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Losing Brett Gardner Is More Damaging to the Yankees Than Derek Jeter

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Losing Brett Gardner Is More Damaging to the Yankees Than Derek Jeter
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Despite his status as a future Hall of Famer and team captain, the Yankees could actually be better off without Derek Jeter down the stretch of the season.

The same can't be said when discussing the loss of Brett Gardner, via CBS Sports, to an injured oblique Thursday night in Camden Yards.

If the 30-year-old center fielder is gone for any length of time, it's likely that his 2013 regular season is over. Those fears were confirmed on Friday by Bryan Hoch of MLB.com:

With only 15 games left in New York's schedule, their lead-off hitter, defensive wizard and base-stealing threat would be hard pressed to return if the injury is indeed this severe. Just days ago, New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis was shut down for the remainder of the season after suffering from a very similar ailment.

Jeter's absence is felt when discussing leadership and his ability to change the game offensively if he's healthy, but health has not been a given for Jeter for over a year.

Gardner, on the other hand, after missing most of the 2012 season due to an elbow injury, was one of the most durable and value pieces of the 2013 Yankees puzzle. The 55 players used by Joe Girardi over the course of New York's roller coaster season was not a byproduct of ailments to his everyday center fielder.

While the team has a very capable outfielder, not to mention a former every day center fielder, in Curtis Granderson to plug back into that spot during Garnder's absence, the loss will have a ripple effect on the batting order and defense.

Unfortunately for Joe Girardi, replacing Gardner with Granderson isn't a simple equation. Offensively, Gardner's ability to work counts, walks and provide speed and base running atop the batting order made him an ideal lead off hitter in front of Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano.

Simply put, Curtis Granderson isn't a top of the lineup hitter.

Over the past four seasons, dating back to 2010, Gardner's on-base percentage is .358. During that same time, Granderson's is .338.

Of course, Granderson, hitting in the middle of the order, can provide tremendous power and run production, but solving the top of the order issue becomes more complicated when factoring in the player that will likely get the assignment: Ichiro Suzuki.

Yes, the future Hall of Famer and Japanese star, freshly off a celebration of 4,000 professional hits, is probably slated for at-bats atop New York's order in the midst of the tight American League wild-card race.

If this was the Ichiro that dominated Major League pitching from 2001-2010 to the tune of a .331/.376/.430 slash line, the Yankees would be in great shape. Unfortunately, that Suzuki no longer exists.

Over the last three seasons, Suzuki has reached base at a .307 clip. That figure has dipped to .302 this season.

While Suzuki can still run (20 stolen bases) when he reaches base, he doesn't arrive at first base enough to make the kind of impact Gardner can on a game-to-game basis.

Of course, Gardner's value is far from just on the offensive side of the game.

An outfield, left to right, of Alfonso Soriano, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki will miss the range of Brett Gardner in center.

According to Baseball Info Solutions' defensive runs saved metric, Gardner has saved six runs above average this season in center for the Yankees. Since the start of the 2011 season, Curtis Granderson has cost New York fifteen runs on defense. Thus, it's easy to see why the organization made the decision to swap their positions way back in spring training.

Losing Derek Jeter, the former on-base/speed/spark plug for excellent Yankee teams is a blow, but not hard to overcome with a combination of Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez.

Can the Yankees make the playoffs with Brett Gardner?

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Losing Brett Gardner, the current on-base/speed/spark plug for a Yankee team fighting for their postseason life is a blow that will be very difficult to overcome due to Curtis Granderson's defensive issues and Ichiro Suzuki's declining offensive game.

After a year of disabled list stints and epitaphs, write off the 2013 Yankees at your own risk, but losing Gardner could be a tough blow for this roster to take in the late rounds of what has been a heavyweight fight for an AL playoff berth.

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