Outfield must carry offensive load as injuries ravage infield

Stacy Revere

They're all off to hot starts, but the Yankees will need their expensive outfielders more than ever as their infielders battle the injury bug.

With the infield dealing with an assortment of maladies, the Yankee outfielders will feel even more pressure to produce at the plate for the next few weeks. While Mark Teixeira is supposed to return this weekend, who knows how long he'll be back for, and how productive he'll be when he's out there. Outside of him, Brian Roberts is nursing a sore back, Derek Jeter's being cautious with his quad, and backup catcher/first baseman Francisco Cervelli is now on the 60-day DL, so the Yankees may not be getting a lot of offensive production from their infield for the near future. Scott Sizemore is up with the team (with no plans to sign Stephen Drew in the works), but the Yankee infield may be an offensively challenged unit for the near future.

Yangervis Solarte has been terrific so far this year, and so has Kelly Johnson (who has hit three homers in the past six games to boost his 2014 wRC+ to a 161), but outside of these two, the rest of the infielders have been average to awful at the plate. Derek Jeter has hit .286, but again, he's missed the last two games, and will no doubt miss a few more (hopefully just for a few rest days here and there, and not due to an extended DL stint - knock on wood). Dean Anna has an OBP of .222. Scott Sizemore's offensive abilities at the major league level are something of an unknown at this point after missing the past two seasons (although Sizemore has been hitting well so far in Triple-A). And frankly, even though Solarte and Johnson lead the team in wRC+ so far, I see a slump coming up for Solarte (he's got to regress at some point, right?) and Johnson, while a decent power hitter, is a bit too inconsistent to really carry an offense. And who knows if switching positions as people come back or get called up will have any effect on their hitting?

This means, outside of Brian McCann (who hasn't been much of a threat at the plate so far), the team will probably have to look to the outfield for major offensive production over the next few weeks. Luckily, the outfielders have already been doing this all along during this young season. Jacoby Ellsbury has begun the year looking like he might be worth the boatload of cash that the Yankees paid for him, hitting .362/.423/.447 with six stolen bases in seven attempts. Brett Gardner has also been terrific, batting .295/.367/.386. While they've provided little power, their outfield comrade Carlos Beltran has, hitting .311/.347/.622 while hitting three home runs and knocking in eight runs so far. With Ellsbury and Gardner getting on base in front of him, Beltran is getting ample RBI opportunities, and after starting slow, Beltran has heated up lately, hitting safely in six of the past seven games.

Even Ichiro (in a very small sample size) has hit .421, but he's appeared in nine of the thirteen games the Yankees have played If he can be serviceable at the plate, his great defense and speed on the base paths will give the Yankees lots of lineup options, depending on what pitcher is on the mound each night. Alfonso Soriano, the fifth outfielder/DH, has also been a solid offensive contributor, tying Beltran and Johnson for the team lead in homers and scoring the second most runs (behind Beltran). Overall, if Soriano is included (he's played four games in the outfield this year), the group of Ellsbury, Gardner, Beltran, Ichiro, and Soriano are tops in the team in runs, and Ellsbury, Beltran, Gardner, and Soriano are four of the top five in total hits so far this season (Solarte is second, between Ellsbury and Beltran).

With an infield that will feature Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore, Kelly Johnson, and Yangervis Solarte for the time being, the Yankees will need their outfielders to maintain their hot starts to keep pace in the AL East. If Solarte and Johnson start struggling, the Yankees will get little to no offensive production from their infield.

While, admittedly, the outfielders will have to produce all season for the Yankees to see the playoffs, it will be especially key for Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran (and to a lesser extent, Ichiro and Soriano) to keep producing at a high level during the near future, as the Yankees will be taking on the Rays, Red Sox and Angels over the next couple weeks, and all were above average offensive teams last season. If the Yankees want to keep pace in the early going, they'll need the outfielders to continue their hot hitting.

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