Somewhere over the rainbow

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.

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Swept: Tigers bounce Yankees from ALCS in four games

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.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

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.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

LMAOffense

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.

Derpfense

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

Leftovers

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.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

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.

ALCS Game Four Thread: Yankees @ Tigers

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
Russell Martin
CF Brett Gardner
SS Eduardo Nunez

LHP CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38)

Detroit Tigers
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.

Rained out: ALCS Game Four postponed

(Leon Halip/Getty)

The miracle comeback will have to wait another day. Game Four of the ALCS was postponed due to rain on Wednesday night, as MLB wanted to “preserve the integrity of a nine-inning game.” The Yankees and Tigers will instead resume the series at 4pm ET on Thursday, though it should be noted that the forecast calls for a ton of rain that day as well. I guess they’ll wait that one out as long as possible.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the biggest impact of the rain out is that CC Sabathia will not be able to start a potential Game Seven on three days’ rest. He would have to go on two days’ rest a la Derek Lowe in 2004, which Brian Cashman already confirmed they would not allow Sabathia to do. Despite finishing with the best overall record in the league this year, the Yankees really got the shaft with the schedule. This stinks. Oh well, at least CC will be lined up to start Game One of the World Series.

I assume that if the Yankees actually win Game Four, Game Five would be played Friday night. Andy Pettitte has already been announced as the scheduled starter for that game. Phil Hughes may or may not be able to start a potential Game Seven given his stiff back, which could mean David Phelps gets the ball or Ivan Nova will be added to the roster. That’s quite a ways off right now though. The Tigers lead the best-of-seven series three games to none.

ALCS Game Four Thread: Yankees @ Tigers

Well, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan so far. The pitching staff owns a 2.25 ERA in eight playoff game,s but the Yankees only have three wins because they’ve just stopped hitting. Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson … you name it and they’ve stopped hitting. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Raul Ibanez, this team would have been dead in the water a week ago.

I don’t expect the Yankees to mount a historic comeback from a three games to none deficit in the ALCS, but I’m very open to being surprised. I just hope they avoid a sweep tonight and make the Tigers sweat a little bit. Put a little scare into Detroit that forces them to maybe ride their pitchers a little harder than they’d like, maybe even force them to travel and play another game in Yankee Stadium. That would be sweet. Let’s just worry about this one and enjoy what will likely be CC Sabathia‘s final start of the year. Here are your starting lineups…

New York Yankees
LF Ichiro Suzuki
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
Russell Martin
CF Brett Gardner
SS Eduardo Nunez

LHP CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38)

Detroit Tigers
CF Austin Jackson
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Delmon Young
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Andy Dirks
RR Avisail Garcia
C  Gerald Laird

RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74)

It’s surprisingly warm in Detroit, but there is the threat of rain and we might see a weather delay. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm 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.

Update (7:55pm): The game will officially start in a delay due to incoming bad weather. No word on a start time yet.

ALCS Pitching Preview: Max Scherzer

The season is officially on the line tonight, as the Yankees are one loss away from an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Tigers in the ALCS. CC Sabathia will be on the mound on regular rest and that’s exactly who the Bombers want out there, but pitching hasn’t been the problem. The hitting has been, and tonight the batters will see hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 28, went to the Tigers in the trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and he’s shaken off concerns about his durability by throwing at least 185 innings in each of the last three seasons. He’s got a little A.J. Burnett in him in the sense that he’s enigmatic and is more hittable than his stuff indicates he should be, but Scherzer is still pretty good. He just happens to be the fourth best starting pitcher in his own rotation.

2012 Performance vs. Yankees

Date Tm Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str
Apr 29 DET @ NYY L,2-6 L(1-3) 4.2 7 3 3 7 4 1 0 7.77 28 119 62
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/17/2012.

Just the one ugly start back in April, that’s it. Andruw Jones went 2-for-2 with a homer and a walk off the bench in that game, that’s how long ago it was. Those seven walks are a career-high for Scherzer, who struggled big time in April before pitching very well the rest of the season. Despite only the one meeting this year, both sides are certainly familiar with each other though after the ALDS last season and various regular season matchups (four total, to be exact) since the trade that brought Scherzer to the AL.

Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)

Scherzer is a three-pitch pitcher who acts like two two-pitch pitchers. Right-handers get the fastball and slider while lefties get the fastball and changeup. That’s pretty much it, he’s very straight forward. The fastball usually sits comfortably in the mid-90s, but Scherzer has been battling some shoulder fatigue lately and he’s been sitting the low-90s more often than not. We really don’t know how much that will help the hitters if it continues tonight, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing for the Yankees.

Performance & Results

TBF wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% FB% LD% HR/FB%
vs. RHB 351 0.258 2.52 34.8% 4.0% 37.9% 44.2% 18.0% 13.2%
vs. LHB 436 0.360 3.93 25.0% 10.6% 35.4% 39.4% 25.5% 10.2%

Unlike Justin Verlander yesterday, Scherzer has a significant platoon split. The guy eats up right-handers but has his struggled against left-handers because he doesn’t strike them out nearly as often and will walk them more frequently as well. It’s worth noting that some poor ball-in-play luck (.378 vs. 273 BABIP) plays a part in the huge split.

Regardless, it goes without saying that the Yankees have to take advantage of that, perhaps by again sitting Alex Rodriguez in favor of Eric Chavez even though neither guy is really hitting. Joe Girardi could trot out a lineup with only two true right-handed hitters — Russell Martin and Eduardo Nunez/Jayson Nix — and those guys could easily bat eighth and ninth. Last night’s ninth inning mini-rally was encouraging if nothing else, and today the Yankees have a chance to build on it and actually generate some offense by stacking lefties against Scherzer.