In the end it wasn’t the pitching that did in the Yankees, it was the hitting. The Yankees could not even score three runs in the most important game of the season. They managed only two runs–on a total of ten hits. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, but there wasn’t a clutch hit to be found the entire night, with the exception of Jorge Posada’s fourth inning single that loaded the bases before Russell Martin and Brett “The Jet” Gardner ended the inning with back-to-back pop ups. By my count, the Yankees missed at least seven or eight down-the-middle fastballs, pitches that were hittable, but ended up as nothing more than foul balls or called strikes.
In the three losses the Yankees sustained, they scored three runs, four runs, and two runs. When the games were close, the Yankees could not score enough. They won the blowouts, but they could not win the one and two-run games that are so prevalent throughout the season, or in this case, a short playoff series.
In a way, I’m not surprised. I’ve heard out-of-town broadcasters refer to the Yankees’ offense as a “powerhouse” or as a “juggernaut” or as “relentless.” My reaction to that is this: these guys didn’t watch the Yankees play much this season. The Yankees’ offense was hardly relentless. They didn’t even finish first in the league in runs scored; they finished second to the Red Sox, whose season went up in flames largely because their pitching staff exploded. The Yankees ran hot and cold offensively, they were very good at times, and they hit a lot of home runs, but they were sporadic with runners in scoring position. They were not a powerhouse. This was not the “Big Red Machine” or “Murderers’ Row.” Not even close.
So what do the Yankees need to do elevate the offense, particularly in the postseason? It would be helpful to break up the futile threesome of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, who once again failed to come up big in the playoffs. All of the blame tends to get put on A-Rod, but Tex has been as much of a black hole with his exaggerated uppercut and pull swing. (He needs to do some serious work with Kevin Long in the spring and get back to being the all-fields hitter he was in Texas and Anaheim.) A-Rod and Teixeira are not tradeable because of their long contracts, so it might be time to trade Swisher and make room for some new blood in right field. I like Swisher, and I love his enthusiasm, but his inability to hit in the postseason has become a problem.
It would also help the Yankees if they make Jesus Montero a featured part of their offense. There is no way that Jorge Posada will be coming back; even though he was one of the few hitters who showed up against the Tigers, he was unproductive for most of the summer and was inadequate as a DH. It’s time to get younger. Montero, who should have received more at-bats as a pinch-hitter against the Tigers, can move into the DH role and bat sixth or seventh from day one. He is the real deal offensively, a player who will hit for average and power, and it is time to stop sending him back to Scranton/Wilkes Barre. It is also time to stop shopping him for pitching. The Yankees need a better and younger offense, just like they need better pitching. They need to keep Montero.
This is not to say that the Yankees should make pitching a secondary priority. Regardless of whether CC Sabathia opts out of his contract, they need to think about free agents like C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson. They need to think about trading Swisher for a capable No. 4 starter and/or some left-handed help in the bullpen. And, to borrow a phrase from Bill Parcells, they need to take the Huggies off of Phil Hughes and let him pitch every fifth day and let him strengthen his arm by pitching more–not less. If the Yankees do these things, along with bringing Sabathia back, their starting pitching should be stronger in 2012.
In the meantime, we are left with a disappointing finish to a season. Unlike some, I don’t consider the season a total failure without a World Series championship. I can take some solace in Derek Jeter reaching 3,000, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves leader, and the Yankees winning a division title in a year in which the Red Sox were supposed to be the team to beat.
So there is some consolation in that. I just hope that Brian Cashman and the Yankees don’t find too much consolation, because there is work that needs to be done to help the Yankees take three more steps in 2012.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.