MINNEAPOLIS -- The Yankees believed that Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner would form a formidable duo atop their lineup, but they have been thrilled by how well that tandem has performed this season, helping the team score more first-inning runs than anyone.
Through the Yankees' first 94 games, they have scored 86 first-inning runs, which also marks the most runs scored by any big league club in any inning. They opened their 10-game road trip on Friday having scored seven times in their last 12 first innings.
"I think it has a lot to do with the guys we have at the top of the order and their ability to create runs and do some different things," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "As much as they've been on base this year, it's probably one of the reasons."
Ellsbury (.382 OBP) and Gardner (.374 OBP) might be a thorn in the sides of opposing pitchers, but the Yanks' starters love seeing their names in the lineup. Left-hander CC Sabathia, who starts against the Twins on Saturday, said that those early leads provide a significant confidence boost for a pitcher.
"You've got Ellsbury and Gardy at the top. It could be 1-0 really quick," Sabathia said. "Those guys have been putting up runs. It's a great feeling, especially if they can go out and get two or three runs, you can go out and just try to establish the strike zone and just work from there."
Ellsbury missed a significant portion of the first half due to a right knee sprain, but he was one of the Yanks' most productive hitters at the time of the injury and has showed signs of heating up again, going 3-for-4 with a double, homer and four RBIs in Thursday's 9-3 victory over the Orioles.
Gardner has been a constant presence atop the order, securing his first All-Star selection this year. He entered play Friday having reached base in 24 straight games since June 22, tied for the longest streak of his career, and ranked fourth in the Majors with 66 runs scored.
"I think it's business as usual," Girardi said. "I think they're always trying to get on, but when you have two of them back to back that are on almost each one of them 40 percent of the time, there's a good chance that one of them is going to be on."
The Yankees attribute a good portion of Alex Rodriguez's success this year to his transition into a full-time DH, which has been keeping him fresh. Rodriguez hasn't played the field since May 23 vs. Texas; since then, he has posted an .861 OPS with 10 homers in 48 games.
"I think he bought into the idea pretty quickly. I think the results were there," Girardi said. "When there's results, I think it's always easier to buy into an idea or an opportunity. When he was having a lot of success just DHing, I think he became comfortable with it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.