Bronx Tales: Are the surprising contributors here to stay?

KOBEsh: Just a handful of games into the season, the Yankees are doing just about as well can be expected considering all the injuries that sent NY into scramble mode: hovering around .500. But also just like we suspected, the Yanks have had a difficult time scoring runs, topping 4 for the first time on Sunday in a 7-0 explosion against the Tigers.
 
However, there’s been some surprising developments: the two Yanks hit leaders do not include 2B Robinson Cano or OF Brett Gardner. They’re DH Travis Hafner and OF Vernon Wells.
 
Vin, have you seen anything in their ABs to suggest that this might be a sustainable model? Can they keep the boat afloat while Granderson, TeIxeIra and Jeter get back?
 
Vin: As you say, before Robinson Cano’s big game (3/4, 2 HR, 4 R) in the Yanks’ 11-6 pounding of the Tribe yesterday, the young season’s few offensive highlights more or less belonged to Kevin Y (still refusing to type out Youkilis over and over and will not use his Boston given nickname), Money Earnin’ Vernon, Travis Hafner, Francisco Cervelli, and even Lyle Overbay who had a big 2 out hit in the Yanks’ first win.  Cano got off to a rough start, Ichiro has been silent, Gardner hasn’t hit and is 0/2 is stolen base opportunities and Nunez hasn’t done much.
 
Is this a sustainable model?  No. Eventually the guys who the Yanks are depending on will need to start contributing because they can’t expect all those other guys to keep shouldering the load.  As Cano showed yesterday, he’s not someone they need to be concerned with. Hopefully Ichiro picks it up and starts looking more like 2013 Yankee Ichiro than 2012-2013 Mariner Ichiro.  Gardner doesn’t have a long track record, but I expect him to start getting on base more frequently and swiping some bags.  Nunez should still provide pop from time to time.

But while we can’t expect Kevin Y, Vernon, and Hafner to all hit .370 or above for the month of April, this is what we said the Yankees needed. They need to “catch lightning in a bottle” in the season’s first 30 days and somehow stay afloat until the cavalry comes. These fellows (plus Cervelli) putting on a 7 game performance like this is the definition of lightning in a bottle, and the Yanks can hopefully keep catching it in one form or the other. Hafner has looked great (he even went first to third on a single yesterday), so we’ll see how long he can keep it up. Cervelli I still can’t take seriously as a hitter, but he does seem to have a nose for the moment and I’ll certainly be happy if he keeps proving me wrong.

The guys who I have the most hope for are Kevin Y and Vernon. Both look absolutely fantastic at the plate–Wells has a few crushed home runs, if anything, Kevin Y could have 2-3 home runs instead of 1 if balls hadn’t died at the wall. Both have had great springs (so it’s now a bit of a trend), are clearly healthy right now and while they have had a few bad years recently, they have also had injury problems. Do I trust either one to make it through the grind into September without suffering injury again? Not at all. But again, for now the Yanks just need them to be healthy and productive in April.

The key for April and the rest of the season, however, is not how these guys hit. The Yanks are 3-4 right now; in their 3 wins their starters were good to great (Pettitte and CC both with 7 inning, 1 run gems and Kuroda gutted out 5 1/3 innings with only 3 runs yesterday). In their 4 losses? Their starters were mediocre to terrible. As long as the elder statesmen stay healthy, I have no doubt CC, Pettitte and Kuroda will continue to provide far more quality starts than poor ones. But the Yanks need Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes to show they can be consistently counted on to do the same. David Phelps hasn’t looked great out of the bullpen, but one or two more bad starts from Nova and I’d replace him with Phelps, who was far more consistent last year. Nova has a live arm and a higher ceiling, but is erratic and undependable. The Yanks need all hands on deck to keep the ship afloat this April, and I’d give Phelps a shot to show he can be relied on as a starter.

Without a solid latter half of the rotation, NY is not going to continue to catch lightning in a bottle the way they have from some of these guys on offense and offense cannot be expected to win games day in and day out, especially in April. The pitching is going to have to be the strength, and it has to be more than 3/5 guys to consider that a reality.

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