Monday, June 20, 2011

Life Without Derek Jeter Ain't So Bad For The Yankees

It's only been a week since Derek Jeter strained his calf muscle and the Yankees had the monumental task of placing The Captain and his quest for his 3,000th base hit on ice.  Jeter reluctantly went on the 15-day DL and now the Yankees seem to be sailing along nicely without their team leader.

The Yankees have scored 42 runs, including a sweep of last year's AL Champs the Texas Rangers to go 5-1 while Jeter treats his calf down in Tampa. 

Jeter's replacement, 24 year-old Eduardo Nunez, isn't Derek Jeter circa 1998, but has handled himself adequately at the plate.  In 77 at-bats, Nunez has knocked in 11 runs with two home-runs and eight stolen bases.

Jeter, before he went down, had 20 RBI's, two homers and seven stolen bases in 262 plate appearances.

The 24 year-old Nunez won't remind anyone of Ozzie Smith in the field.  Every ground ball hit to short is an adventure with Nunez.  On Saturday, he muffed a double-play grounder for his eighth error in 37 games.  First basemen Mark Teixeira has probably saved half-a-dozen careless throwing errors from fumbling Nunez already.

The young shortstop knows his time at shortstop will be limited; no matter how good he is playing.  It's only a matter of time before Jeter says "Helloooo Nunez...good job, now go."

"I feel good you know?  It's my opportunity to show I can play," said Nunez.  "But I keep telling you, I don't want to think like that.  Some one goes down like Jeter, in two weeks, he'll be back in the same place."

While it's a given Nunez will relinquish his position at shortstop when Jeter returns, it is the resurgence of Brett Gardner that will give manager Joe Girardi headaches regarding the lead-off spot.

Right now, batting in the top of the order where Jeter was loosely ensconced, Gardner has become a torrid offensive force.

After a slow start, which made it easy to put the creaky-boned Jeter in the lead-off spot, Gardner is showing all the tools which kept him from being trading over the past few seasons.

 Gardner is doing a little of everything to spark an aging, home-run slugging team.

The spunky left-fielder is batting .360 over his last 51 games and his average is creeping to .300.  He has eight multi-hit games over the last 14 games.

When Jeter returns, Girardi's conundrum will be what to do with his current No. 1 and No. 2 batters.  Gardner and Curtis Granderson, who is having an MVP-type season, have ignited the top of the Yankees line-up and it's a sure bet Jeter is squirming in his whirlpool while witnessing it.

Jeter's diminished play at short is still better than Nunez at full ability, but it's where he bats in the line-up after he gets his milestone 3,000th hit that will be intriguing.

Sure, Jeter has earned the right to bat first when he returns and, unless he acquires those six hits in quick succession, he will probably be dumped to a lower spot in the batting order after the big hit.

It's any one's guess where, and how tactfully, Girardi places the legendary Yankee.  Jorge Posada took his demotion kicking and screaming.  It's unlikely the cordial, but proud,  Jeter will go the same route, but I seem to remember a blistering Jeter press conference after the Yankees front office leaked details of his contract talks last winter.  So who knows.

Granderson is hitting both righties and lefties and there is no way you can move him from the No. 2 spot and Gardner is the speedster the team needs in the lead-off spot.  He is a mini-weapon of mass destruction right now and the Yankees are a hell of a lot more fun to watch when Gardner is prowling the base.paths.

Where does Jeter actually fit in the line-up when he returns on June 29?

One through five are solid and have the team on cruise-control right now.  The sixth spot is for the DH or Nick Swisher, who has also come alive.  That leaves the seventh spot and even that is up for grabs.

It's easy to rip the unassuming Jeter, while he hobbles around his Florida mansion, and it almost seems blasphemous.  He is about to make history and maybe that 3,000th hit is the only thing keeping the soon-to-be 37 year-old  in the conversation, but he is still The Captain with a $17 million-a-year contract and on the verge of legendary stature.

The experienced and sure-handed Jeter, even lugging around a .260 batting average, is still the Yankees best choice at shortstop--even if he has to bat seventh.

Are the Yankees better without Jeter?  This last week has produced an intriguing plot when he returns.

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