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Troubles linger for Yankee offense despite small sample size success

USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season there were major concerns about the Yankees' ability to score runs. Those concerns seemed to be justified when they opened the season 1-4 without scoring more than four runs in any of those five games, but since then, the Yankees have shown the ability to put up some crooked numbers, the stop-gap and last-chance veterans have come up big, and everyone has calmed down.

Not so fast. The Yankees scored 25 runs in consecutive games against the Indians, but that outburst accounted for 28 percent of their runs through their first 18 games. Take those two games away, and the Yankees have averaged just four runs per game in the other 16 and scored more than four runs in just four of those 16 contests. The Yankee offense is no healthier than you thought it was after those first five games, it just had the fortune to face two broken pitchers in Cleveland in Ubaldo Jimenez, who has a 10.06 ERA on the season and a 5.63 ERA across 46 starts for Cleveland, and Carlos Carrasco, who was making his first major league start since Tommy John surgery and was promptly farmed out to Triple-A after getting lit up by the Yankees' makeshift lineup.

What about those crazy small-sample battling lines from Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youklis, and Francisco Cervelli, you ask? Well, Youkilis is 4 for his last 28 with no extra base hits or walks and eight strikeouts and hasn't played since being removed in the middle of Saturday's game due to back pain. Hafner's home run stroke is still working, but he has hit just .250 with a .357 on-base percentage over his last eight games, essentially the level of performance he'd been giving the Indians in recent years. That's not a terrible level, but Hafner doesn't play against lefties, against whom the Yankees are really scuffling, and is almost a lock to get hurt at some point during the season.

So, really, what's propping the Yankee attack up is Robinson Cano, Wells, Cervelli and a few well-timed Hafner homers. Meanwhile, the team's first-basemen (mostly Lyle Overbay) are hitting .243/.274/.386, the right fielders (mostly Ichiro Suzuki) are hitting .232/.270/.348, and the shortstops (primarily Eduardo Nunez) are hitting .183/.257/.250. Those three spots in the lineup are doing as much harm as the hot starts by Wells and company are doing good, and the players who could fill those holes, the injured Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter, are not yet close to returning with mid-May being the earliest we're likely to see either of the first two and Jeter now out until after the All-Star break.

The good news with regard to that last is that Nuñez is the most likely of those three out-machines to perk up at the plate. Yes, Suzuki has the best track record, but at 39, there's a legitimate chance that he's simply finished as a productive player. Indeed, he was hitting just .261/.288/.353 before being acquired by the Yankees last July and hit just .277/.308/.361 over the last two seasons even with his hot finish with the Yankees last year included. Likewise, Overbay has become the definition of a replacement player having joined the Yankees, his fourth team in three years, as a free agent just a week before the season started after hitting .239/.315/.369 over the last two seasons and being worth roughly a half a win below replacement.

Nuñez's raw numbers aren't a great deal better than those of Overbay and Suzuki (.271/.317/.387 over the last two years), but his being a shortstop makes those numbers acceptable in a way they just aren't coming from first base and right field, which are supposed to be automatic sources of offense. Nuñez takes an 0-for-13 slump into Tuesday's game and is just 3-for-30 since the end of the season-opening series against the Red Sox, but he's putting the ball in play (three of his nine strikeouts this season came on Opening Day), and sooner or later those balls are going to start dropping.

Still, Nuñez putting up league-average numbers for a shortstop isn't going to compensate for the coming cooling off of Wells and Cervelli. What's more, it won't be the 2009 version of Mark Teixeira coming off the disabled list whenever he is ready to return. It will be last year's greatly diminished model with a recently healed wrist. Look for Teixeira to have his usual April struggles in his first full month back, which will likely be June, and speaking of rusty swings, Curtis Granderson hasn't had a full at-bat in a game since October.

All of which is to say they might be playing those two games against the Indians on "Yankees Classics" come August, because we may not see many of those outbursts this season. Despite a handful of hot starts and those two stat-skewing outbursts, the concerns about the Yankee offense remain and seem unlikely to be convincingly quieted any time soon.

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