We're So Sorry, Uncle Winfield
It's probably premature to do this, but this thought keeps recurring as certain Yankees struggle through the 2012 postseason: in 1981, first-year Yankee and very expensive free agent signing Dave Winfield had a rough October. He hit well in the five-game divisional series against the Brewers (the only divisional series of their time where held that year due to the labor wars), hitting .350, though he didn't drive in a run. In the ALCS against the Oakland A's, he did drive in two runs, but went 2-for-13, or .154. The World Series was even worse: Winfield went 1-for-22 (.045) and drove in one run as the Yankees blew a 2-0 series lead and lost to the Dodgers in six. It was this series that George Steinbrenner was referencing in 1985 when he said that "Reggie Jackson was Mr. October" but "Dave Winfield is Mr. May."
That loss should provide some comfort that this current series with the Tigers ain't over ‘til it's over. I want to go beyond that, though, to say that maybe Winnie got a raw deal. The big outfielder struck out just four times in those 21 at-bats. He was putting the ball in play, even if it wasn't going anywhere good. Overall, in three rounds he went 10-for-55 with three doubles, a triple, eight walks, and 11 strikeouts. That ain't good, but it also isn't 2-for-32 with two doubles, one walk, and four strikeouts. It isn't Alex Rodriguez's 3-for-23 with no extra-base hits, 12 strikeouts, and the odd benching. It's not Curtis Granderson's downright unacceptable 3-for-26 with three walks and 14 strikeouts, solo home run or not.
Yesterday, Brian Cashman suggested that Brett Gardner might start, but he didn't say for whom. As I write this, we've just found out that he'll be leading off and playing left field, with Ichiro Suzuki moving to right field to replace Nick Swisher. Gardner has barely had a bat in his hands since April, and he isn't necessarily Mr. Run Producer - he's more of a defensive asset who sometimes gets hot and puts together some walks, singles, and stolen bases. Maybe he'll do that if he plays, maybe he won't, but the correct answer as to who he should sub for isn't necessarily Swisher, whose 4-for-22 this postseason isn't the team's biggest problem. Unfortunately, though, Joe Girardi couldn't list Gardner for "all of them." We can only wish he could have. He isn't Joe DiMaggio, and he isn't any of the players in front of him when they're right, but at this time he might be an improvement just by virtue of being different, because with at least a couple of those players, something pathological has taken place.
At the risk of contradicting myself after suggesting that Gardner could have started for any of the slumpers, I want to suggest that Swisher has looked far more composed than Granderson, even though he has not, and historically does not, hit well in the postseason. Granderson hit .205/.276/.475 with 68 strikeouts in 200 at-bats in 58 games in August and September, so what's happening now isn't new, but the culmination of something that was already in progress. The 15 home runs were nice, but that was almost all he did and it wasn't sustainable-it required him to be right a disproportionate number of times on the rare occasions he made contact.
In any case, all of this is a way of saying that there's always something worse on the horizon when you think you've seen the worst thing you'll ever see. That's a terrible bit of writing, forgive me, but it accurately describes my level of frustration with some of the Yankees hitters right now. So, bring on Brett Gardner. Bring on Eduardo Nunez. Bring on Bobby bloody Meacham... And apologies to Dave Winfield. We never had it so good.