Scuffling bats holding back Yanks' strong pitching
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W YORK -- The danger here is not only the New York Yankees losing the American League Championship Series. There is also the potential for the Yankees' pitchers to sustain hernias from carrying this entire operation all by themselves.
All right, Raul Ibanez has helped some. Other than that, no, not much from the guys with the bats.
With the kind of superlative starting pitching the Yankees have received, given just normal run production, they could have swept the Orioles in the AL Division Series and would now be leading the Detroit Tigers, 2-0, in the ALCS.
But with the anemic attack the Yankees have actually had, they had to go the five-game distance in the ALDS. And they are now trailing Detroit, 2-0, in the ALCS after a dispiriting 3-0 loss Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
What has happened to the offense that was second in the Majors in runs scored in the regular season? That offense made one appearance this postseason, in a five-run ninth-inning rally against Baltimore in Game 1 of the ALDS. The rest of the time, over seven postseason games, this offense has generated 15 runs.
If it is true that the meek shall inherit the Earth, the members of this Yankees lineup are in for some serious real estate.
This collective slump was going on well before Derek Jeter sustained a fractured left ankle in the ALCS opener. This was a devastating injury to the Captain, the spiritual center of this team.
There was a lot of the usual talk that occurs in the wake of an injury to an important player, about other players stepping up in his absence. The more important the player is, the more talking there is about stepping up.
OK, how many Yankees "stepped up" on Sunday? The correct answer is: "One."
That would be starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who did everything humanly possible to put this one in the win column for the Yankees. Asked to start on three days' rest for the first time in his Major League career, Kuroda responded by striking out seven batters in the first three innings, and by retiring the first 15 Tigers that he faced. Kuroda's final line included no walks and 11 strikeouts. He gave up three runs in 7 2/3 innings, but he was better than that. The Yankees' bullpen allowed two of his runs to score after he left the game.
Hiroki Kuroda is the fifth Yankees pitcher to notch 11 or more strikeouts in a postseason game.
Kuroda deserved a far better fate. But Yankees starting pitchers have pitched well enough to win all seven postseason games this October. The club is only 3-4 to this point, because of the woeful performance of the team's offense. In the postseason, as a team, the Yankees are scoring fewer than three runs per game and hitting .205. The traditional term "Bronx Bombers" can only be used if sarcasm is intended.
A baseball adage says that, "momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher." Every day in this postseason, the Yankees' starting pitcher has provided an uplifting performance. Some of them have been good, some of them have been very good, at least one has been classic. But in four out of seven cases, good, solid, momentum-generating pitching performances by Yankees starters have been wasted by a no-show offense.
Among the culprits are some of the biggest names in Yankees universe. Robinson Cano is hitting .063, and Sunday set a postseason record when his streak of consecutive hitless at-bats reached 26. Curtis Granderson is hitting .115. Nick Swisher, not a newcomer to postseason hitting struggles, is batting .154. Alex Rodriguez is hitting .130. When he singled in the ninth inning Sunday, a huge cheer arose from the Yankee Stadium faithful. In some cases, this might also have been the sound of sarcasm.
These are veteran hitters, being attacked in the same way by pitching staffs in consecutive postseason series. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that his hitters were not making adequate adjustments.
"We have to make adjustments," Girardi said. "We know what they are doing to us. You have to make adjustments. They are not going to put it on a tee for us. We know that. We are more than capable of scoring runs and have done it a number of times this year. We have to make adjustments."
Much of Girardi's postgame news conference was devoted to an eighth-inning tag play, in which Detroit's Omar Infante was ruled safe at second. Replays indicated that he was, in fact, out. Girardi objected, persistently and vociferously and was eventually ejected.
Girardi used this incident to call for a much wider use of instant replay.
"Yeah, let's have instant replay," he said. "And not just home runs, fair, foul. Let's have instant replay."
In the case of this call, Girardi's argument was that it contributed to a two-run Detroit inning and that a 3-0 game is significantly different than a 1-0 game.
"It's a lot easier for a reliever to relax," Girardi said, referring to the Detroit reliever, in this case closer dujour Phil Coke.
"I am not saying we win the game if the call is right," Girardi said. "But in this day and age, there is too much at stake and the technology is available."
It was good that Girardi said the thing about not winning the game if the call was right. The way the Yankees are not hitting, if the right call was made, they would have lost, 1-0, instead of 3-0. When you produce no runs on four hits, there's a good chance you weren't beaten by the umpires.