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October 3, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Two: Aye-yi-yala!

by Jay Jaffe

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You're Joe Girardi, manager of the Yankees, the AL's second-highest scoring team this year, and the one that led the majors in home runs. You're sitting on a 1-0 lead in the Division Series against the Tigers because the night before, your lineup exploded for six runs in the sixth inning against a flagging starter. Of your A-list relievers, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano last pitched five days ago, while Mariano Rivera has gotten four outs in three appearances over the past week. You're down 4-0 in the seventh inning of this contest, but you've got two on and one out with your number-nine hitter, Brett Gardner, coming to the plate. Gardner has been struggling (.223/.320/.313 since July 31), but his two-run single broke open Game One, and he lined out in his last at-bat. After him, you have Derek Jeter, who is 0-for-3 but had two hits late Saturday night, followed by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, your two most dangerous hitters this season.

It's a pretty desperate situation, right? Quick, think of something to do!

Girardi thought of something to do. He chose to pinch-hit hit for Gardner, sending up lefty Eric Chavez, a 33-year-old former star who through some miracle of science held up long enough to get 175 plate appearances this season, his highest total since 2007. That he hit .263/.320/.356 with just two home runs suggests he's better company on the bench than batting in this situation, particularly since he required an additional substitute to play left field. Batting against Tigers set-up man Joaquin Benoit, Chavez was overmatched, and swung futilely at two low changeups and a 95 mph fastball. Jeter went down on strikes as well; so much for that rally.

"Just hoping he might pop one," said Girardi after the game of his choice of Chavez. "If you're winning the game, I'm not going to pinch-hit there. But when you're losing the game 4-0, you're looking for a three-run homer."

Girardi was looking in the wrong place. Chavez, the only lefty on his bench, has just five homers in the 424 plate appearances since he became a perennial DL dweller. Righty Andruw Jones homered five times in 76 plate appearances against righties this season, and while his platoon split (.172/.303/.406) is ugly, the odds of him running into one are much better. Rookie righty Jesus Montero had four homers in 42 plate appearances against righties this season, and hadn't gotten an at-bat all series. By limiting himself to options in which he had the platoon advantage, Girardi bypassed his bench's best power threats.

The larger problem is that the Yankees didn't need to get three runs back in one big bite. A run here, a run there—with the middle of the lineup due one more shot, the chances of some Yankee hitting one out in Yankee Stadium weren't awful. Instead, Coffee Joe found a way to both overmanage (by forcing a move that wasn't entirely necessary) and undermanage (by not giving his team its best shot once the move was made) at the same time. His machinations were somewhat reminiscent of the ambivalence with which he handled his bullpen in the games following the Yankees' clinching of the AL East flag. Hold that thought…

Sure enough, Granderson led off the eighth inning with a solo homer against Benoit, cutting the score to 4-1. The next three Yankees went down in order, but rather than take the lesson that his team wasn't out of it, Girardi threw a pity party by calling upon Luis Ayala, his most-used reliever over the last five days, and his most battered. On Wednesday, Ayala surrendered a big three-run homer to Evan Longoria amid the Rays' stunning comeback, and on Saturday, he yielded two hits while retiring one in the ninth inning, turning the situation into enough of a mess that Girardi called upon Rivera to get the final out.

Ayala plunked .197-hitting Brandon Inge to lead off the ninth, and a sacrifice bunt, a ground out and an RBI single by Don Kelly, who for once did not look out of his element, restored the Tigers' four-run lead.

That run wound up looming large, because the Yankees made a show of it against Tigers closer Jose Valverde. Detroit went 77-0 during the regular season when leading after seven innings, but the Tigers' late-game bullpen isn't exactly infallible; the Yankees themselves hung a loss on him with two ninth-inning runs in a tie game on May 2, and three other teams managed similar feats in tie games.

Nick Swisher greeted Valverde with a solo homer on his first pitch in the bottom of the ninth, cutting the deficit back to three runs at 5-2. The cheers had scarcely died down when Jorge Posada, in what might have been the final at-bat of his career in Yankee Stadium, crunched a triple; the sluggish ex-backstop, who has just 10 triples in his whole career and none in the postseason, pounded one to deep left-center field that Austin Jackson couldn't run down, and came in well ahead of the throw. A Russell Martin walk brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Jones, who had subbed for the out-of-position Chavez. He seared one to right field, but Kelly ran it down; Posada waltzed home to cut the lead to 5-3.

Alas, there it stayed. Jeter struck out again; over his last three at-bats for the game, he left five men on base. Granderson walked after getting a reprieve from an ignominious end; ahead 2-0, he fouled one back that Alex Avila had a bead on, but with the rain having returned for yet another encore, the Tigers' catcher slipped on the visitors' on-deck circle and the ball dropped harmlessly, affording the Yankees new life. The walk brought up Cano, whose six RBI on two doubles and a grand slam had provided the bulk of the Yankee offense in Game One. The second baseman fell behind 0-2 on a take and a foul, then fouled two more pitches off as the tension continued to mount. Finally, on Valverde's 34th pitch of the inning, he threw his first splitter of the at-bat, and Cano grounded to second base, giving the Tigers the win to even the series.

"We still have two more games in a row, in a sense," said Girardi of calling upon Ayala over Soriano or Robertson, despite having declared before the game that he wasn't afraid to pitch his key relievers three days in a row if it came to it. "And we're down three. If we get it down to two, we were going to make a change. Being down three runs and you know what Valverde has done all year long, we decided to go to Ayala."

Somewhere Leo Durocher rolled over in his grave. "You don't save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain," the fiery skipper famously said. The sentiment was lost on Girardi, as was the weather report, the rested state of his best relievers, and the power of his offense to surmount even the mighty three- or four-run lead if given half a chance against a volatile bullpen. A three-run deficit is low-leverage duty on a random Tuesday night in July, but in a short series, no manager can afford to think that way, particularly when he's got that kind of offense—one that scored at least three runs in an inning an AL-best 104 times—and fresh bullpen at his disposal.

"It's very rare that everybody involved in a three-way trade gets a chance to gloat about it. It worked out pretty good for everybody." —Jim Leyland

Two seasons is a short timeline by which to judge a blockbuster trade involving a handful of players under age 30, but the December 8, 2009, trade involving the Yankees, Tigers, and Diamondbacks is particularly relevant to the 2011 postseason, for all three teams owe at least some credit for their October berths to those players' performances. Former Yankee pitching prospect Ian Kennedy emerged as the ace of the NL West champion Diamondbacks' staff, and started Game One of the NL Division Series in Milwaukee. Granderson walloped 41 homers and put himself in the conversation for AL MVP. Nobody from Detroit's haul from the trade—Jackson, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, and Max Scherzer—had seasons that strong, but all contributed something this season. Sunday's Game Two was Scherzer's turn to shine.

With a fastball that touched 98 mph and a changeup that served as a put-away pitch on three of his five strikeouts, Scherzer held the Yankees hitless through 5 1/3 innings, and departed having tossed six innings of two-hit shutout ball, with his team ahead 4-0. Coming into the game, I noted that the weather-induced rotation change, which had Game Three's starters moved up a day, might favor the Yankees because the fly-ball-oriented Scherzer's home-run rate on the road was more than double that at home this year, 1.9 to 0.9. While he yielded a warning-track fly ball to Jeter, the first batter he faced, he otherwise had no problem keeping the ball in the park. He did struggle with the strike zone during a 27-pitch first inning in which he threw just 12 strikes, not helped by a couple of calls that took away strikes at the bottom of the zone. At one point, he threw 11 balls in a 12-pitch span, walking both Cano and Alex Rodirguez and going 3-0 on Mark Teixeira.

"I was very calm, relaxed in the first inning," said Scherzer after the game. "I thought I was slowing down my motion, my tempo. I kind of made the adjustment of getting fired back up and picking up my tempo, so I could continue to have a feel for my fastballs. Once I was abled to do that, I started executing pitchers a lot better." Indeed, Scherzer needed just 19 pitches to get through the next two frames, and didn't reach 20 pitches in any other inning, allowing him to pitch into the seventh. From the last out of the first through the first out of the fifth, he retired 11 straight hitters, and didn't let any Yankee get further than second base. As for the difference between pitching in spacious Comerica Park and Yankee Stadium, he said, "You really can't focus on the ballpark per se. I was more focused on the quality of their hitters, and making sure I was executing pitches throughout the whole night."

Though he allowed a two-run first-inning homer to Miguel Cabrera, Yankees starter Freddy Garcia did nearly as good a job of keeping the Tigers' hitters off balance for the first five innings. Following the homer, he retired 13 out of the next 14 hitters and struck out six, generating more swings and misses than Scherzer did in that span (six to four). Alas, his afternoon unraveled when Jackson reached first on a throwing error by Jeter to lead off the sixth. Singles by Magglio Ordonez, Cabrera, and Victor Martinez ran the lead to 4-0 before he departed in favor of Boone Logan, who struck out both Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta to end the threat. You already know the rest.

 Now knotted at a game apiece, the series shifts to Detroit, where Game One starters Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia will again square off on Monday night, this time with the hopes of dodging Mother Nature so as to fully realize the first round's best pitching matchup. Rain has forced the Yankees to line up the erratic A.J. Burnett to face Rick Porcello in Game Four, a start that—thanks to Girardi's gaffes—could potentially come with the Yankees' season on the line. It's the Tigers who have the upper hand now.  

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Three Homer Game,  Two Strikes,  Luis Ayala

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

darts1

This is by no means a slight of Jaffe, as I enjoyed this article, and all of his playoff pieces, but the playoff prospectus pieces might as well be called Yankees Prospectus. So far there hasn't been anything devoted to the NL playoff series from BP outside of the previews.

Oct 03, 2011 04:54 AM
rating: 17
 
randolph3030

I've, sadly, got to agree with darts1. At the risk of sounding churlish, I'd love to see this type of (very good) coverage shown to the other three series as well. Or at least smaller posts like RJ Anderson's about the Rays. One of my favorite things about BP is its coverage of the non-main event as defined by the mainstream media.

Oct 03, 2011 05:54 AM
rating: 15
 
randolph3030

To provide some evidence on my concern (because we all like data so much here):

Cliff Corcoran's preview of today's games at that magazine's website: 1400 words.

Derek Carty's preview of the entire Brewers/DBacks series: 700 words. Most of them having something to do with some movie he was in.

Today's articles: Two Fantasy, one about managers prospects, Sam Miller's great joke piece and an injury update. At least three of those have nothing to do with the playoffs and, to me, seem time insensitive enough to be pushed back a few weeks for the Hot Stove.

To be clear, the actual work is fine, but it just seems like a strange use of resources. There is a huge Sheehan-shaped hole in the postseason coverage, methinks.

Oct 03, 2011 10:43 AM
rating: 7
 
ostrowj1

Who cares about the playoffs? Fantasy season is over...

Oct 03, 2011 11:30 AM
rating: 1
 
Juris

I don't disagree with the first two comments about Yankee centrism. But hey I love Jay's stuff, so not complaining too much. However, I do think the Tigers deserve a bit more credit. They may not be "the Yankees" but they scored something like the 3rd or 4th most runs of any team in the major leagues this year. It was their pitching that was suspect during a good part of the year -- until the last two months of the season.

I've watched a lot of Scherzer's games this year and yesterday's was by far his best game of the year. If he's got another game like that, and if Detroit wins the ALDS, this portends well for the Tigers in the next round.

The big question now is whether the Tigers' #4 starter, Porcello, can step up as Scherzer has. If it's game 4 for the series win tomorrow, I'm putting my money on him.

Oct 03, 2011 08:01 AM
rating: 1
 
billkatt

I completely agree. What if the Yankees lose to Detroit? Will BP just shut down its postseason coverage for the year?

Oct 03, 2011 08:04 AM
rating: 9
 
SamHughes

Absolutely agree (and again, with no slight to Jay Jaffe's excellent work). Who's directing the coverage here? BP owes its readers an explanation.

Oct 03, 2011 08:24 AM
rating: 4
 
Tynan

I'll had my agreement, as well. Great article, but can SOMEONE please cover the senior circuit?

Oct 03, 2011 08:45 AM
rating: 5
 
Tynan

*add, not had

Oct 03, 2011 11:37 AM
rating: 0
 
Tarakas

This has always been a problem with BP, as coverage seems to follow the writers' interest more than baseball in general, and it has usually slanted toward the East Coast AL teams. Back in the days of Joe Sheehan, who I admire and miss, he always focused more on the AL and the Yankees. I did a word search, and during the St. Louis Cardinals' peak years, I discovered Joe had more coverage of the Yankees legendary Scott Proctor than he did of the Cardinals Scott Rolen at his peak.

What bothers me more than the bias is the current paucity of the sort of analysis Sheehan and Kristina did. Jay Jaffe is as close as we get anymore, and beggars can't be choosers. So keep it up, Jay!

I'm not sure what BP's mission is anymore, and as the founders and their motivations for founding it move on, I'm not sure if anyone at BP knows either. But clearly, entertaining analysis of all post season games informed by a statistically influenced view clearly is no longer remotely on the agenda. That Game 2 of the Phillies-Cardinals series--a game with plenty worth talking about--merited no coverage makes this pretty clear.

Oct 03, 2011 09:36 AM
rating: 14
 
Tarakas

In case I wasn't clear, I LIKED Jay's piece. I want a lot more of this sort of piece on BP. I just would have ALSO liked a similar piece on the Cardinals-Phillies series, including, say, the decision to start Chris Carpenter on short rest for the first time in his career, which is as interesting a topic of discussion as pinch hitting Brett Gardner. But there is no one here to discuss it.

Oct 03, 2011 16:18 PM
rating: 6
 
ObviouslyRob

Might as well throw my hat in the ring. The Cardinals/Phillies series is shaping up to be a great one and we haven't heard peep about it.

Oct 03, 2011 11:08 AM
rating: 9
 
SamHughes

The sound of chirping crickets is getting eerie. I'm starting to think there's been a putsch at BP.

Oct 03, 2011 12:41 PM
rating: 7
 
Sacramento

Don't ignore the Brewers--Diamondbacks. Unusual plays included a pick-off at second base, a balk on an attempted pick-off at second base, and a desperation throw home (why?) on a squeeze bunt. Managers' pitching decisions were also curious, and did Arizona anticipate Lucroy's squeeze bunt?

Oct 03, 2011 12:50 PM
rating: 2
 
adambennett

I'd love to see Michael Street's take on the Brewers/Diamondbacks series, or that of one of the Wisconsin-based BP writers. Or maybe all three!

Oct 03, 2011 15:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Dennis
(749)

Agree with everything above...but every time I think about putting my thoughts down here, I decide against it thinking by the time I get back to the homepage Anderson's, Carty's, and Linbergh's article will be posted.

This can't possibly be an oversight, right? How do you just forget to do 3/4 of the series being played, or worse, think they just aren't worth writing about?

Oct 03, 2011 13:04 PM
rating: 9
 
PeterBNYC
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Not a Yankees fan, not a Mets fan, maybe an A's fan when nobody's looking, and a Cardinals fan because of Frank Frisch, Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst, my heroes growing up (no, I'm not 80). But I am a Jaffe fan. Jay Jaffe does not deserve this criticism. It's like criticizing Twain for writing about the Mississippi or Hemingway about fishing.

All this whiing is just so much goatswill, and it makes me ill. Jay will write about what he wants to, superbly. You guys who hate reading about the Yankees? Don't read it. If you can get what you want elsewhere, you are a damn fool for paying for this site. Grow up, stop whining, move on.

Oct 03, 2011 15:26 PM
rating: -16
 
randolph3030

Please find the complaints about Jay's terrific writing and copy and paste them below. I see none. In fact, I struggle to find harsh negativity.

If you are unable to read and comprehend measured, reasoned criticism of a site that we all clearly love then I'd suggest you are the "damn fool" and perhaps need to "grow up" seeing as you were the only one engaged in name calling.

I'm a Yankee fan. I love Jay's work...in fact I would agree that he's the Hemingway of Baseball analysis, profane, muscular writing; picking fights (and winning them when not all hopped up on Organic Peak Ale); tremendous 'stache.

Oct 03, 2011 15:54 PM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Wow, I don't think I've ever gotten a compliment quite like that. I'll take it, thanks!

I appreciate all the compliments here, actually. I'm credentialed for the NY games of this series, hence the singularity of my focus - it's the first time that I've ever had a playoff credential - and while it's pretty cool, the intensity of that investment means sacrificing most of the time I'd otherwise spend watching the other series. Thanks to the callback from the rainout, I haven't seen more than three innings of any game in the other three series yet.

I had expected we would have other writers covering other series, at least from their couches. I can't speak to what the plans were or are, if somebody blew an assignment or what - I don't know the situation - but I do agree that our readership deserves quality coverage of the other series as well.

Oct 03, 2011 16:15 PM
 
SamHughes

Thanks for your comments here, but the serious question remains: Is anybody in charge? Did somebody take ill? Are zombies afoot?
In the grand scheme of things it's not a big deal, but since we're paying for content here, it's awfully peculiar, to say the least, that whoever *is* in charge hasn't come on and offered an apology and an explanation.

Oct 03, 2011 17:33 PM
rating: 7
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Hi, everyone. We will have coverage of all the series beginning tonight, with Ben and Derek taking on the NL series to go with Jay and R.J. on the AL series.

I agree with much of the criticism here. This has purely been my error. I'm currently preoccupied with deadlines for our next book, Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers (we call it BBTN II around here) so I while I did think about assignments for division series previews, I didn't think through continuing those beats into the series themselves.

Moreover, and I think this is the real lesson of what has happened here, is that I am the first BP editor to have more than one BBWAA member on staff, giving us the possibility of having the kind of on-sight coverage Jay has been giving us. Normally, BP writers are self-directed and our coverage hasn't been so systematic, but Jay's dispatches have been so well done that it pointed up our lack of analytic coverage of the other series. That will change immediately.

Finally, both Jay and I will have home park credentials should the Yankees or Phillies make it to the next round (and if either makes it to the World Series as well) and so we will definitely continue to have detailed on-site coverage throughout the end of the postseason. As always, I appreciate your feedback and I hope that you continue to throw both bouquets and brickbats as our work merits them.
--Steve, Editor-in-Chief

Oct 04, 2011 09:40 AM
 
eighteen

If I'd known my BP subscription came with a new book, I wouldn't have cared so much about the paucity of playoff coverage.

Oct 04, 2011 10:32 AM
rating: 1
 
SamHughes

Thanks for this. Better late than never. Mistakes happen. Looking forward to seeing the next round of coverage.

Oct 04, 2011 18:10 PM
rating: 1
 
ArthurCopeland

Whenever someone yells at everyone else to "grow up, stop whining, and move on" . . .

a puppy dies.

Oct 03, 2011 16:01 PM
rating: 0
 
ArthurCopeland

Just to be clear, my comment was aimed at PeterBNYC. He's the puppy-killer I had in mind. I'm 6'2" and on the Jamie Moyer-side of 40 -- I don't take kindly to being told to "grow up."

I originally wrote something along the lines of randolph3030's comment. Let's just say +1 to him.

And yes, Jay's piece was very good, wish there were 3 more just like it today.

Oct 03, 2011 16:08 PM
rating: 0
 
alangreene

I am absolutely certain that everyone at BP, including Jay Jaffe, would rather their customers "whine" so they can react to the feedback than simply take their money elsewhere.

It is not unmanly or weak or even childish to comment on a way a product you use or pay for could be improved.

Frankly, your reaction is ridiculous hyperbole (really, it made you "ill") to people giving balanced and measured feedback. I don't think they are the ones that need to grow up or stop whining (and yes, whining about other people's comments is still whining).

Oct 03, 2011 16:57 PM
rating: 2
 
Dennis
(749)

I don't think anyone here is complaining about what Jaffe is writing about...

Oct 03, 2011 15:38 PM
rating: 0
 
mcilvafr

I'm sure it is too much work but it would have been cool as an "inside" joke to have the site come up with a YANKEE PROSPECTUS logo for a day...

Oct 04, 2011 04:32 AM
rating: -1
 
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