New York Yankees: Why Such Poor Hitting in the Postseason?
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We sports journalists use a lot of hyperbole to describe the exploits of athletes during the postseason. We throw the exaggerated words around liberally, often forgetting games and seasons of the past.
Yet, in this instance, with this New York Yankees team, it appears justified. Yankee fans have been left stupefied by a team that has demonstrated such a shocking ineptness at the plate. I've never seen anything like this in baseball. You probably haven't either. Not this bad.
To make matters worse, the Yankees are now without their captain, Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle Saturday night as he ranged to his left attempting to snag a ground ball in the 12th inning. Suddenly, the Yankees are without their leader and, perhaps, their best player.
If you're a Yankee fan, as the team prepares to play Game 2 of the ALCS Sunday afternoon, you can only hope that the Yankees actually start hitting solo home runs because they're certainly not going to hit with runners in scoring position.
They're just not.
They didn't do it during the regular season. So why would it possibly begin now? It's also time to admit that the Yankees have several players who fail repeatedly in what anyone would characterize as clutch or pressure-packed moments.
As for Curtis Granderson, I don't know if he's choking or whether he's just utterly lost at the plate. He's not picking up the ball and is swinging at nearly every pitch, whether it's in or out of the strike zone.
Do you believe in the psychological effect of pressure moments on professional athletes (i.e. some players choke, some players are clutch)?
Over the past several seasons, many in the media, some players and fellow coaches have been quick to heap praise on Yankees' hitting coach Kevin Long, and he does deserve credit when things have gone well with the Bombers' lineup.
Long was glorified for how he rectified Granderson's swing, particularly against left-handed pitchers, two years ago and how he's seemingly worked wonders with several other Yankee hitters during his time as the team's hitting coach.
We were regaled with stories in the New York papers about how Long has done all these great things for A-Rod and Swisher and everyone else. For the record, I believe it's fair to bestow praise on coaches because the best of them can spot flaws in a player's game and help to remedy them.
That said, shouldn't coaches, particularly Long, also shoulder blame when things go this wrong?
Here's a prediction: Long will be fired at the end of the season, whether you believe a hitting coach makes any difference or not.
Whether you believe that a hitting coach is someone who can truly make a tangible difference in how a hitter performs, or whether you believe they're just a glorified motivator, believe what you will.
But someone needs to take the fall when hitters don't produce. Ultimately, the players who aren't producing usually aren't with the team the next season (that's you, Nick Swisher). But this time, Long shouldn't return either, given how abysmal the hitting has been this postseason.
Of course, the Yankees can turn things around, and it's conceivable that they will. There's reason to believe that this team can hit home runs because they did it all season, leading the majors by a long shot in the long ball.
It's impossible not to feel like my judgment is rooted in emotion at this point. But I can honestly tell you that I'd rather see any player on the team, including those not on the ALCS roster, at the plate right now instead of A-Rod or Swisher.
Cano should snap out of it, given his track record. And let's hope Granderson can crank a homer or two. But with A-Rod and Swisher, their futility at the plate goes beyond any rational baseball fan's ability to comprehend.
This is purely my intuition talking, and I'm probably wrong, but I believe those two guys are just psychological messes when these big "pressure" moments come up in the playoffs. Someone could say the same thing right now about Cano, but at least he's demonstrated success over the last couple of years in the playoffs.
Cano had a brutal 2009 World Series, but he's mostly been a good hitter in the postseason.
Look at A-Rod's playoff numbers with the Yankees. One of the best players in baseball history, Rodriguez had a good ALDS and ALCS in 2004. He had the most amazing postseason, maybe in history for a hitter, during 2009, at times single-handedly carrying the Yankees' offense.
Everything else has truly been so bad that it would be impossible to believe unless, of course, you were watching the games. A-Rod constantly comes up in big moments and fails. Those moments always seem to find him, and he chokes every time, striking out on three pitches or weakly grounding out. The same for Swisher.
We're going to look back and realize that Swisher was a darn good player for the Yankees, until the playoffs started. If someone still believes it's a small sample size and these guys aren't choking, I believe they're deluding themselves.
It's hard to definitively say that there are clutch players. But it is rational to posit that there are some players who are not as adversely affected psychologically by pressure-filled moments in sports.
Raul Ibanez has exuded positive energy and displayed sharp, uncanny focus over this last week when everything has been on the line.
The results are the results, and when players like A-Rod and Swisher have a clear track record of choking in big spots, it's fair to say that players like that just don't have the psyche necessary to perform when the nerves tend to tighten and the palms get extra sweaty.
Yankee fans can only hope the team starts crushing home runs and that players like Cano, Swisher and Granderson rise to the occasion.
Somehow, some way.
Anibal Sanchez takes the mound for Detroit on Sunday afternoon, and he's a pretty good pitcher, but far from great.
The Yankees pounded him earlier this summer in Detroit. If they want to make it to the World Series, they have to pound him again and hope that their veteran bats finally come to life.
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