. Soriano’s 8 dingers since the All-Star break also make him the Major League leader in home runs in that span, tying him with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and emerging star Paul Goldschmidt. For a Yankees team that’s struggled to score runs all season, averaging a paltry 3.92 runs per game (about a run per game worse than last year, and almost 2 runs per game worse than their home run happy teams from two and three years ago), this kind of production is coming just in the nick of time. With a 5 game deficit to make up in the Wild Card, the Yankees have to start scoring more runs and winning more ballgames, and winning them now, to have any shot at making the playoffs.
Simply put, Soriano’s been hitting the homers and driving in the runs the Yankees have failed to score all season long.
While his numbers are somewhat skewed by Soriano’s incredible production the past two games, the fact remains that the Yankees hadn’t scored more than 10 runs in a game since May 10th. That’s over three months ago. Now they’ve done it twice in two games, mainly spurred on by the big bat of Alfonso Soriano. However, his recent success also demonstrates one of the problems with depending too greatly on Soriano: he’s a streaky hitter, and with him, it’s feast or famine. He had 8 total RBIs in fifteen games since joining the Yankees before exploding for 13 RBIs in the past two contests against the Angels. At the beginning of the season with the Cubs, Soriano had a lone home run and just 2 RBIs in the month of April. Then, in the first week of May, he smacked 2 home runs and had 7 RBIs in just three games.
So while it sometimes takes him a while to get hot, once he does, he’s the kind of cleanup hitter to give pitchers nightmares.
Although his batting average (just .258 since coming to New York) leaves something to be desired, simply having Soriano in the lineup makes the Yankees a better team. Soriano provides the Yankees with a much needed right-handed hitter, giving Girardi a better balance of right-handers and left-handers in his batting order, a balance that Girardi craves (and will sometimes unbelievably hit Cano second just to preserve). But Soriano's main contribution to the cause is his power. Even though he can’t possibly stay as hot as he is currently, Soriano will still be a dangerous hitter down the stretch as the Yankees make a final push for the playoffs. With A-Rod starting to swing the bat better (he’s hit safely in each of his last four games), and Cano relatively certain to break out of his second-half funk (a .276 average since the break, but a .322 hitter in September for his career), Soriano could prove to be the Yankees’ X-factor. If he can keep producing as he’s done since the Yankees acquired him, the Yankees will finally have the offense they’ve been desperate for all season.
Better late than never.