Tigers end Yanks’ season for second time in six years, win 2011 ALDS three games to two.
The 2011 Yankees were a great offensive team, posting the third-best wOBA in MLB (.346) and tying for the second-best wRC+ (113) in the league. In the most important game of the season, the team that averaged 5.35 runs per game — second in all of baseball — could only muster up two, as the Yankees lost the 2011 ALDS to the Tigers three games to two, losing Game 5 by a score of 3-2 (their second one-run loss of the series), marking the second time in the last six seasons that New York has been unable to get past Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.
This was a strange series loss. This wasn’t the 2010 ALCS, where the Yankees got absolutely bludgeoned by the Rangers — the Yankees both hit and pitched better than Detroit on the whole. I also thought the Yankees game-planned Detroit exceptionally well — any time you’re able to hold Miguel Cabrera to a .200/.400/.400 line and Victor Martinez to a .689 OPS, you know you’ve done something right. However, the Tigers received some outsized performances mostly from players not necessarily expected to hurt the Yankees (Brandon Inge OPSed 1.071 in seven ABs; Don Kelly 1.000 in 11 ABs) and got some big hits when they really needed to — in particular, two Delmon Young (1.170 OPS in 19 ABs) home runs — both of which came on the first pitch of the at-bat — wound up being game-winning shots in two of the Tigers’ three wins.
This was also a strange way to end this series. I thought the team was dead to rights prior to Game 4, and yet after their resilient win to force the series back to New York I thought there was no way they could lose Game 5. They were home, they hadn’t hit a home run in an awfully long time (it would stay that way), and for the most part the bats had gotten the job done (they ended up outscoring the Tigers 28-17 over the five-game set). And I was certain they’d score multiple runs off of Doug Fister. Fister — who threw five innings of one-run, four-strikeout ball — apparently had other ideas, and turned in a very strong outing in the most important start of his career.
Ivan Nova, on the other hand, had a shaky first inning that featured back-to-back solo blasts on back-to-back pitches by Don Kelly — he of the .381 SLG on the season — and Young. Still, the Yankees were most certainly capable of matching that, and they did — they just couldn’t exceed it. Much like their Game 2 loss at the Stadium, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the first innings, and the Yankees played from behind for all nine frames. Their Win Expectancy would never get higher than the 52.3% it rose to after Austin Jackson struck out to lead off the game. Think about that for a moment– despite being down at most three runs, the Yankees chances of winning Game 5 never even exceeded 50% for the remainder of the evening, underscoring just how difficult it is to execute come-from-behind victories in baseball.
Nova only lasted one more inning before being yanked by Joe Girardi due to apparent forearm stiffness, thus starting the revolving door of relievers. Though many seemed perplexed, I thought Joe handled the bullpen masterfully in this game — the only “reliever” Detroit scored on was CC Sabathia in the fifth, and unfortunately it turned out to be the winning run. Joe used five other relief pitchers — Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera — to ensure the game remained within reach, and that quintet responded in kind, combining for 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball.
Though Fister, along with the apparently unhittable new owner of the Yankees Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde did their jobs, the Yankees certainly weren’t without their opportunities. Most notably, they squandered a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity in the fourth, as both Russell Martin and Brett Gardner popped out; and once again in the 7th, as Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher (sandwiching a Mark Teixeira bases-loaded walk) struck out swinging to end the threat. All told the Yankees left 11 men on base, and went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position, though no runners scored on either hit. That the Yankees had 10 hits and three walks but only plated two runners tells you everything you need to know about the offense in this game.
A lot of people at Yankee Stadium were enraged at A-Rod, who ended the game swinging rather meekly over a Valverde fastball, but those people are idiots. Yes, Alex had a rough series, but unless you’re blind you could see that he was pretty clearly not at 100% health. He looked great in the field, but did not look like Alex Rodriguez during his at-bats in this series. Alex hit .196/.369/.353 in 65 September plate appearances, and .111/.261/.111 in the ALDS (.198 wOBA, the second-worst postseason showing of his Yankee career after the ’06 ALDS), and while neither of those are enormous samples and I doubt he or Girardi would ever use the nagging injuries as a scapegoat, I’m certain the knee and thumb issues were lingering.
Additionally, it’s not as if Alex was the only member of the Yankees struggling to contribute. Though he did have a double and the run-scoring walk in Game 5, Mark Teixeira was once again ostensibly a nonentity in the postseason. His wOBAs during the last three Octobers are .271 (2009), .240 (2010) and .263 (2011).
Oh, and Nick Swisher. Swish’s last three postseason wOBAs are .234, .306 and .272. These three were the Yankees’ 4-5-6 hitters, and while the Yankees got solid overall team production — they did hit .260/.350/.399 on the series to the Tigers’ .228/.311/.380 — it seemed like these three were responsible for killing an inordinate number of rallies. Per Jack Curry, A-Rod, Tex and Swish are a combined 15 for their last 112 (.134) in the postseason dating back to the beginning of the 2010 ALCS. I mean, I just don’t even know what to say about that.
Though he did terrific work with the pitching staff this season, Russell Martin was the other primary offensive black hole in this ALDS, hitting .176/.333/.235. Now, ascribing blame for a series loss on one individual or even multiple individuals is obviously pointless, especially in a extremely small sample size. However, a lack of timely production from these hitters, who are much better than the numbers they put up, is partially why the Yankees — the better team than Detroit, as far as I’m concerned — not only couldn’t put the Tigers away sooner but also couldn’t win the series, despite averaging 5.6 runs per game and the pitching staff throwing to a very impressive 3.27 ERA. I would imagine there aren’t many teams that have put those kind of numbers up in a postseason series and wound up on the losing side.
Of course, credit is also due to the Tigers, who, despite allowing a lot of runs, were able to really limit the damage when they most needed to. The star of the series was undoubtedly Scherzer — though Justin Verlander gets all the hype, the Yankees could barely muster a thing off the righty, who tossed 7 1/3
shutout innings of one-run ball over the ALDS, which means the Yankees haven’t scored have only scored one run on him over their last 15 1/3 frames against Scherzer (I’d forgotten that the run Benoit walked in was Scherzer’s responsibility; still, they haven’t actually scored a run with Scherzer on the mound in their last 15 1/3 innings against him).
In fact, though I professed to not have a preference as to who the Yankees faced in the ALDS, a set with the lefty-laden Ranger rotation probably would have ended up being a better match-up for the Bombers. The 2011 Yankees’ dirty little secret was the fact that their righthanded hitters really struggled — at least in comparison to their overall team numbers (84 tOPS+) — against same-sided pitchers. This was pretty easily papered over during the season, as the regular Yankee lineup generally only employed three righties when facing righthanded pitching, but the Tigers, with an all-righty rotation and for all intents and purposes an all-righty bullpen, were really able to exploit this. The trio of Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Martin went a combined 11-59 (.186 BA) in this series, and the team as a whole was mostly stymied by Detroit’s starting pitchers — who allowed zero home runs — save Rick Porcello. So much for #toomanyhomers.
In Matt Warden’s and Moshe’s posts on Wednesday they touched on how baseball — like most sports — is a game of inches. Derek Jeter sent a fly ball to the warning track in the bottom of the 8th inning, which would have ended up being a go-ahead two-run shot had it gone out, but Kelly settled under it directly in front of the fence to end the inning. If that ball travels two more feet, we’re very likely discussing how impressive it was that the Yankees were able to orchestrate such a valiant, late-inning comeback to keep their season alive and secure an ALCS rematch with the Rangers; instead we’re left with a basket of “what-ifs” and “could have beens.”
However, it’s also important to remember that the Yankees have been doing the very same thing to other teams for years; we just don’t notice it when we’re on the winning side of the equation. Baseball is an incredibly hard sport, and for my money, the absolute hardest — I’m admittedly biased, as I have no use for football, professional basketball or any sport with a clock — and SO many things have to go right for a team to not only win their division, but also win three consecutive micro-series in a row, where anything can happen. The playoffs are often referred to as a crapshoot, and that’s absolutely correct — the best you can do is get there, and then put you team in as good a position as you can to win games. Oftentimes you fail, but sometimes even when you execute, things still don’t always go your way.
Also, while some Yankee fans may take it for granted, just making the playoffs is an impressive feat in and of itself (though it may not be for much longer at the rate we’re adding Wild Cards) — just ask Boston Red Sox fans. Their team was all but guaranteed its invitation to the dance with less than a month ago, and we all know how that turned out. I know the Yankees have been selling this idea that any season without a championship should somehow be considered a failure, but if you’re buying this nonsense than you’re going to live a pretty miserable existence, because baseball just doesn’t work that way. The late ’90s Yankee dynasty was an anomaly. Be proud of your team — a team that made it to the postseason, and took a fellow division winner to a fifth and final game, only to lose by one run. A game of inches indeed.
And so the book on the 2011 Yankees is officially closed, and I personally consider it to have been a rousing success — don’t let anyone dare tell you otherwise. A team that appeared to have a rotation patched together with paper clips and duct tape and that no one thought could win the AL East managed to not only win the division but also more games than everyone else in their league. There were an incredible number of memorable moments — Bartolo Colon’s complete-game shutout of the A’s on Memorial Day; Derek Jeter’s 3,000-hit game; CC Sabathia’s complete-game shutout of the Rays; the historic three-grand-slam day; Jesus Montero arriving to the big leagues in style, Mariano Rivera becoming MLB’s all-time saves leader and Jorge Posada helping secure the AL East title in his last season in pinstripes all spring to mind — and the team dramatically outperformed expectations.
After all was said and done, for as wonderful a surprise as the pitching staff was — and even though the offense was primarily culpable for the Game 5 loss — I believe the team’s ultimate downfall was its lack of starting pitching depth. They were able to get by during the season with above-and-beyond-the-call performances from the likes of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, but it may have been a bit of a pipe dream to have expected to be able to count on them to help bring the team to the promised land. Hindsight is always 50/50, but after watching the 2011 ALDS unfold, it does seem a little crazy that the Yankees’ starting pitching depth chart was CC Sabathia (75 xFIP-)/Ivan Nova (103)/Freddy Garcia (107)/A.J. Burnett (95), while Detroit’s was Justin Verlander (77)/Doug Fister (68)/Max Scherzer (91)/Rick Porcello (99).
Like every end of one’s beloved team’s season, this was a depressing loss — but not depressing because the Yankees lost; depressing because there’s no more Yankee baseball to watch. For many of us, the postseason gives us even more of an excuse to get together with our fellow fanatics and bond over the highs and lows of playoff baseball — not that anyone ever needed an excuse to hang out with their friends. Still, while I’ll get together with friends and family throughout the baseball season, nothing matches the intensity, nervousness and excitement of watching your beloved team — the team you obsess over to the point of wanting to write something, anything, about it 365 days a year — try to battle its way through the postseason gauntlet. And so while I’m sad the Yankees lost, I’m more depressed that there won’t be any more Yankee-related social gatherings until next spring. In any event, congratulations are in order for the Tigers and their fans.
I also have to acknowledge what has been a tremendous first season at The Yankee Analysts. To my fellow co-writers — Moshe, Matt I., Matt W., Mike, Eric, Steve, William, EJ and Sean — I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to collaborate with you all — among the smartest guys in the blogging business — day in and day out. Your level of dedication to an enterprise that is a hobby for all of us is beyond impressive, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every last word we’ve published.
And of course, an extraordinary thank-you to you, our readers, who are the reason we do what we do. Without you guys, there wouldn’t be a point to any of this — you make the site what it is, and we are tremendously grateful to everyone who has spent even a second of their day at TYA, along with what I hope are a good number of you that have spent many cumulative hours this season reading the incredible content being published on this blog every day.
And with that, I’d like to remind you that just because the Yankees’ season is now over, we’re not going anywhere. For whatever reason, we seem to get even more readers during the winter than when actual baseball is being played — I suppose ardent fans are that much more emboldened to fill the craving in the absence of games. I certainly know the feeling; not a sdya goes by where I’m not thinking critically about the Yankees and/or baseball, and I can’t let a day pass without reading something about the team– which was a driving force behind wanting to get into blogging about them in the first place — and I imagine many of you feel the same way.
There will be tons to talk about, and I’d like to encourage you all to keep sending us your questions — the Hot Stove Season is always a fun one for a team like the Yankees, and this winter won’t be any different, as we’ll see whether the Yankees go after the premier pitching free agents on the market in C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish (or neither), as well as how they handle Sabathia’s opt-out — and you can rest assured that we’ll be posting on our usual many-times-a-day schedule throughout the offseason to get you through the cold winter and back into spring before you know it.