How Important Is Brett Gardner's Return to the Yankees Playoff Hopes?

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How Important Is Brett Gardner's Return to the Yankees Playoff Hopes?
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Brett Gardner makes the Yankees' lineup more versatile

Brett Gardner hit 15 home runs since joining the New York Yankees in 2008.

Compare that to Josh Hamilton, who had 18 homers entering Sunday night's game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Curtis Granderson hit 11 for the Yankees who have a lineup filled with power hitters such as Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher.

And yet Gardner may play a pivotal role in the Yankees playoff hopes and how far they advance.

Yes, that Brett Gardner.

Even though he bats ninth in the order instead of the leadoff spot where we would like to see him, Garden gives the Yankees an element of speed and a situational hitter who can move runners along and also bring them home without having to hit the ball over the fence.

We chronicled several weeks ago how the Yankees have abandoned any semblance of a running game and that still is the case. Part of it is Gardner's absence because of an injured right elbow. He was off to a good start, batting .321 with three RBI and two stolen bases in nine games.

Gardner led the American League with 49 steals in 2011 and had 47 the year before.

He also is the best defensive outfielder on the team and makes Yankees Stadium smaller the way he covers ground.

We don't want to get carried away; Gardner is only a .265 career hitter. The Yankees, however, have become too one-dimensional for the most part. When they hit home runs they usually win. When they don't, then any team can beat them.

Granderson has apparently forsaken his running game to focus on hitting 40 homers again. He hit 41 in 2011 but still stole 25 bases. He has one steal this season.

Derek Jeter stole 16 bases last season when he was 37 years old. He has only two in three attempts in 2012, when he has been hitting close to .400.

Gardner alone won't change the way the Yankees approach offense. He does give them more options, however, and frankly we're not thrilled with the alternatives.

Barring a trade, here's who the Yankees will rely on until Gardner returns.

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