Who’s disappointed?

The fact of the matter is that baseball just isn’t designed for this kind of attitude. The heart of baseball is the 162 game season, which is pretty much set up for failure. You know you’re going to lose at least 1/3 of your games. Heck, only losing 1/3 of your games translates to a 108-54 record, and there isn’t a fan in the world who wouldn’t be giddy about their team if they had that kind of season. And then you turn everything on its head once you get to the postseason, where literally anything can happen in a short series. For as much as it felt like the Yankees couldn’t lose yesterday, obviously that was never true. This is baseball, and there’s no telling how any single game is going to turn out. On literally any day, the worst team in baseball can beat the best team, so a team like Detroit can definitely scratch one out against the Yankees, even if the Yankees were the better team.

Am I disappointed today? You betcha. Honestly, I’m downright depressed. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, haven’t had anything to eat, and have spent most of the day playing with my kids in a bit of a trance. Not that I’m trying to be overly dramatic or anything, this will pass as it always does, but right now it sure does suck. But was this entire season a “bitter disappointment?” Of course not! The Yankees won the American League East and finished the 162 game schedule with more wins than anyone else in the American League. If Derek Jeter’s 8th inning fly ball goes six inches farther, you’re probably reading my preview of the Texas Rangers right now. If that’s you’re idea of a disappointing season you’re either insanely spoiled and severely lacking in perspective, or baseball just isn’t the right sport for you.

Break Up the Yankees?

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

Joe Girardi should be fired. Alex Rodriguez choked again. Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher aren’t tough enough to perform in the postseason. The Yankees should just let CC Sabathia opt out. He can’t win in October anymore.

For Yankees' fans, an early playoff exit shouldn't have to mean total despair (Photo: AP).

Undoubtedly, many of the sentiments above will be expressed today by Yankees’ fans who are still angry over their team’s early dismissal from the 2011 postseason. Unfortunately, too many of those who follow the Bronx Bombers are of the opinion that if the season doesn’t end with champagne, it must be a failure. Of course, you really can’t blame them when that “all or nothing all” philosophy has also become an organizational mantra.

It might be blasphemous to say in Yankeeland, but winning the division is just as important as winning the World Series. Although most seem to view the 162 marathon as nothing more than a qualifying heat for an October sprint, common sense seems to dictate that these two formats be viewed separately. In many ways, the relationship between baseball’s regular season and playoffs is akin to European soccer teams playing a league schedule along with an international tournament. Both are important, but failure in one shouldn’t take away from success in the other.

Yankees Historical Per Game Run Differential

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Instead of using the postseason to validate the regular season, it makes much more sense to put the Yankees’ 2011 campaign in historical context. Even though many fans of the team take regular season success for granted, it’s worth pointing out that the Yankees’ league leading winning percentage of .599 ranks among the top-10% all-time. Even more impressive, the Yankees’ run differential in 2011 was better than more than 96% of the 2,286 teams that have played a full season since 1901. What’s more, the Yankees’ success was rooted on all sides, as the offense (20% more runs scored) and pitching staff (9% fewer runs allowed) both out performed the league average significantly. Comparatively speaking, the Yankees’ lineup was more productive than 97% of all other starting nines since 1901, while the team’s hurlers were stinger than more than 75% of past pitching staffs.

Historical Comparison of Yankees Runs’ Scored versus the League Average

Note: Graphs represents the percentage by which the team overperformed or underperformed the average (x-axis). Figures are not park adjusted.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Historical Comparison of Yankees’ Runs Allowed versus the League Average

Note: Graphs represents the percentage by which the team overperformed or underperformed the average (x-axis). Figures are not park adjusted.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

It’s easy to understand why fans would be frustrated, disappointed and even angry about the Yankees’ early postseason exit, but they should remember that all of the players being labeled public enemy number one were, only one week ago, the heroes who propelled the Yankees to the American League’s best record and compiled all of the impressive statistics referenced above.

It’s also constructive to consider that each of the team’s three playoff losses ended with the tying run at the plate. If the Yankees had just one break in either of those games, they would be advancing with a 3-2 series win. Why is that significant? Because the .600 winning percentage over that tiny five game span would then have equaled what the Yankees compiled over 162 games. In all honesty, which of the two is really more impressive? If you’ve answered logically, it makes little sense to essentially allow one at bat to invalidate all that was accomplished over six months.

Unfortunately, a significant number of Yankees’ fans will likely eschew common sense when evaluating the 2011 season. They are the ones who boo Arod.

A Rational Goodbye to the 2011 Season

This is a Yankees team that exceeded expectations. Both Brien and Jason have given you some of the details. But to remind you, none of the 45 baseball experts polled by ESPN saw the Yankees winning the American League East. The best computer projections and the prevailing betting line both indicated that the Yankees would struggle for a wild card. Instead, the Yankees performed better than any of us predicted.

The Yanks also played a solid series against the Tigers. The Yanks outscored Detroit by 28 to 17, and outhit Detroit by 45 to 36. The Yanks drew more walks, had more extra-base hits, and even struck out slightly less often (25.8% of their plate appearances, versus 26.9% for the Tigers).  Yes, Alex Rodriguez hit only .111 in the series, and Mark Teixeira hit just .167, but this was a short series and not every starter is going to mash in a short series. The three Tigers hitters I personally feared the most – Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila – hit .200, .222 and .063, respectively.   The Yanks held the Tigers to about three runs scored a game.  The Yanks’ hitting “slash line” (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) was .260/.350/.399, compared to the Tigers’ .228/.311/.380. Robinson Cano had an OPS of 1.057, Jorge Posada had an OPS of 1.150, and both Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner had OPSes of over .900.  More often than not, a team that leads in statistics like this is going to win a short series. More often than not … but not this time.

Yes, we can decry the Yankees’ inability to get key hits when they would have mattered most in the games they lost. Last night the Yanks were unable to get a single “clutch” run-scoring hit when they had runners in scoring position, including the two times the Yanks loaded the bases with less than two outs. But we’ve visited this topic before: it’s one of the foundational principles of sabermetrics that clutch hitting is not a skill. Hitting is a skill, a skill that the Yankees performed better than the Tigers. Getting hits when they matter most is largely a matter of luck.

If you read my work regularly (hard to do when I don’t write regularly), you know I talk a lot about luck in baseball. Luck is not something we discuss regularly here, because even rationally-minded bloggers have to spin a narrative, and narratives require a structure, and the most popular narrative structure is based on cause and effect. So team A beat team B because team A had character, or grit, or youthful exuberance, or veteran leadership.  But if Derek Jeter’s 8th inning fly ball travels another 5 feet, the Yankees proceed to the ALCS, and the narrative changes completely. (Ditto, of course, if either of the two line drives caught by Granderson Tuesday night veers slightly in the wrong direction.)

The Yankees got some luck this ALDS, just not enough to turn their statistical advantage over the Tigers into a series win. It happens. Them’s the breaks. It wasn’t our year. If you’re looking for an honest, rational narrative for our suddenly being thrust into the post-season, I’ve just given it to you.  No use crying over it: the Yanks have won 27 World Championships, meaning that the Yankees have had more than their fair share of luck over the years. The correct long-term view is that fortune has smiled upon us more often than not, and if we’re true, smart, rational fans of the greatest franchise in sports, we should realize this, smile a little bit, and play the role of the good loser. Congratulations, Tigers. Great series! Let’s do this again next year.

The question remains: what do we fans do now, now that our post-season is upon us? Surely we will not follow the lead of the mainstream media, who will recycle the meme that nothing less than perpetual consecutive World Series championships is good enough for the Yankees. But the temptation to ask “what if”, to engage in post-mortem examinations, to second-guess managerial decisions, will be too great for us to resist.  So I will put forward two rational rules to guide our post-season analyses:

The first rule is this: exercise some perspective. From all I read in the blogosphere and tweet-o-verse this year, I’d assume that the Yankees won 97 of their games in 2011, and that Joe Girardi lost 65 of them. I’d have to assume that the 2011 Yankees were the greatest team of all time, and that only Girardi held the team back from making the 1927 Yankees look like the 1962 Mets. Puh-leeze.  Let’s show some balance in our thinking, some nuance in our analysis. Criticize if you like Girardi’s failure to pinch hit Jesus Montero for Russell Martin in last night’s 8th inning … but give Girardi credit for starting Jorge Posada over Montero all series, or choosing A.J. Burnett over Bartolo Colon for the post-season roster. Keep that luck factor in mind: sometimes the manager will make the right call and it still won’t produce the desired results. Consider humbly, if only for a brief moment, that the full-time manager of the New York Yankees might have more information at hand and baseball knowledge in head than you do. Before criticizing the other guy, try to understand why the other guy did what he did. Every time I’ve examined one of Girardi’s moves, I’ve found good reasons to support them; even when I disagree with Girardi, I can appreciate that Girardi makes rational and defensible decisions.  These post-mortem analyses are rarely as clear-cut as we make them out to be.

Second rule: avoid scapegoating, no matter what word you might use to hide the fact that you are scapegoating (the latest politically correct phrase for scapegoating is “exercising accountability”). We’re not talking about the sinking of the Titanic here. What the Yankees need to do is the same thing as what the other 29 teams in baseball (including the eventual World Series winner) need to do: figure out ways to put the best possible ballclub on the field in 2012. Let’s try to avoid what’s going on in Boston, where the Red Sox faithful are neck deep in scapegoating, er, I mean in the exercise of accountability. So far, the efforts in Red Sox Nation have resulted in their loss of their manager (a guy I’d rank as one of the very best managers in the game) and their first base coach (who could not have been accountable for very much). Scapegoating does not produce results. Architecting the best possible team under all of the circumstances is the right path for any team, and every team.

So … we still have some baseball ahead of us. It shouldn’t be hard to find a team out there to adopt (for me, it’s anyone but the Phillies!). Enjoy the remainder of October – baseball without the Yankees is better than no baseball at all. See you around the hot stove.

Positive reflections on the 2011 season

Just wait till next year!

Shortly after a scheduling conflict prevented me from writing my typical Monday, 1pm post it dawned on me that my next scheduled post might be due just after the Yankees had been eliminated from the playoffs. As a result, I’ve had ample time to reflect on what I would write about if events didn’t break the team’s way. Imagine my surprise to discover that, in the end, I only had positive things to say about the 2011 season.

It is natural to be disappointed when a 97 win team finishes with home field advantage in its league only to lose in the first round of the playoffs, but the Yankees defied odds to finish in first place at all. Entering the season no one anticipated such a strong performance from the 2011 Yankees. The assumption was that the best the Yankees could do was win the Wild Card, and nothing more, while the Boston power house collided with the Philadelphia starting rotation in the World Series. Along the way the Bombers didn’t get the memo, and gave us one of the most entertaining regular seasons in recent memory.

The composition of the team also began to change this season. Jorge Posada, a great Yankee and possibly a future Hall of Famer, saw his role on the team reduced while Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter struggled with injuries. Despite this, the team continued to win, resting on the performance of what has become a newer core: CC Sabathia, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner, David Robertson and (erratically) Mark Teixeira. (Unsurprising to all, Mariano Rivera just kept on going.) Furthermore, we all got a glimmer of what could potentially be a dramatically different Yankee team in 2013, one that includes heavy hitters like Jesus Montero, with a rotation that may very well feature Ivan Nova, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. If this is the future, then the Yankee future is bright.

It is always disappointing when a team with home field advantage loses in the first round of the playoffs, but that frustration is reduced given how much this Yankee team over achieved. In comparison, the 2010 Yankees were a much bigger disappointment. That team entered the season with repeat written all over it only to underachieve in a variety of ways en route to an ALCS loss. Sure, the 2010 team made it deeper into the playoffs than the 2011 team did, but that team was meant to be only a slightly retooled version of the 2009 World Champions. They were supposed to win it all! This year’s crop was only supposed to go as far as Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia would carry them, which turned out to be just one more of the year’s pleasant surprises.

While I am most certainly upset that the Yankees didn’t pull out the victory last night, I’m not as hung over from the excitement and the adrenaline of the postseason as I thought I’d be. By comparison, I was much more terrified in 2009 when the team was obviously the best in baseball, and absolutely had to win (and take a monkey off its back in the process). This entire season was a rousing success, given the team’s long odds (relatively speaking) when the season began. While this in no way makes up for the Yankees going home after losing an eminently winnable series, it does serve as a reminder of just how much fun 2011 was, and how lucky I am that the team I get to root for doesn’t need to catch lightning in a bottle to be competitive. We’ll be right back in the swing of things next year.

Oh what a season!

Aside from the inevitable roster moves that will happen after the postseason ends, I think the two guys we’re going to spend the most time talking about this offseason are Alex Rodriguez and Phil Hughes. A-Rod will get tagged with choking in the playoffs again, but the big issue for him is going to be his ability to stay healthy. All things considered, it wasn’t a bad year at all for A-Rod at the plate, where he went .276/.362/.461, good for a wRC+ of 125, but a variety of injuries limited him to just 428 plate appearances in 99 games, and he didn’t even come close to being the 30 home run, 100 RBI player we all expect him to be. Hopefully he can heal up over the winter and have some better luck next season, because he can still get it done with the bat when he’s healthy.

As for Hughes, I think he’s just going to want to forget this season. He wasn’t healthy from day one, and though he was relatively solid after coming off of the disabled list, he never really seemed to get into a groove this year. That’s a shame, because a healthier, more effective Hughes would have really deepened the Yankees’ rotation. Hopefully he does something different this offseason and comes to camp much stronger, ready to be an effective starter for the Yankees in 2012.

On the other hand, how about the scrap heap? The Yankees picked up Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez, and Russell Martin from the Island of Misfit Toys, and each one of them was an important contributor to the team, even though I wouldn’t have thought any of them except for Martin would last beyond April, if they even made the team. But make it they did, and they lasted all season. There is no way I would have thought the Yankees would win the A.L. East if you’d have told me that in February, and I doubt anyone else would have either. Methinks the price of scrap might go up a little bit this year.

Speaking of scrap, how about Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher. They….nope, not even going to talk about them today. (Deep, slow breaths, Brien. In and out, in and out)

Robinson Cano is amazing, isn’t he? I doubt this even becomes an issue because of the Yankees’ policy on re-negotiating contracts, but I really hope they get an extension done with Cano this offseason. Aside from the fact that they can keep him off off the free agent market in his prime that way, it should probably save them some money as well. Policies are policies and all that, but sometimes you do have to make exceptions, and this is one case where an exception is clearly in the best interests of everyone. Get it done, erm, whoever the GM is at that point.

A.J. Burnett struggled all year, again, but did finish strong and pitched what was perhaps the game of the year in Game 4 of the ALDS. Unfortunately, that means he’s met his quota for good pitching performances in big spots, and he’s going to go back to sucking next year. Or at least I’m just going to assume that’s the case, so I can’t be anything but pleasantly surprised by him next year.

I meant to say something about him last night, but Gene Monahan is now no longer the team’s trainer. Back when they announced that this would be Geno’s last season, I assumed the Yankees would do something to honor him at the Stadium, but they didn’t. Few people do their jobs as long or as well as Geno did, and things just won’t quite be the same without him. Here’s to Geno!

And last, but certainly not least…Jorge Posada. It was a rough season for Jorge, to say the least, but it sure ended on a high note, didn’t it? Ultimately, there wasn’t anyone else short of Cano I wanted to see at the plate more than Jorgie, which in a way makes it even more sad that he’s probably played his last game. His last at bat was a soft ground ball up the middle that the famously slow-footed Posada nevertheless came about 3/4 of a step from beating out. It was a fitting end for Jorge in a way, and if this was the end, I’m glad he went out swinging the bat well. Posada’s been too great a player and too great a Yankee to have it end any other way.

And on that note, though I scarcely dare to mention it, there’s a distinct possibility that next year will be the last one for Mariano Rivera. As sad as it is to know Jorge’s probably played his last game, and as painful as it was to see him struggle so much this year, I can’t even begin to imagine life without Mo. But it is coming. Be sure to enjoy every pitch next season.


The Immediately After

Not ten minutes ago, the Yankees 2011 season ended. Like 2010, it ended with a right handed closer for the opponent getting Alex Rodriguez to swing and miss to end the game. Like 2010, it ended earlier than we thought it should have.

First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you. If you read this site every day, thank you. If you read it once in a blue moon, thank you. The fact that you stop by and read this whenever you do fills me with more joy than you could ever imagine. I’m sure that I speak for each and every TYA writer when I say this (again): Thank you.

Now on to the game…well, yeah. Considering how the first inning started, this could’ve been a lot worse. The bullpen did a great job of keeping it close the entire way, giving the offense the opportunity to come back. This one falls on the offense. They had two bases loaded situations with one out and pushed across just one run…on a walk. There were some bad swings, some bad at bats…sigh.

As for the series, there were a lot of frustrating things: CC Sabathia’s lack of sharpness…Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher forgetting that they’re competent, Major League hitters…Jesus Montero getting ONE at bat. I don’t know. Maybe it’s too soon after everything, but I feel like all I can do is throw my hands up and sigh.

On this season, well, it’ll probably take a little more reflection to digest it. The Yankees definitely won more games than I thought they would (I think I said 93) and I didn’t think they’d win the division. While it’s hard to think of it in this way right after it happened, this season was successful for the Yankees. They may have fallen short of their ultimate goal, but so will 28 other teams. It’s nice to keep that goal in mind, but we can’t let that cloud every season that doesn’t end with a trophy-hoisting.

In closing…

Gene Monahan and Jorge Posada. Over the next few days, weeks, and months, many words will be written about these two. Obviously, I never made a connection with the trainer like I did with the player, but Geno’s smiling face in the dugout and on the bench was always a calming presence that helped remind even the youngest of fans (like myself) of the history of the Yankee franchise. Good luck and good health in your retirement, Mr. Monahan. We’ll miss you and we love you.

Jorge…you’ve meant a whole lot to me and the fans of this organization for a long time. You’ve given us a lot of frustration over the years, but you’ve given us even more great memories. If you do in fact retire, I will be up on my soapbox, banging the drum for your Hall of Fame candidacy. Hopefully one day, you get your day at Yankee Stadium and your number retired in Monument Park. For years now, you’ve been one of the most underrated players on the Yankees and I think there is a large segment of Yankee fans that will realize what the team had once you’re gone. Thank you for the great years, Jorge. And though I’ve never liked this chant, I’ll make an exception this time: HIP HIP! JORGE!

A moment of thanks

So while my personal 2011 season was lost, it wasn’t without a great sense of enjoyment about what the team was doing on the field. Derek Jeter had us all wondering if the end was here, and then, suddenly, Derek Jeter returned. Jorge Posada was done all year, except once October rolled around. No one is happier for his successful post-season than I. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano turned in MVP-caliber seasons and I’m thrilled that they represent the leadership of this team. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez turned in very bi-polar seasons. Teix put up power numbers but frustrated many, especially me, despite his great defense. ARod was hurt a lot and one can only wonder about his ability to remain productive as he enters the dangerous portion of that contract.  Brett Gardner is a stud and I can’t help but feel that Joe Girardi still views him as a “role player” rather than the player he really is, but that’s a post for another day. Nick Swisher, who I love but can’t figure out, well, I can’t figure out. Russell Martin was a great signing and while his bat largely disappeared, his defense didn’t.

Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia surprised us all. CC Sabathia did what CC does; win games and save the bullpen. His October failings, however, have me wondering if he just wears down from the workloads. His opt-out looms and while it’s easy to say “sign him!”, I’m not so sure we do another seven year deal with him. I’ve got something in the works about the opt-out but if you want to check my thoughts at the time CC signed, check the archives in November/ December 2008. Phil Hughes… oh Phil, what are you? AJ Burnett, ditto. Ivan Nova was a pleasant surprise and while I think many of us expect some regression in 2012, he’s proven himself more than capable of pitching for this team. Rafael Soriano, a mistake from the get-go. I only pray that he hated his time here and opts out. He won’t, but I wouldn’t be upset. Why? Because we have David Robertson, who has emerged as a great weapon, the bridge to Mo that we thought we had with Joba Chamberlain (remember him? Me either). Speaking of Mariano Rivera, yet another thank you for being everything we need you to be. There are few things that make me smile more than hearing a cracked bat grounder off a Rivera cutter.

Joe Girardi makes me a bit crazy, not as much as he does to Brien, but certainly close. Firing the manager is a brash reaction. Let’s remember that he did coax this team into the best record in the American League. A team with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon playing significant roles. That’s damn impressive, no matter what you think of Girardi. We all know he over-manages, he falls in love with the bunt, he’s overly loyal to the older guys when some of the kids could be better (like having Jesus Montero not PH for Russell Martin late in the game last night).

Lastly, Brian Cashman. He couldn’t hook the big fish last off-season and I, for one, can’t skewer him for that. Cliff Lee wanted to pitch in Philly and while it hurt, that’s the breaks. Players own the right to make the decisions that are best for them personally, not to necessarily take the highest offer. Doesn’t always work that way but I admire Lee for that decision. Cashman turned $5 bets into $100 winners with Colon, Martin, Garcia. He was unable to add another pitcher at the deadline (damn you, Fister) This off-season, Cashman is a free agent and there will be more than a few opportunities for him to choose from. I still think, at the end of the day, he loves being at the helm of the Yankees, for all the good and all of the bad that comes along with it. I hope he returns because there’s a lot to do. Free agents await, including the Sabathia opt-out-a-palooza.

Now, a bit about the site here.

I can’t begin to thank Brien enough for stepping up and stepping into my void. Doing what needs to be done, all day, is a hard job and he does it with the enthusiasm that is so dearly required. I don’t always agree with him and neither do you, but that’s the point of a site like this: to engage in the debate of a shared love. You come here for discussion, debate, analysis, comraderie and in my absence, Brien has kept the parade on route. Thank you, Brien.

Larry, you’re an incredible resource. People notice your absense because your presence is so amazing. You write the hard stuff, the long-form essays that most of us struggle with. Aside from what people see here, Larry has been a trusted confidant behind the scenes and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Tamar has been a rock all season, tirelessly doing the daily game recaps and dutifully covering the minor leagues. I hope everyone has enjoyed her contributions as much as I have.

Chip, Bexy, Mark, Will, Anna, Hippeaux… your contributions have all been wonderful. Each of you brings unique skills and flavor to the brew here and it’s been an honor to have each of you contribute. I hope all of you will have the desire to continue with IIATMS throughout the off-season and 2012 (and beyond). Thank you for choosing to hang here with us.

Finally, thank you to everyone who comes and hang out with us. That’s the fun of a site like this. We do this because we love the game and we’re thankful for your readership and contributions.

The season is over. The off-season is here. We will continue to be here every day, discussing all things Yankees, and then some. Join us, won’tchya?


Requiem for a Season

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

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 gameCC Sabathia’s complete-game shutout of the Rays; the historic three-grand-slam dayJesus 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.

ALDS Game Five: Tigers 3, Yankees 2

Nova looked shaky during the first two innings of the game, and Girardi sent Phil Hughes out to start the third.  Later in the game he said it was because Nova had “tightened up.”  Meanwhile, the Yankees struggled to find their offense against Doug Fister.  In the bottom of the third, Brett Gardner lined a single to center, giving the Yankees some life.  Curtis Granderson worked a walk and Robinson Cano battled through a long at bat, fouling off four pitches before flying out to center to end the inning.

Hughes got Martinez to pop out to start the fourth, but gave up a single to Magglio Ordonez.  Girardi once again went to the bullpen, calling on Boone Logan who promptly gave up a single to Alex Avila, who had been 0-12.  Logan came back to get Jhonny Peralta to fly out and struck out Ramon Santiago to end the inning with the Tigers still holding a 2-0 lead.

New York put together a rally in the bottom of the fourth, as Alex Rodriguez worked a leadoff walk.  Mark Teixiera flew out to left, but Swisher followed with a single.  Jorge Posada followed with a single as well, loading the bases with just one out.  Russell Martin hit an infield fly and Brett Gardner had a 3-1 count before fouling off a couple pitches and then flying out to third, ending the inning with the bases juiced.

All the talk about CC Sabathia’s availability on Thursday was not for nothing, as he jogged in from the bullpen to start the top of the fifth.  He gave up a double to Jackson to start the inning, but turned around and struck out Kelly and Young.  Cabrera was intentionally walked and Martinez knocked the first pitch he saw into center for a RBI single.  Sabathia turned around and struck out Ordonez, but Detroit was up 3-0.

The Yankees got the run back in the bottom of the inning.  With two outs, Robinson Cano drove a solo homer out to right, but that was the only damage they could manage.  The Bombers put together another rally in the bottom of the seventh.  With one out, Jeter legged out an infield single and Joaquin Benoit came in to replace Max Scherzer.  Granderson followed by singling a liner to right and Cano dribbled a ball into no man’s land on the infield to load the bases.  Rodriguez struck out, but Teixeira worked a walk, pushing another run across the plate.  Nick Swisher struck out, as the Yankees left the bases loaded for the second time.  Still, they had cut the Tigers’ lead to 3-2.

New York’s pitching combination of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera effectively shut down the Tigers through the latter half of the game.  Unfortunately, their offense continued to struggle.  Gardner singled with two outs in the eighth and Jeter got a hold of a pitch and sent it to deep right field, where it stayed just inside the park to be caught by Don Kelly.  Granderson and Cano each flew out in the bottom of the ninth, and Rodriguez struck out, as the Yankees season ended with a 3-2 loss to the Tigers.

A Few Postgame Quotes:

“We didn’t like the way the ball was coming out of his hand and we thought it was directly related to [the injury]. You know, he said he didn’t feel it in the first…I don’t know.” Joe Girardi on Ivan Nova

“These guys have pitched all year long – Detroit…It was maybe one hit, one sac fly that was the game.  They made their pitches when they had to.  Our guys played hard, I can’t ask for anything more.” Joe Girardi on Detroit pitching and Yankees lack of hitting.

“I mean, this guy, when you look at what he did in this series – he was awesome.  You know, he’s had a tremendous career and I don’t know what is going to happen, but you talk about being proud of players and you look at what he’s been through this year…the heart that he showed in this series, that’s why Jorgie’s been a great player.” Joe Girardi on Posada

“I don’t think it was a hard game to manage, I think it’s a hard game to swallow.” Joe Girardi on managing the game losing Nova so early.

Bronx Cheers:
Russell Martin: Martin went 0-4 with two strikeouts and four runners left on base.

Alex Rodriguez: I put this kind of begrudgingly, as it sounds like he got a lot of these at the stadium last night and I don’t think it is deserved.  Yes, A-Rod did not hit well this series, but as has been said, we all know he’s playing with a few injuries and he still managed to contribute defensively and even with a little offense.  That said, he went 0-4 with three strikeouts and three runners left on base Thursday.

RISP: The Yankees were 2-9 with runners in scoring position and left eleven runners on base.  They ended two
innings with the bases loaded, only getting one run from those situations.

Curtain Calls:
Jorge Posada: After a tough season for a great Yankee, Posada came up big for New York in the postseason.  He went 2-4 in Game 5, but hit .429 over the five games.  He legged out a tough grounder in his last at bat, and despite probably being the slowest (non-pitcher) player on the team he almost beat out the throw.

Robinson Cano: Cano went 2-5 with a run scored and an RBI on a solo homer.

Brett Gardner: Gardner tried his best to get the Yankees’ offense going, but it wasn’t enough.  He was 2-4 with a strikeout and three runners left on base.

Bullpen: The Yankees relied on their bullpen for seven innings and they delivered.  Hughes came in after Nova was pulled and pitched a scoreless 1.1 innings, giving up a pair of hits and collecting a pair of Ks.  Boone Logan pitched .2 innings, giving up just one hit.  CC Sabathia made his first career relief appearance, and struggled a bit.  He went 1.1 and gave up a run on a pair of hits and a pair of walks.  He also struck out four.  Rafael Soriano, who was not what the Yankees expected this regular season, was great in the postseason.  He went 1.2 innings of scoreless, hitless baseball.  David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each pitched 1-2-3 innings as well.  The bullpen combined for ten strikeouts and just the two walks by CC.  They gave the offense every chance to win the game.

In The On Deck Circle: