DETROIT--With all the hand-wringing over the Yankees’ offense in the postseason, you knew Joe Girardi was going to try and do something with his team trying to dig out of an 0-2 hole in the ALCS. But perhaps nobody expected the extent of the skipper’s willingness to change things up.
The focus is on Alex Rodriguez-related drama, because it’s A-Rod, the superstar everybody loves to hate, or blame, or pile on because unless you’re on the Forbes 400, he’s richer than you are. So A-Rod’s out of the lineup, and Eric Chavez is starting at third base. That might sound like a nice way to play matchup games, swapping in a lefty bat for A-Rod, but A-Rod has a good career record against Justin Verlander, hitting .267/.405/.600 with three homers in 37 at-bats.
And if past postseason failure is the criterion for why you’re riding pine in pinstripes tonight, Chavez has a far longer track record for October failure: He’s 0-for-12 for the Yankees between this year and last. Sure, small sample sizes, but overall he’s hit .200/.244/337 with more than 120 postseason at-bats -- his consistent failures in October made him Oakland’s A-Rod-level postseason disappointment a decade before A-Rod got there. Athletics fans remember only too well too many Chavez October at-bats that ended early with weak 4-3 tappers in early counts. So sure, that’s the cavalry: A guy 10 years past when he was already an established October flop in his prime.
And punishing Nick Swisher? Sure, that’s earned by performance, but consider the alternative: It’s so Brett Gardner can take his place and lead off. Gardner has all of four big-league at-bats since coming back from the DL at the end of September counting his extra-inning appearance in the first game of the ALCS, and he’s 0-for-4. He got all of eight at-bats in the minor leagues in his rehab assignment. That’s a whopping twelve plate appearances against live competition since April. That’s more flavors of crazy than you can count.
You can also get bent out of shape over the order: Gardner leading off? Curtis Granderson batting eighth behind both Russell Martin and Chavez? But you can say one thing about this lineup: While Girardi has broken with convention to bat consecutive lefties one-two (Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki), four-five (Robinson Cano and Raul Ibanez) and seven-eight (Chavez-Granderson), the one thing I like about that tactically is that if Jim Leyland brings in southpaw Phil Coke or the like to go after those duos, that isn’t bad news. In the case of Gardner and Chavez, Girardi’s got the weaker bat in front, so he could readily swap in a right-handed pinch-hitter and keep the platoon advantage.
It’s the nicest thing you can say about a lineup that otherwise will be the biggest head-scratcher yet in the ALCS.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.