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.