MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals

Looking back on the Yankees’ manic month: April 17-May 17

When the Yankees’ 2015 schedule was decided long before the start of the 2015 season, analysts’ eyes quickly shot to the stretch of games from April 17th through May 17th. Early on in the season, teams generally receive more off-days as the players re-adjust to the grind of 162-game season. The 2015 Yankees were not so lucky.

After an off-day on April 16th, the Yankees were scheduled to play 30 games in 31 days, with just the lone off-day on April 30th for them to catch their breath. It would have been difficult anyway, but the situation looked all the more bleak when they stumbled to a 3-6 start out of the gate, dropping each of their first three series. Not only would the Yankees face pressure to rebound from their demanding fans; they would also have to do so during an uncharacteristically exhausting slate of games.

Fortunately, the Yankees surprised with some pretty terrific baseball, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the Bronx in a couple years. They won five consecutive series from the 17th through May 3rd, dispatching the Rays twice, a couple of then-red hot teams in the Tigers and Mets, and the Red Sox before dropping two out of three in Toronto. They rebounded to capture three of four from the Orioles in Baltimore before running out of steam at the end against Tampa and the Royals. The trip ended with a 19-11 record, which would be considered a fine month.

Although the 31-day sojourn did not end well with the team dropping five of six games, it’s important to consider the big picture. Teams do not often play so many games early on, and particularly by the series in Kansas City, the Yankees’ offense looked quite weary. That’s not a fault on Joe Girardi either, as even Joe McCarthy would have had difficulty sitting his sizzling hitters when they were performing so well without much of a bench behind them. During the first nine games of the season, the only people who were really performing in the Yankees’ lineup were Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. They understandably cooled down somewhat (with an emphasis on somewhat), but almost everyone else saw improvement:

Through April 16th 2015 totals
Players AVG OBP SLG OPS AVG OBP SLG OPS Pct. Change
Brett Gardner .261 .393 .435 .828 .303 .380 .451 .831 0.36%
Jacoby Ellsbury .286 .375 .314 .689 .327 .411 .374 .785 13.93%
Alex Rodriguez .286 .394 .571 .965 .250 .351 .563 .914 -5.28%
Mark Teixeira .241 .361 .655 1.016 .248 .366 .576 .942 -7.28%
Chase Headley .229 .289 .400 .689 .236 .285 .386 .671 -2.61%
Carlos Beltran .171 .211 .286 .496 .234 .271 .387 .658 32.66%
Brian McCann .200 .241 .360 .601 .237 .290 .398 .688 14.48%
Stephen Drew .148 .200 .370 .570 .177 .264 .345 .609 6.84%
Didi Gregorius .172 .219 .172 .391 .204 .269 .241 .510 30.43%

The Yankees’ offense looked shaky after the 3-6 start, but basically no one was hitting. The past month of play has allowed the statistics to adjust to the larger sample size, and plenty of the Yankees’ hitters’ numbers have returned to a much more normal letter. Beltran might be on the downswing of his career, but he wasn’t going to have a .496 OPS all year. McCann might be frustrating at times, but he wasn’t suddenly J.P. Arencibia at bat. Hell, while Drew and Gregorius struggled, they still improved at the plate, even though the high percent change for Gregorius is more a byproduct of just how dreadful he was beforehand in the even smaller sample size.

Much of the credit for the improved offense has to go to Ellsbury. He and the consistently solid Gardner formed an aggravating one-two punch for opposing pitchers, who immediately had to face them at the start of nearly every game. Ellsbury hit .369/.435/.427 in the 25 games between April 17th and May 14th before suffering a hitless series in Kansas City that knocked him down a peg. He set the table for the rest of the order, and the resurgent lineup often capitalized. The fact that he and Gardner combined for 21 steals didn’t hurt matters, either.

There’s still obviously plenty of room for improvement. If Headley hadn’t notched 7 hits in his previous 23 at-bats, his numbers would be under-the-radar disappointing due to a .237 TAv. Hopefully he’s on the rebound, and the Yankees will also just have to pray that Drew and Gregorius aren’t quite as bad as they’ve been overall. No one’s asking them to be vintage Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, but it would be lovely if they weren’t being outperformed by Alexi Amarista.

The regulars will receive full days off today and Thursday bookending a mini two-game set in D.C. against the Nationals. Following that will be 13 games in a row, including seven on the West Coast. Fans will just have to cross their fingers that the rest rejuvenates the offense somewhat because with uncertainties in the rotation right now in CC Sabathia (despite his past couple starts), Adam Warren, and Chris Capuano, they might need a bit more offensive support than normal. Thankfully, the everyday players can at least comfort themselves with the fact that perhaps the toughest stretch of the season is behind them.

(Photo: Denny Medley-USA Today Sports)

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