Through the first eight innings of their seven 2012 postseason games to date, the Yankees have scored nine runs total. That comes out to 1.45 runs per game, a stupefying total for a team that averaged 4.96 runs/game in the regular season. Raul Ibanez’s playoff-long Babe Ruth impression and an onslaught of ninth-inning runs (10 in seven games, which you’ll note is more than in the first eight innings of each game combined) have masked a historically horrendous postseason for the Yankee offense.
And the Yankees are actually getting worse at the plate as the postseason goes on. I’ve been to a lot of playoff games over the last 17 years, including Game 2 of the ALCS Sunday against the Detroit Tigers. And I’ve only seen two other games where the Yankees hit that poorly in the playoffs, both shutout losses: Game 2 of the 1996 World Series (Greg Maddux: 8IP, 6H, 0R, 82 pitches) and Game 6 of the 2003 World Series (Josh Beckett: CG, 5H, 2BB, 0R). Anibal Sanchez is no scrub, but he’s no 2003 Josh Beckett and he sure as hell is no Greg Maddux.
The loss of Derek Jeter and a razor-thin bench (sorry Eric Chavez and Eduardo Nunez, but one of you is too decrepit and the other doesn’t have what it takes — you know which is which) is part of the problem. But Jeter wasn’t knocked out until the 12th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS, and the Yankees were nosediving at the plate long before The Captain’s ankle snapped.
Most of the blame for the Yanks’ woes has fallen on the shoulders of four men: A-Rod, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson. How bad have they been in the seven games? Well…
A-Rod: .130/.200/.130, 12K
Cano: .063/.091/.126, 4K (currently on a record 0-for-26 streak)
Swisher: .154/.233/.192, 8K
Granderson: .115/.207/.231, 14K
I hardly know where to begin. Let’s take this from least to most surprising.
4. Swisher. The man has been a millstone for three different teams in the postseason. In 45 career playoff games, Swish has a grisly stat line of .167/.284/.300. He’s never hit above .211 in a seven-game series format (ALCS/World Series). He’s as clutch as he is reserved, only this year he’s almost certainly playing his way off the team. A free agent in the offseason, Swish has proven that he is an Alfonso Soriano-sized liability in the playoffs, and after his misplay in the field cost the Yankees Game 1 on Saturday night, he missed another ball Sunday that led to the Tigers’ third run. Basically, he has no value whatsoever this point and will be lucky to command three years and $27 million from a team like the Marlins come the winter.
3. A-Rod. Not surprising for all the reasons I said in my column on him last week, with one addendum — his ghastly strikeout rate. In his first 299 playoff at-bats (pre-2012), A-Rod struck out 63 times, a rate of one K per 4.75 at-bats. In 2012, he’s whiffed a whopping 12 times in 25 at-bats (2.08 AB/K). A strikeout rate more than double his career postseason average is fatal for any hitter — simply put, you’re worth less than nothing if you strike out at a Mark Reynolds-like rate and have zero extra-base hits.
2. Granderson. In the previous two postseasons with the Yankees, Curtis hit .313/.435/.452 with two homers and nine RBIs. Of course, that was before his late-season meltdown this year, but even the most pessimistic Yankee fan couldn’t have predicted a postseason with more than twice as many strikeouts (14) as total bases (6). In Sunday’s Game 2, Granderson looked as bad as any hitter I’ve ever seen, and I watched Hensley Meulens play for years. As one wry commenter said: “His style is fall behind 0-2, then swing and miss by two feet at a breaking ball nowhere near the strike zone.” With 14 Ks in 26 at-bats, Curtis is diminishing his market value with every swing and miss.
1. Cano. The following two stats are so incongruous that I struggle to believe them. In the last nine games of the regular season and first six at-bats of the playoffs (ending with his RBI double in the first inning of Game 2 against the Orioles), Cano hit 26-for-45 (.578). Since then, he’s 0-for-26. I understand that the quality of the pitching is better in the playoffs, but… it’s unfathomable for a hitter with the physical gifts of Robbie Cano to go hitless in 26 at-bats, even if he only faces Cy Young Award winners. He’s fouling off flat fastballs in the zone. He’s way, way ahead of breaking balls. He’s letting first pitches down the middle go by (after hitting over .400 on first pitches this year) and swinging wildly at 0-2 pitches that are nowhere near the zone. He’s hit fourth, third, and even second — nothing’s worked. My Dad astutely noted last week that if Cano doesn’t hit, the Yankees can’t win a championship. He’s right, and that nightmare scenario is playing out before our eyes.
The irony in all of this is that the Yankees staff has been better than we ever imagined in the playoffs. Despite the Bombers’ futility, they actually have a better playoff OPS (.603) than the Orioles and Tigers have had against them (.559). But as has been their wont all year, the Yankees have displayed their anti-clutch gene in the playoffs (with the exception of Raul Ibanez). The Yanks are hitting an even .200 (10-for-50) with RISP in the playoffs, and just .129 (4-for-31) in the last four games.
There’s a deeper, endemic problem that needs to be addressed in the offseason here. For now, suffice it to say that the Yankees have to find their offensive stroke and do it against uber-ace Justin Verlander and strikeout machine Max Scherzer in the next two games. Otherwise, we won’t see any more baseball at Yankee Stadium this year.