As we were all gearing up for the Yankees 2012 season in March, the big concern on this team was pitching depth. With the injury to Michael Pineda, questions about Phil Hughes‘ after his injury-riddled 2012, and Hiroki Kuroda after switching leagues from the weak NL West to the mighty AL East. It was a bunch of question marks after CC Sabathia. But all in all, the pitching was a strength this season. Hughes won a team-high 16 wins, Kuroda was among the top five AL leaders in innings pitched with a sparkling 3.32 ERA, and the team won 95 games, all with Sabathia on the DL twice, Andy Pettitte missing three months with a broken leg, and Ivan Nova‘s ghastly season. So, you had to feel pretty confident heading into the playoffs, given that this team mashed 244 homers, tying a club record, right? Well, that went right out the window. The Yankees advanced to the ALCS behind a brilliant, complete-game effort by Sabathia. The most important thing is that they’re moving on, but one thing is for certain: if they plan to get past Justin Verlander & Co., the offense has to do a lot better than this.
As a practical matter, the AL typically trumps the NL when it comes to runs scored, given the built-in advantage of using the designated hitter over the pitcher (unless you happen to be a pitcher who hits like Stephen Strasburg). I fully went into this postseason expecting the Yankees and the Orioles, who hit 214 homers of their own, to mash on pitching- particularly given that three games would be in homer-happy Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees have hit exceptionally well at Camden Yards.
I was dead wrong.
The pitching was superb, for both teams. Looking at the regular season stats for the Yankees, on paper, it looks like a solid performance out of a starter could get them the win. This is exactly what happened. In fact, going into Game 5, the Yankees’ starters had a collective ERA of around 2.34, which is pretty solid considering Sabathia struggled for much of the year, and Hughes’ gave up the second-most homers in the majors this year. CC gave up 2 runs over 8.2 IP, Pettitte gave up 3 ER over 7 IP, Kuroda gave up 2 ER in 8.1 IP and Hughes gave up just 1 ER in 6.2 IP. CC pitched a complete game in Game 5, giving up just one run in a heroic effort. That is more than enough to get the job done with this Yankees team.
Except, it almost wasn’t. Because for the incredible job the Yankees’ staff did opposing a homer-happy team, the Orioles matched them, but for one inning (the 9th) in Game 1, when Jim Johnson had a rare flub. Yes, the Orioles pitchers did very well, and sometimes in baseball, you have to tip your cap to the opposing pitcher. Except, with all due respect, Joe Saunders isn’t exactly Justin Verlander. “Anemic” would be a kind way to describe the Yankee offense this series. In Game 4 alone, the Yankees managed just one run with eight hits across 13 innings. That is simply unacceptable.
Alex Rodriguez seems (unfairly, I might add) to be everyone’s favorite punching bag when it comes to the sluggish offense, and the situation was only exacerbated after Raul Ibanez‘s late-game heroics in Game 3. While A-Rod looks over-matched at the plate, prompting his benching in an elimination game, there is plenty of blame to go around: Curtis Granderson looked absolutely dreadful (.063, 9Ks, 1 H heading into Game 5) before running into a meatball that he belted into the second deck. Nick Swisher is completely lost, a reoccurring theme of his postseason career. Robinson Cano, the cog of the offense, is hit only .091 with just one walk. Even Ichiro Suzuki is struggling after his late-season hot streak, though he whacked in an insurance run in Game 5. Russell Martin‘s average resembles that of his regular season at .176, but he does have a couple of walks. Only Derek Jeter, who is playing on one foot, by the way, and (ironically) Mark Teixeira consistently contributed offensively for the team. That is also unacceptable.
In the players’ defense, this isn’t exactly a recent development. This team scores runs in bunches. While it is true that they hit a ton of home runs, which I don’t happen to believe is a problem– but if, and only if, the offense is able to be balanced with a small-ball offense, as well. That is barely happening. It started to, towards the end of the season when Tex returned after his calf injury, and the Yankees got lucky that Mark Reynolds was snoozing on covering first, allowing Tex to steal second and score on Ichiro’s hard liner in Game 5. However, unless men get on base, there is no one to drive in for a run. Unfortunately for the Yankees, it doesn’t help matters that when a guy does get on base, the batter immediately following him cannot move him over on the bases, period, let alone drive him home. The Yankee’s failure to hit with runners in scoring position, while it isn’t my favorite stat, isn’t so much about the failure to drive in runs, but the failure to sustain the offense with anything other than a home run. And that is a problem, one that has been going on all season long, but in the playoffs, where it is all hands on deck, facing the best of the best it could prove fatal.
For all the consternation about the Yankees’ pitching this season, it has been the offense that has been the glaring problem this season. Every starter, and every member of the bullpen, gave the team a chance to win this series, and have done a brilliant job all year long, in fact. Yes, you occasionally have to tip your cap to your opposition. But other times, you have to take a look in the mirror and realize that, with all due respect to the Orioles, who made an astounding run this year- it wasn’t so much the opposition’s ability as it was the Yankee’s own struggles.
The bats were quiet in the ALDS, as they have many times during the season as well, and the Yankees needed near-perfection from their starter to advance. That isn’t a recipe for success with a much more potent lineup in Detroit — Miguel Cabrera didn’t win the Triple Crown by accident — and a much, much tougher rotation. If the Yankees want to get to the World Series, they’re going to have to snap out of this offensive funk, and fast. But if they don’t, and the Tigers move on- don’t look to the starting pitching. Blame the offense.