Yankees’ Gardner not sure how to earn more playing time

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Brett Gardner has been one of the Yankees’ hottest hitters for the last two months, hitting .357 with a .440 on-base percentage since April 28.

He’s reached base nine times in 15 plate appearances in the three games since replacing the injured Derek Jeter at the lead-off spot. And in his last 50 games, Gardner has a higher batting average than Robinson Cano, a higher slugging percentage than Alex Rodriguez, and is tied with Curtis Granderson for the team’s highest OPS (.943).

Of course none of this means anything once Jeter returns from his calf injury. Joe Girardi confirmed as much on Tuesday, telling Ben Shpigel of the New York Times that “Derek’s been our leadoff guy. We’ll see how he feels, but yeah.”

Whether Gardner’s overall success will earn him some more starts against left-handers remains to be seen. His splits vs. lefties (.286/.390/.343) isn’t much worse than his numbers vs. righties (.294/.366/.465). One thing that is certain is Gardner would like more playing time:

The Yankees, though, are scheduled to face right-handed starters for at least the next six games. When asked what he could do to change Girardi’s mind, Gardner said, “Hit .400 against them, I don’t know.”

Gardner said the sporadic starts could grow frustrating because, “if you’re not getting a lot of at-bats against lefties, it’s hard to get better against them.”

Gardner’s frustration is understandable, as he’s put together nearly two months of extended success at the plate. Maybe he deserves more opportunity to show what he can do, and maybe he deserves to hit lead-off even after Jeter returns. Then again, you have to wonder if Gardner’s success is partly due to Girardi putting him in situations where he is more likely to do well.

Do you need playing time to succeed, or do you earn playing time by succeeding? Players, naturally, will always argue the former, but it’s a chicken-or-the-egg sort of thing.

Of course, I wouldn’t complain too much if I were Gardner. After all, Girardi gave him a shot to share lead-off duties with Jeter to start the season, and Gardner responded with a 6-for-40 slump. Will Gardner get another chance? If he keeps hitting like this, we’ll find out soon enough.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: