After last night’s Game 3 victory over the Twins, the Yankees were quick to talk about their pitching. “Our pitching is the reason why we’re here,” said Derek Jeter. “CC started it, A.J. followed, and Andy finished. That’s how you have to win in the playoffs.” Mariano Rivera agreed. “Everything was pitching.”
Poor pitching has doomed so many previous postseason teams. In the 2005 ALDS the Yankees gave up five or more runs in three games, including an 11-run Angels assault in Game 3. In 2006 they surrendered six and eight runs to the Tigers in Games 3 and 4. Things were a bit better in 2007, but two poor pitching performances led to 12- and six-run Indians surges that buried the Yanks. No matter how powerful their offense, their pitching shortcomings were exposed in October.
The 2009 ALDS was different. The Yankees got the pitching performances they needed, holding the Twins to just six runs in the three games. Any more and they might not be in this position right now. The offense didn’t disappear, but the team didn’t hit at the level of the regular season. That tends to happen at times in the playoffs, and the only way to keep it from killing your team is to pitch well.
While there was no shortage of power, the Yankees offense generally hit poorly in the series, going 23 for 102 with six walks, three doubles, and six homers, for a slash line of .225/.288/.431. During the regular season, the team hit .283/.362/.478, so there was a noticeable decline in almost every offensive aspect. The only exception was pure power: the team had a .194 Iso in the regular season and .206 in the first round.
That meant the pitching had to take over. The Twins had more base runners than the Yankees, but that’s about it. They hit .257/.311/.301 in the series. They had more hits, 29, and walks, nine, than the Yankees, but scored eight fewer runs. That’s because of the Yankees pitchers. For starters, as you can see in the SLG, they kept the ball in the park. Just four of Minnesota’s 29 hits were for extra bases, so even when they put men on they had a hard time bringing them all the way around.
The other crucial aspect for the Yanks pitchers was holding down the Twins with runners in scoring position. The Twins came to bat 28 times with at least a runner on second, and picked up eight hits for a respectable .285 average. The difference, however, was that each of those hits with RISP was a single. The Twins couldn’t pick up that big hit in critical situations. Some of that is attributable to luck, but the Yankees pitching certainly did its part to limit the damage.
A powerhouse offense can carry a team through the regular season, but as the Yankees have proven over the past five years, it’s difficult to advance in the postseason without solid pitching. The Yanks got that this series. Their offense was decent, not great as it was during the season, but added enough power to keep the Yanks in every game. The pitching did the rest. That’s the difference in 2009.