Sunday, October 24, 2010

Top 5 Reasons the Yankees Didn't Win the Pennant

Let's get one reason out of the way right now: The easy answer in a situation like this, whether trying to explain an ordinary loss or a shocking, calamitous, Bill Buckner-type defeat, is to say, "The other team was better."

The Texas Rangers are not better than the New York Yankees. The Yankees won 5 more games in the regular season while playing in a much tougher Division. If the Yankees had played Games 167 through 171 the way they played Games 1 through 166, there still might not have been a Game 172, but it would have been because the Yankees, rather than the Rangers, who wrapped the ALCS up before it got to a Game 7.

Here's why the Yankees didn't win the Pennant:

5. Phil Hughes. He was awful in Game 2, and while not as bad in Game 6, he didn't get through the 6th either time. His ERA for the ALCS was 11.42. Ow. He's young, had a great regular season, and he has done well in postseason play (he was great in his 1 ALDS start). So I can't hold him as responsible as, say...

4. A.J. Burnett. Somebody suggested he had the worst regular season of any Yankee starter ever to appear in a postseason. 10-15? 5.26 ERA? 81 ERA+? 1.511 WHIP? These are not the stats of a man who should be on the postseason roster.

If A.J. had simply been 1 game under .500 in the regular season, 12-13, the Yankees would've finished 1 game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, won the AL East, and faced the Rangers in the ALDS before they could get any momentum and any additional confidence going, and they could have won, and advanced to face the Rays-Minnesota Twins winner.

Instead, he was the biggest reason (among players, anyway) that the Yankees didn't win the East, and he wasn't on the ALDS roster. He never should've been on the ALCS roster, and he never should've been out there in Game 4 to get bombed. But those last 2 facts aren't his fault, which I'll get to in Reason Number 1.

3. The Yankee bats in general. It doesn't matter how good Cliff Lee is: The Yankee lineup should be good enough to beat anybody. Instead, they made Lee and C.J. Wilson look like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Or Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Or even, dare I say it, David Cone and Andy Pettitte.

Look at these OPS's: Derek Jeter, .709; Jorge Posada, .668; Nick Swisher, .473; Brett Gardner, .440; Marcus Thames, .301; Mark Teixeira, a mere .176. Between those 6 men, in 6 games, a pathetic 5 RBIs. Aside from Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, the Yankee bats were hopeless. In the immortal words of Didier Drogba, "It's a disgrace! It's a disgrace! It's a fucking disgrace!"

2. Alex Rodriguez. What, his 2009 postseason performance didn't buy him a pass from this list? No, it didn't, although he was not the biggest reason the Yankees didn't win this Pennant. But as the 2009 regular season (in which he was absent for the first quarter, then came back, and made everybody, especially the man hitting in front of him, Teixeira, hit better) and the subsequent postseason proved, as A-Rod's hitting goes, so goes the Yankees' hitting. In this ALCS, he was 4-for-21. Batting average, .190; on-base, .320; slugging, .286; OPS, .606; RBIs, 2.

I do give A-Rod a pass on his Carlos Beltran Moment, ending an ALCS by taking a called 3rd strike, because that pitch was well outside. He was right not to swing at it, because it was no strike. (In Ryan Howard's similar case, I also thought that wasn't a strike, but it was much closer, close enough to swing.) But if he had hit better, the rest of the team might also have. He didn't, they didn't, and A-Rod's ring count, while still infinitely better than zero, remains at 1.

But, as I said, the biggest fault lies not with A-Rod, but with...

1. Joe Girardi. The Yankee manager decided it was better to pace his team in the closing stages of the regular season, and settle for the AL Wild Card while taking a chance on NOT winning the AL East, than to go for the Division Title and the best record in the League, thus assuring home-field advantage throughout.

In so doing, he probably undermined a lot of players' confidence, and while it didn't seem to matter in the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, that victory sweep might have turned out differently if Justin Morneau hadn't been hurt.

And it did matter in the ALCS, where Girardi totally fucked up the rotation and the bullpen. In the rotation, he should've started Andy Pettitte in Game 2 and Phil Hughes in Game 3, instead of the other way around. We could've been up 2 games to 0 going into the Cliff Lee game, and then all the pressure would've been on Lee to save the Rangers, and then we'd see what kind of postseason pitcher he really is. Instead, Hughes didn't have it, and we went into Game 3 tied 1-1, and while Pettitte pitched well, nobody managed to hit Lee.

In the bullpen, Girardi's his reliance on Boone Logan as a lefty to face lefty slugger Josh Hamilton came too damn close to literally blowing up on him. Maybe there's a good lefty reliever who could have faced Hamilton and gotten him out -- maybe the injured Damaso Marte -- but Logan wasn't it, and once that was proven, why did Girardi try Logan again? And he also relied on David Robertson to face, well, anybody. Another multiple mistake.

Girardi said CC Sabathia might be available to pitch in relief in Game 6. Bump that, he should've started Game 4 on 3 days' rest, instead of letting Burnett go back out there to get shelled. Pitching CC on 3 worked last season, didn't it?

Trusting Logan and then Robertson in Game 3 turned a 2-0 deficit, manageable and possibly comebackable (after all, we came back from 5-0 down late in Game 1), into 8-0. (True, in a 2006 game the Yanks trailed Texas 9-0 in the 1st and went on to win 14-13, but that wasn't with Lee on the mound.) Not replacing A.J. Burnett sooner in Game 4 turned 3-2 us into 5-2 them -- bad, but still well comebackable. Then trusting Robertson and then Logan turned it into 7-2. Maybe pulling Hughes too late in Game 6 did turn 1-1 into 3-1 them, but that's comebackable. Replacing Hughes with Robertson III: This Time, It's Personal! turned 3-1 into 5-1.

If the old George Steinbrenner was still the owner, Girardi would have been fired on the spot in the wake of the Game 6 defeat. He wouldn't even have gotten back on the plane still holding his job. As it is, the 2009 win probably bought Girardi one year to fuck up. But 2011 better be a different story, or else the Yankees may have another manager in 2012.

After all, neither Hank nor Hal is George... but they are still Steinbrenners. Unless you're Joe Torre, and even then, following a few October defeats, you don't buy. You rent.

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