After a 162-game grind, you would think you know a team pretty well. After watching the same group of players face off for nine innings every night, winning many more games than they lose and scoring runs in bunches, you would think that the same team would show up for another round of games as they work toward a World Series title. You would think.
Instead for the past eight games, since their ninth inning outburst in Game 1 of the ALDS, we’ve watched the Yankees’ great bats disappear. While Alex Rodriguez has taken the blame, it was truly a team effort. Robinson Cano put up a historically awful post-season while Nick Swisher, despite his meditation efforts, continued his trend of vanishing once the clock struck October. Eric Chavez was abysmal as A-Rod’s erstwhile replacement. Curtis Granderson failed to get a hit against the Tigers, went 3 for 30 with 16 strikeouts in the playoffs and is batting .208 with an OBP under .300 since June 6. Mark Teixeira managed one extra-base hit and drove in one run, and even the Yanks’ stellar pitching couldn’t overcome this offensive malaise to prove true the adage that pitching wins championships.
Here at RAB, we’ve tried over the years to explain baseball. One of the beauties of the sport is how, after enough at-bats, innings, games, trends and patterns emerge. We see how a team should perform over the long haul, and what their strengths or weaknesses are. As I’ve watched the Yanks disappear, my main thoughts have focused around the confusion of it all. Rather than being angry, I simply don’t get it. How could a team that was this good during the season, that finished the year 16-5, that nearly led the majors in runs scored turn into a worse version of the Astros?
Most of the explanations I’ve heard turn the Yanks into some cut-rate version of The Wizard of Oz. With runs at a premium, no one could find a way home. Spooked by boos raining down on them from the Yankee Stadium faithful, the team had no courage. The players played with no heart, and of course, the coaches and Joe Girardi had no brain. That’s not a particularly satisfying conclusion to the 2012 season.
Maybe there’s no real reason for the Yanks’ slide. Maybe they all started pressing. Maybe the Tigers and Orioles had their scouting reports down to a tee. Maybe an aging club saw its flaws exposed, and maybe the Yanks’ brain trust panicked a bit too much when the club struggled to score runs early in the postseason. Maybe, as John Sterling likes to say, you just cannot predict baseball. But something happened, and right now, I have no idea what that was. All I know is that the 88-win Tigers — the 7th best in the AL — made besting the Yanks look like a walk in the park.
So we wait out the off-season now. It will be a tumultuous one as A-Rod trade rumors swirl, and Brian Cashman reimagines a team. I think we’ll leave the last word with Ichiro though, who summed up everyone’s frustration perfectly. After the game, the quotesmith had this to say: “The feelings of dissatisfaction and hurt inside right now is something that I hadn’t experienced in a while. So to be able to experience even this pain right now, I’m just so grateful to the Yankees to give me this opportunity to do that.” It is a pain we all know too well today. May it not return next year.
The season has been over for a little more than 12 hours now, but it hasn’t completely sunk in yet. It usually takes a day or two until I realize that the routine has been broken, that there is no Yankees game to watch that night. It’s always a bummer of a moment but it happens every year, good or bad.
1. One player does not make a baseball team, but how different where the Yankees without Derek Jeter for the final three games of the ALCS? They weren’t hitting at all even when he was in the lineup, but something just didn’t feel right without him in the lineup, especially in the postseason. I can’t really explain it. The Cap’n has been part of the team basically since I came into baseball consciousness — I remember reading the paper while eating a bowl of cereal before school one morning and finding out that Tony Fernandez got hurt in 1996 — and things just didn’t seem right with him on the shelf in October. Very few players transcend the game like that.
2. I think there’s at least a small chance that Joe Girardi won’t return next season, but it would really surprise me. The position players seemed wholly unprepared in the postseason for the second straight year, plus his work didn’t exactly stand out in the regular season either (the incident with Joel Sherman, the fan in Chicago, etc.). I suppose there could be some level of distrust in the clubhouse following all this Alex Rodriguez stuff, but who knows. I think he (and all of his coaches) will be back next year, but I’m not 100% confident like I have been the last few years.
3. The natural reaction following a postseason exit is to blow the whole damn thing up, but as usual that shouldn’t be the case with the Yankees. They will need to replace Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte (hopefully they re-sign both, that would be ideal) and fill out the bench/bullpen with miscellaneous pieces, but I don’t think the offense needs a total overhaul. They should add another contact-type hitter (preferably two) and maybe focus a little more on the running game, but that’s really it. They do have to be cognizant of the fact that Jeter is unlikely to repeat what he did this year and that Mark Teixeira is likely to decline even further, however. Retool, not rebuild.
4. So, with that in mind, here are the players who could potentially not return to the team next year (in no particular order): Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Jayson Nix, Ichiro Suzuki, Mariano Rivera, Chris Stewart, Casey McGehee, Freddy Garcia, Rafael Soriano, Clay Rapada, Derek Lowe, A-Rod, Kuroda, and Pettitte. Rapada, Nix, and Stewart are under team control and would have to be non-tendered, though I doubt that happens. Of all the major free agents, I believe Martin and Rivera are the most likely to return. It will take a minor miracle to move Alex. Could be a busy offseason with a lot of turnover, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
After all the homers, all the injuries, all the RISPFAIL, all the Raul Ibanez game-saving dingers, all 98 wins and 171 games … the 2012 season is over for the Yankees. The Tigers swept them out of the ALCS in four games, capping off the series with a lopsided 8-1 win on Thursday.
The Pitching Bubble Bursts
The lineup did next to nothing offensively during the entire postseason, but it wasn’t until Game Four against Detroit that the pitching staff started to crumble. CC Sabathia carried the Yankees to the ALCS with an utterly dominant showing against the Orioles in the ALDS, but he was unable to repeat that kind of success against the Tigers in Game Four. His defense (more on that in a second) betrayed him early and the long ball bit him late, and the end result was six runs (five earned) on eleven hits (!) and two walks in just 3.2 innings. Sabathia threw 93 mostly ugly pitches.
A five-pitcher parade of relievers allowed two tack-on runs — both solo homers, one by Austin Jackson (off Derek Lowe) and one by Jhonny Peralta (off David Robertson) — in 4.1 innings. The Yankees struck out just four of 44 hitters in Game Four and just seven of 80 hitters in the final two games of the series. Pitching was not the reason the Yankees were eliminated in the ALCS, though it certainly didn’t help the cause in Game Four.
The Yankees didn’t hit a lick all postseason and that continued on Thursday, as they were two-hit by Max Scherzer and three relievers. Eduardo Nunez tripled to left-center to leadoff the sixth, breaking up the no-hitter, and two batters later Nick Swisher doubled to right-center to plate the team’s only run of the game. Ichiro Suzuki, Mark Teixeira, and Jayson Nix all drew walks and Nunez reached on an error as well. That’s it, six total baserunners. The final nine Yankees of the season made outs.
All told, New York hit a whopping .177 in the ALCS, the second lowest team batting average in a best-of-seven series in baseball history. They hit .188 in the postseason overall, the second worst mark in franchise history behind the 1963 squad (.171 in only four games). Robinson Cano had one hit in the series and finished the ALCS with a .098 OBP, the lowest by any player in playoff history (min. 35 PA). His .075 average was the fourth lowest in history. That’s hard to believe. Swisher didn’t hit, Curtis Granderson didn’t hit, Alex Rodriguez didn’t hit, Russell Martin didn’t hit, no one outside of Ibanez, Ichiro, and Nunez hit. A-Rod, by the way, went 0-for-2 off the bench and flew out with two men on-base against lefty Drew Smyly to end the sixth.
The scoreboard says the Yankees only committed two errors as a team, but they have the hometown scorer to thank for that. Eric Chavez misplayed a routine ground ball in the first (he froze instead of charged), allowing Omar Infante to beat it out and eventually come around to score. That’s a play that has to be made by a big league third baseman. Teixeira whiffed on not one, but two ground balls in the third inning, leading to another run. The first whiff was ruled a hit for Prince Fielder, which was a pretty ridiculous scoring decision. Teixeira had the ball in the pocket of his glove before flubbing it. He made just one error in the regular season and what should have been two in the third inning of this game.
Anyway, Nunez made two funny plays in the first five innings. First he made play on a ground ball ranging to his left, but the throw to first was a lawn dart right into the ground and the runner was safe. I don’t think he would have gotten him anyway, but the throw was wretched. Secondly, he mistimed a jump on a little line drive/fly ball (fliner) and had the ball clank off of his glove and drop for a hit. Neither play was routine, but still. Not pretty.
Joe Girardi used all of his position players, though the array of pinch-hitters didn’t help at all. The Yankees had ten total hits and two runs in the final 30.1 innings of the series following Ibanez’s game-tying homer in the ninth inning of Game One. That’s just unfathomable. Brett Gardner went 0-for-3 in Game Four and also slid head first into first base in the third inning. He missed the entire season with an elbow injury and still dove head first into first. Gritty or stupid? Both?
Joba Chamberlain allowed two hits (one of which I thought was catchable, but whatever) but escaped the seventh inning when he stuck out his back leg and make a kick save on Gerald Laird’s ground out. It was a nice but totally lucky play, and I’m surprised the ball didn’t shatter his ankle. Joba has that kind of luck, you know? He, Cody Eppley, and Clay Rapada were more effective that Lowe and Robertson. Rafael Soriano threw exactly one inning in the series.
I give Girardi a hard time and he catches a lot of grief in general, it comes with being the Yankees manager, but I commend him for the job he did while dealing with the loss of his father. I’ve been there and it’s a very tough thing. I can’t imagine dealing with it in the middle of the postseason. Joe’s definitely a trooper.
Box Score & WPA Graph
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. The Tigers are the first team to ever beat the Yankees in three straight postseason series (2006, 2011, 2012), which sucks. The Yankees were swept for the first time since 1980, a span of 36 playoff series. That’s the longest such streak in history. The Yankees also didn’t hold a lead at any point in the series, the first time they’ve done that since the 1963 World Series. I suppose the good news is that New York has been swept four times before (1922, 1963, 1976, 1980), and each time they rebounded to make the World Series the next year.
Well, I guess it’s time for the offseason now. Spring Training is 120 days away, give or take, so between now and then we’ll spend our team reviewing the season that was, breaking down potential roster moves, all sorts of stuff. It was a good year with a crappy ending. Thanks for sticking around.
9:11pm: For what it’s worth, A-Rod said after tonight’s game that he intends to remain with the Yankees and indicated that he won’t waive his no-trade clause. “I’ve never thought about going to another team. My focus is on staying here. Let’s make that very, very clear,” he said.
2:30pm: Via Bob Nightengale: Alex Rodriguez has told “close friends” that he would not stand in the way of an offseason trade. He won’t ask for a trade however, and he would only approve a deal to another big market club. A-Rod has full no-trade protection thanks to his ten-and-five rights.
Reports that cite “close friends” and stuff like that are always sketchy, so take this with a grain of salt. Nightengale says the Yankees would “gladly” make a back contract for bad contract swap, like one involving Vernon Wells (owed $42M through 2014). Wells hasn’t hit in two years and would be an offensive downgrade from Alex at this point, so I hope Nightengale was just throwing him out there as an example. Either way, get comfortable because this A-Rod saga looks like it will drag out for months.
The Yankees never held a lead in the series and outside of the ninth inning of Game One, they didn’t put up much of a fight at all. Completely outplayed. Congrats to the Tigers, but I wish you no luck in the World Series.
I was really hoping the Yankees would be around long enough to play today, but not under these circumstances. Rather than play Game Five of the ALCS this afternoon, the Yankees and Tigers will instead play Game Four following last night’s rain out. New York is still down three games to none in the best-of-seven series, a scary but not completely insurmountable deficit. Stranger things have happened.
Since the rain out pushes the series back and day will not allow the Yankees to use CC Sabathia on three days’ rest in a potential Game Seven, I expect Joe Girardi to really ride his ace’s left arm hard today. I’m talking 120+ pitches if need be, especially if the game is close and he wants to avoid the middle relievers before handing the ball off to David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Of course none of that will matter if the position players don’t start hitting. Here are your starting lineups, the same ones that were going to be used last night…
New York Yankees
LF Ichiro Suzuki
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
C Russell Martin
CF Brett Gardner
SS Eduardo Nunez
LHP CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38)
CF Austin Jackson
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Delmon Young
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Andy Dirks
RF Avisail Garcia
C Gerald Laird
RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74)
It was raining earlier this morning in Detroit, but the weather has cleared up and there should be no problem getting this afternoon’s game in. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 4pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.
Ticket Update: If you’re optimistic and want to catch a future game in this series, either in New York or Detroit, make sure you check out RAB Tickets for some last minute deals.