Yankees Survive April, But Can They Survive May?

I’ll be the first to admit that I had my doubts about the Yankees’ lineup this April. Especially against left-handed pitchers, this Yankees team, on paper, was one of the weakest hitting clubs we’ve seen in sometime. With all the scrutiny on the offense, many forgot that the front office re-signed a number of important pitchers. Yes, we knew of a new new strategy geared at saving runs, rather than scoring them, but it was hard to imagine that the Bronx Bombers could be anything other than home run hitters.

They didn’t necessarily prove anyone wrong in April, in fact the Yankees are second to just the Braves in most home runs as of today. A few unexpected things helped the team get back to their old slugging ways, and the organization deserves credit for a hell of a job scouting and finding Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells. Part of this was luck, as Wells was meant to be a platoon player, but new stances for Hafner and Wells have thus far brought two quality power hitters into the 2013 roster.

Obviously there were other contributions. Francisco Cervelli carried the team through certain games, both with his bat and his glove. Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix, and Kevin Youkilis had their clutch hits. Robinson Cano was as good as expected. The offense just happened to click at the right time, and thanks to this, the Yankees finished the month of April with a 16-10 record.

I thought anything over .500 in the month of April would be gravy, but the Yankees built a team that surprised me. They scored 120 runs in their first month, and allowed just 110. They also overperformed their pythagorean expectation, which had the Yankees winning 14 and losing 12.

Yes, the Yankees got lucky, but the organization deserves credit for positive pythagorean expectation. The organization loaded up on left-handed bats to combat a long set of right-handed starters, and did a great job of scouting and coaching these players.

Now that we’ve entered May, we can start to look forward to the return of Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. On Monday, the two will meet up in extended Spring Training, along with Alex Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Michael Pineda has been pitching there, and Brian Cashman has confirmed that he’s sitting at 93 and touching the mid-90′s. Kevin Youkilis should also be returning sometime in mid-May.

The forecast for the 2013 team is a lot more hopeful than it was a month ago, but the Yankees still have to survive a large chunk of the month with an overperforming lineup. While it’s possible that they continue their streaking ways, it’s more likely that this team regresses to what the advanced data indicates.

With the acquisition of Chris Nelson, the Yankees are attempting to fix their weaknesses against southpaws, and their success or failure against left-handed pitchers will continue to be an important narrative in the month of May. Losing Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter has hurt this team against lefties, but the Yankees have found a way to win 6 out of 8 starts against them. As the Yankees wait for players to return over the next couple of weeks, the schedule doesn’t forecast many left-handed pitchers. Only Jorge DeLaRosa of the Rockies is slated to pitch over the next two weeks. It’s possible that the team sees Scott Kazmir during their double-header in Cleveland, but it would take some maneuvering. It wouldn’t be until the Yankees see the Blue Jays starting on May 17th that they’d have to seriously deal with left-handed starters.

With Cano, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Brennan Boesch, and Hafner in the lineup against mostly all right-handed starters, the Yankees should be alright in the first half of May. It’s possible that Teixeira and Youkilis will be back for the second-half of the month, along with Granderson, and that should help alleviate their weaknesses against southpaws. Considering the panic that we were in less than a month ago, I’m feeling far more optimistic about May.