Yankees Out of Playoffs

21:32 Mon 08 Oct 2007
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Cleveland eliminated the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs this evening, defeating them 6-4 in the Bronx, ending their season and perhaps the managerial tenure (and career) of Joe Torre, who’s managed them since just after the 1995 season.

As I wrote in May, they started the season in terrible fashion, at one point dropping 14½ games behind first-place Boston. But after the first two months, and especially in the second half of the season, they roared back. Tremendous offense brought them to within 2½ games of Boston at one point, but then they slumped a little near the end of the season, and for the first time since 1998, the New York Yankees were not the American League East champions.

But they still made it to the playoffs as the wild card. And they faced Cleveland, who they had dominated during the regular season, and who I thought would be a much better matchup for the Yankees than the ridiculously-named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But they went down in flames in the first game, and in the second were holding onto a slim 1-0 lead into the 8th inning when Cleveland was helped greatly by an influx of insects (that is not a joke). Having received help from the pest swarm (a friend watching the game in HD said he’d never seen anything like it, that it looked “biblical”), Cleveland went on to take that game. The Yankees prevented the sweep in the third game, but tonight gave the ball back to their game one starter Chien-Ming Wang, who proceeded to reprise his earlier terrible performance. So they handed the ball over to Mike Mussina, who gave up another two runs… the runs that the Yankees eventually couldn’t make up, losing 6-4, Jorge Posada swinging at a pitch well below the strike zone to get the final out.

The Yankees had runners on the bases in the first seven innings, but could only manufacture four runs. The second inning ws the game in microcosm—already down four, the Yankees had two on with nobody out. Cabrera flied out, Mientkiewicz walked to load the bases, then Damon was out on a pop fly. Jeter managed an infield single to make it 4-1—and then Abreu flied out as well. One run from two on with no outs, with that offense? They could have blown the game wide open. Instead, Cleveland escaped, and kept escaping with minor scrapes all the way until the end of the game.

So another Yankees season ends far too early. They haven’t won the World Series since 2000, haven’t been to the World Series since 2003, and this year didn’t manage to win the AL East. Should someone be blamed for this? It’s clear that the team just doesn’t have enough good pitching—Wang, despite being a 19-game winner in the regular season, was awful in the postseason, and that left only Andy Pettitte to turn to. He was good, but you need more than one good pitcher.

All through the season, I worried that the Yankees had some kind of offensive over/under where if they were facing an average pitcher, or even a slightly above-average pitcher, they could pound on him mercilessly, but facing stellar pitching they were rendered as ineffective as lesser lineups. I’m not sure there’s statistical corroboration for this feeling, but it didn’t bode well (or turn out well) in the playoffs.

So, their pitching wasn’t good enough, and in the end their offense couldn’t carry them. Is this Torre’s fault? Cashman’s? Steinbrenner’s? Are the players themselves at fault? Is anyone really “at fault”, given that best-of-five series are quite tricky indeed, and that so much can turn on tiny things (or thousands of tiny things, in game two)?

I don’t think Torre should be fired, as Steinbrenner claimed he’d do if they lost to Cleveland. Torre deserves a lot of credit for calmly steering the team through the season and not panicking when things were terrible at the start. I don’t think he’s really responsible for their pitching problems. I think that if anything he deserves more share of the blame for relinquishing the AL East title than he does for the first-round elimination. In any case, I think they should keep him around—but I freely admit that I don’t know much about managing baseball and that this is just a gut feeling. That, and a feeling that having someone as apparently level-headed and calm as Torre is remains a good idea to offset the craziness that, by all accounts, descends from the owner.

But yeah, the Yankees end their season far too early, and I lament. I lament further because the Red Sox made it to the ALCS, and I just have to hope that they too fall to Cleveland.

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