Yanks take protection to new heights
Overwhelming lineup perhaps most daunting in recent memory
NEW YORK -- The offense of the New York Yankees has a certain relentless, unforgiving nature to it. You look at the Yankees lineup, you watch the at-bats and you believe that the issue of scoring runs in bunches is a question of when, not if.
It was that way during the regular season. And as the postseason opened on Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium, absolutely nothing had changed. The "when" was the third inning; six straight hits and five runs off Detroit Tigers starter Nate Robertson.
That was enough to beat the Tigers, although the Yankees of course did not stop there. In an 8-4 victory, Derek Jeter tied a postseason record with five hits. Bobby Abreu had four RBIs. You look at the way this lineup functions and the word "surplus" comes to mind. There is more than enough of everything.
Jim Leyland, the manager of the Tigers, had summed up the New York lineup about as well as anyone could earlier in the day. "It's like I told everybody," Leyland said. "They've got Murderers Row and then Cano."
That would be Robinson Cano, playing second base, batting ninth and hitting .342 for the regular season. Cano's position at the bottom of this order is obviously no reflection on him. It is more a reflection on the other eight guys, every one of them a proven Major League run producer and more.
Cano was asked on Tuesday about batting ninth, and he responded with both accuracy and modesty:
"For me, that's what I've got to be, because we've got [Gary] Sheffield, [Hideki] Matsui, [Jason] Giambi, and this is only my second year. I hit pretty good this year, .342, but for me, that's what I have to be."
That an emerging star such as Robinson Cano, with a .342 batting average, is ninth in any batting order is remarkable. But regarding this batting order, this is not even the most publicized segment. That honor would go to the sixth spot, currently occupied by Alex Rodriguez.
On one hand, it is difficult to quibble with the placement of any of the five hitters ahead of Rodriguez, each in his own way a master of the hitting art. There has been endless speculation about how manager Joe Torre may have dropped A-Rod into a lower-profile spot in order to make life in the lineup less anxiety-prone for Rodriguez.
Regardless of what factors went into this decision and how much each of the factors weighed, the fact is that the 2005 American League Most Valuable Player and the highest-paid player in all the land is batting sixth. And with the five people ahead of him, this is no kind of mistake. It might be fascinating, it might be strange, it might be different, it might be unique, but it is not wrong in the baseball scheme of things.
These Yankees are not merely powerful. They are versatile. If there was a criticism of Yankees offenses of recent seasons, it was that they were a bit too much all-or-nothing, either the long ball or very little. This approach can win division titles, but in the postseason, when runs are precious, it is not a guarantee of victory.
"This is an interesting ballclub we have this year, because we've had over the last few years more like a power team," Torre said. "And [hitting coach] Don Mattingly and I talked in the offseason about the fact that if we get into the postseason play, we're going to have to do more than that, because you're going to be facing the cream of the crop and we have to be able to move runners and things like that.
"Starting [in] Spring Training, you had the [World] Baseball Classic to deal with, so we had a lot of young players. But we had every single one of our guys hit-and-run one time or another in Spring Training -- Sheffield, Giambi -- basically get the message across that we have to do other things besides sit back and whack at it.
"This club, with the addition of Bobby Abreu and what Robinson Cano has brought to the table, has given us a diversified type of offense, and hopefully, we make it tough on the opposing pitcher. We just feel that we can do a lot of things right now."
There is no weak link in this lineup, no way to pitch around anybody in hopes of finding a soft spot. Johnny Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Sheffield, Giambi, Rodriguez, Matsui, Jorge Posada, Cano. Good luck finding the secret formula to stopping this group. As Jeter puts it: "We've got a lot of guys who are protected in this lineup."
So how great is this lineup? Some people want to make historical comparisons with other great lineups, and of course, the favorite is the 1927 Yankees. This sort of thing never ends well. It is not a case of apples and oranges. It is a case of apples and dolphins.
In 1927, the players were all Caucasians. There can be no reasonable comparison with contemporary baseball. The game is now bigger, broader, wider and better than that. In any case, these current Yankees do not require historical comparisons to validate their own impressive credentials.
This is the finest offensive lineup in baseball today. That is enough. It was enough to win another division title. And it was enough to set the Yankees on the road to October triumph in the Division Series opener. The truest test in determining baseball greatness is still ahead, but this Yankees lineup has already compiled at lot of evidence on its side of the argument.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.