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Yankees playoff roster breakdown: Starting lineup

Which position players would get the nod with the Yankees' season on the line?

Alex Rodriguez: Designated seducer.
Alex Rodriguez: Designated seducer.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The past couple years were not exactly glamorous for the once-vaunted Yankees offense. Despite their famous "Bronx Bombers" moniker, they ranked among the American League's bottom five teams in terms of runs, homers, and slugging percentage, and were tied for dead last with the cellar-dwelling Astros with a 90 team wRC+. The 2015 season has been a different story entirely, as the Yankees (and their most likely Wild Card opponent, the Astros) found their groove again at the plate, and they are one of only four teams in baseball with over 200 home runs. Their 103 team wRC+ is among the league's best; even without the slugging Mark Teixeira, they pose a serious threat.

This offensive resurgence has put manager Joe Girardi in a good position for setting his lineup for the playoffs. Although there are several potential players for his different possible lineups against lefties and righties, it should not be too much of a mystery who Girardi will select. One easy clue is to inspect his lineup selection from the final series against the Blue Jays. It was as close to a playoff atmosphere as possible during that showdown. The Yankees had every reason to put their best lineups forward in a last ditch effort to make up ground in the AL East, so it was less likely that Girardi would give any regulars some rest. There were some tweaks for the subsequent series against the White Sox, but that one certainly carried less gravitas.

In that three-game set against Toronto, the Yankees faced two righties (Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada) and a lefty (David Price). These are the lineups they used:

vs. RHP vs. LHP
Jacoby Ellsbury - CF Jacoby Ellsbury - CF
Brett Gardner - LF Brett Gardner - LF
Alex Rodriguez - DH Alex Rodriguez - DH
Brian McCann - C Brian McCann - C
Carlos Beltran - RF Carlos Beltran - RF
Greg Bird - 1B Chase Headley - 3B
Chase Headley - 3B Greg Bird - 1B
Dustin Ackley - 2B Didi Gregorius - SS
Didi Gregorius - SS Dustin Ackley - 2B

The top six spots in the lineup are identical in each version, and that is certainly understandable. These are the Yankees' most important offensive contributors, expected to hit both lefthanded and righthanded pitching equally. For most of the first half, righty outfielder Chris Young received a great deal of playing time against southpaws given his ability to mash them, but at this point, the Yankees would have to bench someone too important to get him into the lineup. Ellsbury and Gardner bring immense value on defense in addition to being the lineup's tablesetters, A-Rod's power has makes him an indispensable DH, and Beltran has been the Yankees' best hitter of the second half. Those are the breaks, but Young could still have an opportunity to contribute by pinch-hitting for one of the lineup's lower lefties later on.

The lineups finally vary in the 6-7 spots, where Bird and and Headley were flip-flopped when Price took the mound. This switch made plenty of sense, as Headley is a switch-hitter, and despite his flashy numbers, Bird is still a rookie lefty hitter without much of a resume to his name. Either way, it doesn't make that much of a difference. They're both clearly starting and playing the whole game, barring injury or the need for a pinch-runner. Whether one bats sixth or seventh is a nitpick.

Didi Gregorius will also be starting at shortstop no matter what, and again, whether he bats eighth or ninth is superfluous. Second base is really the only position in the lineup that could feature a different player depending on who is pitching. Ackley has been red hot in September, batting .324/.350/.703 with seven extra-base hits in 16 games, snatching the starting job from an ailing Stephen Drewsidelined with dizziness and concussion-like symptoms. There is a chance that the Yankees could go with the rookie righty Rob Refsnyder or even Brendan Ryan in place of Ackley against a southpaw. Given Girardi's confidence to start Ackley with possibly the best lefty in baseball on the mound the other day in Price, it seems logical that Ackley will start regardless, even if the imposing Dallas Keuchel is the opponent. Lefties have been giving the Yankees nightmares since Teixeira went down though, so Girardi could try Refsnyder to spark the lineup in the Wild Card game.

Unless something crazy happens the last week of the season, the Yankees' Wild Card lineups look to be set. Hopefully, the offense will be up to the challenge of their first playoff game in three years.