Losers of five in a row, including four to the woeful Mets, the return of Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira to the Yankees lineup on Friday couldn't have come at a better time as they get ready for a big three-game series against the first-place Red Sox. The corner infield duo will be stepping in for Lyle Overbay and David Adams, who have each come up with some big hits but also have .289 and .264 on-base percentages, respectively.
Role players such as Adams and Overbay can be essential to championship teams, but if they're being counted on in starting roles for too long, their effectiveness eventually wears off and they come crashing back down to earth.
In fairness to Overbay, he's been fairly consistent and productive during his two-month stint as the Yankees' first baseman: .241 BA, 4 HR, 12 RBI in April; .261 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI in May. He's 36 years old, however, and hasn't been a productive hitter since he was with the Blue Jays in 2010 (.762 OPS in 154 games). He'll be an asset as a left-handed bat off the bench and occasional fill-in for Teixeira.
Adding Teixeira, who has a career .896 OPS, should make a big difference as long as his wrist holds up. The injury, diagnosed as a partially torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, is a concern in that surgery was a possibility and he may not be out of the woods yet. Jose Bautista and Mark DeRosa each had similar injuries that eventually required surgery.
Youkilis (pictured) began his Yankees career with 16 hits in his first 46 at-bats, including five multi-hit games before a lower back injury knocked him out of the lineup a few days later and eventually placed him on the disabled list. The 34-year-old has a long history of nagging injuries, so it could be a blessing in disguise that Adams and Jayson Nix have gotten regular playing time and should be capable fill-ins for Youkilis, who could take a couple days off per week in order to stay fresh.
In two rehab games with Double-A Trenton, Teixeira and Youkilis each went 1-for-5 with a single and a walk. They could need a few weeks to get in a groove, but there's no question that the lineup is much better in the long run with these two veterans penciled in regularly.
With Curtis Granderson now sidelined at least a month with a fractured knuckle, the Yankees will go with a lineup that looks something like this for the time being ...
1. Brett Gardner, CF: .751 OPS, 9 SB
2. Robinson Cano, 2B: .895 OPS
3. Kevin Youkilis, 3B: .769 OPS
4. Mark Teixeira, 1B: Has not played
5. Travis Hafner, DH: .844 OPS
6. Vernon Wells, LF: .755 OPS
7. Ichiro Suzuki, RF: .626 OPS
8. Jayson Nix, SS: .618 OPS
9. Chris Stewart, C: .658 OPS
Even though Derek Jeter's timetable to return from ankle surgery is still unclear, the Yankees are hoping he's back early in the second half of the season. Here's what the Yankees lineup could look like once he does return ...
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Robinson Cano, 2B
3. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Curtis Granderson, RF
7. Vernon Wells, LF
8. Brett Gardner, CF
9. Chris Stewart, C
The crew of journeymen and past-their-prime veterans that general manager Brian Cashman assembled to take the field instead of the star-studded group that spent most of the past two months on the disabled list has greatly exceeded expectations up until now. It's a minor miracle that this team is where it is after 53 games (30-23, two games out of first place).
As the regulars return to the lineup, starting with Teixeira and Youkilis on Friday—Andy Pettitte also returns to the rotation on Monday after missing time with a strained trapezius muscle, via Bryan Hock of Yankees.com—we can almost look at it as if Cashman is acquiring impact players in trades. But in this case, the chemistry of the clubhouse probably has less chance of being affected negatively because these players have been around the team and aren't showing up unexpectedly in favor of a popular veteran.
Before you get your hopes up too high, Yankee fans, let's not forget that this is still a team that had concerns before the injuries. New York is aging and injury-prone. The division is tough. The Red Sox are much better than expected. The Orioles have the potential to win it all if their rotation can gain some consistency. The Rays are always dangerous. The Blue Jays haven't played well but are still capable of a playoff run if they can hang around until Jose Reyes returns from an ankle injury.
It's still an uphill battle, in my opinion, but they're in much better shape than anyone could've expected. Things could've gotten ugly. They didn't. So be cautiously optimistic, Yankee fans.