Ellsbury & Gardner ideal table setters

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner both reached base to begin the Yankees’ game against the Blue Jays Tuesday night, and they both scored. So what else is new? Ellsbury and Gardner have been the most effective top-of-the-order hitters in the majors.

Remember last year when manager Joe Girardi tried numerous lineups to figure out the best way to utilize each’s skills? For quite a spell, Girardi used Gardner in the leadoff spot and Ellsbury in the 3-hole with since-retired Derek Jeter positioned between them. That gave Ellsbury RBI opportunities but was a deterrent to his stealing bases with the meat of the order right behind him.

For the times Ellsbury batted leadoff, Girard put Gardner at the bottom of the order. Almost never did the two of them together. Part of that was the resistance to moving Jeter lower in the order, but the major factor was that Girardi was uncomfortable having two left-handed hitters back to back.

One of the best 1-2 combos at the top of the order that I recall was that of Vince Coleman and Willie McGee with the Cardinals in the 1980s. What made it easy for Whitey Herzog to leave them where they were each game is that they were both switch hitters.

Yet Ellsbury and Gardner have proved not to be the sort of left-handed batters that are overly vulnerable to left-handed pitching. Ellsbury entered this season with a .294 career batting average overall and .292 against lefties and Gardner .266 overall and .260 against lefties.

So there was not a great risk in experimenting with the two side by side atop the order. If anything, it has worked perfectly. Let managers bring in lefties late in the game against them. Heading into Tuesday night’s game, Ellsbury was hitting .419 in 31 at-bats against lefthanders and Gardner .400 in 25 at-bats vs. lefties.

Tuesday night’s starter for the Blue Jays was righthander Marco Estrada, a reliever getting a shot in the rotation, and Ellsbury and Gardner wasted no time in driving the pitcher crazy. Ellsbury ran his hitting streak to eight games with a single through the middle. He got a workout on several hit-and-run trots as Gardner fouled off Estrada offerings to extend the at-bat to 11 pitches. Brett’s last swing of the at-bat produced a liner to right-center on another hit-and-run play that got Ellsbury to third base with Gardner hustling all the way into second for a double.

The Yanks’ table setters did their job for Alex Rodriguez, who responded in kind with a double to left field for a 2-0 lead. A-Rod was caught off second on a tapper to the mound by Mark Teixeira that thwarted any continued scoring that inning.

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