Brett Gardner is the new Robinson Cano.

And if that continues for a long stretch, the plucky Yankees will have to rely even more heavily on a pitching staff that has kept them close to the AL East lead.

“This is the best I have ever seen him swing on a consistent basis,’’ Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said of the leadoff man who brings a smoking bat into tonight’s first of three games against the A’s at the Coliseum. “He is barreling up everything. Lefties, righties, and he is hitting for power.’’

In the past 17 games, Gardner is hitting .365 with three homers and 11 RBIs.

The left-handed hitter was limited to 16 games last year due to a right elbow injury that required July surgery, and he hit .259 in 159 games in 2011, so Gardner faced questions of whether he could give the Yankees more this year. On May 24, Gardner was batting .254.

“People were looking at Gardner early and saying, ‘Is this where he needs to be?’ ” Long said. “Now you look at him and you say, ‘He’s locked in, and he’s ready to go.’ It took him not only spring training but a couple of months as well.’’

What is the reason for the streak that raised Gardner’s average to a team-leading .284 and featured a four-hit game Sunday, three of them against Felix Hernandez, in a 2-1 victory?

“He’s more aggressive this year,’’ Long said. “He has swung at a lot more first pitches. He is real good early in counts, and he is ready to hit the fastball.’’