Assorted Thoughts on the Yankees' Playoff Run

Alex Trautwig - Getty Images

On the playoffs thus far and pitching success buried by hitting/umpiring struggles.

It is really hard to score runs when four key lineup cogs are in bad slumps (Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Nick Swisher). Combined, that quartet is 12-for-107, a horrid .112 average. When that big part of the lineup is all struggling, it should not be so surprising that the Yankees had multi-run innings in only two of 71 innings thus far in the postseason. Mark Teixeira, Russell Martin, and Ichiro Suzuki have chipped in here and there, but only Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter were really hitting prior to Jeter's injury. There has been some talk of some players overthinking at the plate, but I don't know what to make of that. They could be since it's gone on throughout playoffs, but I don't pretend to be a psychiatrist. Cano makes contact even with pitches out of the zone, but Grandy, A-Rod, and Swisher combined for 34 Ks in 75 at bats. They are just not seeing the ball well at all.

***

Criticitizing A-Rod is fair because fans obviously expect better than what he's done, but it's silly to do that and ignore Cano/Grandy/Swisher. Spread the blame out. They're all culpable, not just A-Rod. It's also worth noting that there have been a few occasions wherein A-Rod had good at bats and missed key RBI singles on terrific defensive plays like this. Swisher hasn't even had that going for him, and Grandy hasn't had any luck outside of ALDS Game 5. Cano also had some bad luck in Game 1 from the blown call at first base, which would have snapped his hitless streak. None of them are making their own luck though, and as mentioned before, all are defeating themselves by chasing horrible pitches.

***

It is entirely unpredictable at this point how manager Joe Girardi will set his lineup due to Jeter injury. Girardi tried keeping recently-good hitters together in Game 2 with a Tex/Ibanez/Martin middle of order, but he definitely could try something else since they were shut out on four hits anyway. I would love to see Brett Gardner get a start since both Swisher and Granderson look so lost at the plate, but I don't think Girardi will go that way since Gardner only had three at bats in his return from injury. Girardi didn't go with Gardner in ALDS Game 5 with Swisher and Granderson in similar struggles, but maybe it will be different with the fly ball pitcher Phil Hughes on mound and a good outfielder in Gardner. I'm not optimistic, though. If Girardi was willing to pin offensive woes on A-Rod by benching him in ALDS Game 5, then it's silly that he hasn't done the same with Granderson and Swisher. I get that Gardner isn't as fresh at the plate as Eric Chavez (who, by the way, should not be played over A-Rod anymore after his non-production) was, but the lineup so far has not done much. Maybe it's time to mix it up a bit.

***

The pitching has been outstanding--a 2.38 ERA in playoffs. Fans could not ask for anything more from them. The starters have been tremendous: CC Sabathia was an out away from two complete games, Hiroki Kuroda would have had two eight-inning starts if not for the blown call last night, Andy Pettitte pitched into 7th in both starts and allowed 5 runs, and even Phil Hughes was surprisingly good in his ALDS Game 4 start, going into the seventh and allowing one run. Let's not forget that each of these guys had question marks entering the playoffs, given CC's minor injuries, Kuroda's weariness, Pettitte's very recent recovery from the broken leg, and Hughes's inconsistency. If I had told you that the Yankees would have a 2.38 ERA after seven games in the playoffs at this point, you would probably expect them to be heading into ALCS Game 4 with the Yanks looking for their second sweep in a row. It's been a real shame that the Yanks have wasted such great pitching. Even with the aforementioned question marks, the starting pitching projected well in playoff previews, but they have exceeded those high expectations. The bullpen outside of Derek Lowe and David Phelps has been great, and those guys are the back of the 'pen anyway. The most important guys, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, have combined to throw 9.2 four-hit shutout innings. They have made "Hopeless without Mariano Rivera!" discussions nonexistent. It's just a shame that they were passed over in favor of Lowe in ALCS Game 1.

***

The umpiring has just gotten worse and worse in baseball the past few years. Between '96 and '08, I remember only a handful of truly infamous calls. We've seen a shocking number of them in the past few years, from some a hailstorm of horrible calls in the '09 postseason to the botched Armando Galarraga perfecto in '10 and the Pirates getting jobbed in a July 19-inning marathon that began the fall of their '11 season (to name a few). This year, we've witnessed the horrid out call at first in a crucial Yanks/Orioles game down the stretch, a runner called out at first in Colorado when Todd Helton's foot was (as he admitted) not even close to the bag, the baffling "infield fly" call in the outfield in the National League Wild Card playoff, Cano called out when he safe in an ALCS Game 1 bases-loaded rally in a scoreless game, and of course yesterday, when Detroit's Omar Infante was ruled safe even though he was clearly out and both Joe Torre (who works for MLB) and ump Jeff Nelson admitted the call was muffed. If technology exists to see the play again and get it right within a minute, you have to do it. It's an embarrassment to the game when so many other sports are advanced on replay. As Joe Girardi pointed out yesterday, more time is wasted in arguing with umps than it would take to correct it.

***

Is there any hope left for the Yankees in the ALCS? Yes, the team can definitely still win. The Tigers have only won two games. If the Yankees can somehow find a way to beat Justin Verlander in Game 3, then they'll have CC in position to tie the series up in Game 4. Then it becomes a best-of-three with the Yanks holding the momentum and new life. Ichiro's a fine leadoff hitter and can somewhat fill Jeter's role, though it will be really hard to replace his production given the offense's struggles. Need some inspiration? The 1972 Oakland Athletics lost "Mr. October," Reggie Jackson, for the entire World Series and beat Sparky Anderson's "Big Red Machine" Cincinnati Reds anyway. If just one or two of that Cano/A-Rod/Grandy/Swisher quartet can turn it around, the Yanks will be in a much better position. Cano's 0-for-26 won't last forever. The outlook isn't great, but as A-Rod said yesterday, "Don't count us out just yet."

That being said, I just don't see the offense turning it around. They've had two good innings in the entire postseason--the ninth in both ALDS Game 1 & ALCS Game 1. Verlander is probably the best pitcher on the planet and despite his good outing against the Orioles, Hughes is still capable of blowing up at any given time. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have not done much in the playoffs so far, and as "total hermination" pointed out, it is hard to imagine that will continue for much longer. I think the Yankees can win with CC in Game 4, but at this point I would have to guess Tigers in five. The Tigers haven't won it all since the year Mark McGwire was drafted, so maybe it's just their time.

I hope the Yanks will prove me wrong though, and I can assure you that I will still watch the games. Even if they lose Game 3, I refuse to give up on this team. They have overcome too much at this point to abandon ship now.

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