The calendar will turn to September this weekend, and the New York Yankees will be playing an important series for the division lead. Usually, we would assume that their opponent is the Boston Red Sox; instead, the team on the other side of the diamond is the Baltimore Orioles, led by the favorite for AL Manager of the Year in Buck Showalter.
Even up to a month ago, few people outside of Baltimore were sold on Showalter's team. Most people figured they would fall to the bottom of the division again. With the lead for New York at ten games, it seemed the only team fans would have to worry about would be a surging Tampa Bay Rays squad.
Well, the Rays did just that. But the resilient Orioles followed as well. Now, the lead in the division is just 3.5 games, and the Yankees are having enough trouble beating the Jose Bautista-less Toronto Blue Jays.
The Bronx Bombers are in desperate need of a spark thanks to a myriad of injuries. The latest blow is a calf injury for Mark Teixeira, leaving the Yankees overly-vulnerable to left-handed pitching. No offense to Steve Pearce, but he has no business trying to bat cleanup and protect the best hitter on the team in Robinson Cano.
Joe Girardi has stated that he does not want to alter the top three in the lineup because they are performing well. Obviously, it is not enough, because New York is 4-6 in their last ten and 15-15 over their last 30 games played. That will not get it done in holding off the Rays and Orioles, which is why a lineup change is necessary in Teixeira's absence.
Ichiro Suzuki could be the answer the Yanks are looking for, and although his best years are clearly behind him, he has experienced a resurgence since switching coasts. Ichiro is hitting .290 since donning the pinstripes, a notable improvement over his .261 average when playing in Seattle.
More importantly, Ichiro can bring speed in the leadoff position, which is something he has not been able to showcase when hitting eighth every day. The Yankees need to make things happen on the bases since the bats are not coming through. The team's stolen base leader? Alex Rodriguez with 11, and he has not seen the field in over a month.
The presence of Ichiro at the top of the lineup would allow Jeter to slide into the No. 2 hole and Swisher to ride his hot streak in the cleanup spot. Granderson would then hit fifth, which would let Girardi split up the power-hitting lefties with a switch-hitter.
Although Ichiro cannot provide the results of a few years ago, he is still a proven leadoff hitter that knows how to manufacture runs. With the Yankees slumping lately, he could be the change necessary to get the lineup going in the absence of Teixiera and A-Rod.
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