Thursday, September 9, 2010

What a year for Swish! And Kevin Long

Nick Swisher's second hit of the month of September sure was one to remember! His two-run walk-off home run last night against Orioles closer Koji Uehara helped the Yankees to a 7-3 homestand and a 2.5-game lead over Tampa in the AL East race.

Swisher's career year is a big reason why New York is hanging on to that lead in their division, as Swisher is well on his way to shattering his previous highs in batting average (.262), RBI (95), slugging percentage (.493) and OPS (.869).

His OBP is down slightly from last season despite a batting average 43 points higher, as a result of just 52 walks (Swisher has never taken fewer than 82 in a season where he played more than 150 games). He stills sees a lot of pitchers (4.04 per plate appearance) but is making better contact on balls in the zone and relying less on the walk to reach base. I doubt the Yankees are complaining.

Swisher started slow this season, batting just .250 with 2 home runs and 11 RBI in April. But constant work with hitting coach Kevin Long has taken what used to be a long swing that struggled to get the barrel of the bat on pitches and turned it into a quick and compact stroke that has ignited Swisher's improvement. Now he hits balls hard consistently, especially to the opposite field (like his shot against Uehara last night).

Long has also done great work with new Yankee Curtis Granderson, who struggled through most of the season's first four months. In his last 25 games, Granderson has 7 home runs and 14 RBI after hitting just 10 home runs and driving in 34 runs in his first 90 games. He is just 21-for-81 during that span, but is finally driving the ball like many who expected 30-35 home runs from him thought he would.

Swisher's season is reminiscent of what was expected from Granderson, who can really help the Yankees offense if he continues to hit like he has in the past month. The way Lance Berkman has been hitting in the DH role, this lineup has no holes from 1-9 as long as Jorge Posada is healthy behind the plate.

With Javier Vazquez returning to the rotation Friday and Andy Pettitte due back soon, all of New York's supposed holes seem to be getting filled at the right time. The Yanks are 5-3 so far in September and hopefully will ride their recent momentum and enter the playoffs playing good baseball. Remember the first 162 games only get you there, it's the final 19 (or less) that win championships.

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