Down in ALCS and Facing Justin Verlander, the New York Yankees Are Not Dead Yet

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Down in ALCS and Facing Justin Verlander, the New York Yankees Are Not Dead Yet
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George Steinbrenner must have risen from his grave, walked out to Monument Park following the demoralizing Game 2 loss by his beloved New York Yankees, strolled past the plaques for Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and croaked all over again. 

Or was it Derek Jeter? Did Jeter break his ankle, or did he die on the infield dirt during extra innings of Game 1?

It has to be one of the two, because the only explanation for a seemingly never-ending stream of Yankees obituaries this week would be if one of the team's most beloved figures had actually died. 

It's hard to believe so many people would be writing the Yankees off after two bad games (and one frustrating injury) in the American League Championship Series. Cold as the bats may be, they are still the Yankees.

Jeter is out, and from a baseball standpoint, he is ostensibly dead for the remainder of the postseason. That doesn't mean the Yankees, as a team, are dead along with him. As bad as the first two games were in New York, neither the team nor its chances of making the World Series are anywhere near dead just yet. 

The thing is, the storyline is better if the Yankees are dead. Most fans hate the Yankees (consider me part of that group on most days), so watching them struggle in the playoffs is fun, and writing or talking about those struggles in the gravest possible scenarios is playing to that bloodthirsty audience. 

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If by chance the Yankees come back to win the ALCS, the story is all the better: a team left for dead that rose from the ashes to regain its rightful place in baseball's Yankee-festooned history. Against all odds—and against most pundits' prognostications—the Yankees found a way to get the job done. 

Either way, the narrative works.

It still seems premature, though. Jeff Passan from Yahoo! was obviously inspired by the listless crowd in attendance at Game 2, tweeting photos of empty seats and writing after the Yankee loss that the mystique and aura of the old Yankee Stadium are gone, replaced by the new stadium that is "a sarcophagus if there ever was one: no matter how gorgeous and ornate the outside, it remains filled with lifelessness."

Since opening the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, New York is 12-8 in home playoff games. Certainly the numbers haven't been great since the World Series championship in 2009, but it's hard to suddenly blame the atmosphere for why the Yankees couldn't beat the Tigers in two games.

It's fair to blame the bats, which Passan and most others have as well. Passan, catering to the bloodlust, went so far as to call the Yankees a "$200 million joke," explaining the savvy New York fans "understand a fraud when they see it."

If the New York Yankees are a fraud, there are 26 other teams in baseball who would love to borrow their smoke and mirrors.

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It is important to point out how badly the Yankees have struggled at the plate this postseason. Alex Rodriguez has been the most documented of the bunch, batting just .130 with zero extra-base hits in six games, but Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano have been just as bad.

Granderson is hitting .115 and has 14 strikeouts in 26 at-bats, while Cano has two hits, both doubles‚ in 32 postseason at-bats. Nick Swisher is batting .154, and his average is nearly 100 points higher than Cano's.

Still, it's hard to label a Yankees team that won 95 games a fraud. It feels conveniently reactive, given their struggles at the plate in the first two games of the ALCS, to call them a $200 million joke.

The Yankees weren't a joke for 162 regular-season games, winning the most competitive division in baseball for the third time in four years. Nobody was calling them a joke when they scored the second-most runs in all of baseball this season. Nobody was calling them frauds when they held off the red-hot Baltimore Orioles down the stretch.

Heck, nobody was calling the Yankees a joke or leaving the team for dead when Ichiro and Raul Ibanez each blasted two-run homers in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the ALCS, were they?

Shut down for most of the game, the Yankees came alive in the ninth inning of Game 1, nearly coming back to win the damn thing. And yes, the bats dried up at the wrong times leading up to the ninth-inning comeback, but New York did have the bases loaded three times in the first six innings. They were run-less, sure, but hardly lifeless.

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It's not fair to just assume the Yankees' bats are all dead. Clearly some writers have already ordered flowers for the funeral, but it's short-sighted to suggest one or more of the Yankees' struggling bats won't get hot the remainder of the ALCS or World Series.

Cano was the hottest player in baseball down the stretch in the regular season. Nobody saw this dry spell coming. Granderson still has the ability to change any game with one swing of the bat, and A-Rod, despite not being the player he once was, is not actually physically dead yet. That's something, isn't it?

It's hard to know if the pundits truly believe the Yankees are dead or the imagery just fits better into their stories. Newsday beat writer Erik Boland called the lineup "the increasingly dead-men-walking Yankees," suggesting their "increasing" zombification is somehow contagious. Maybe Boland was just upset he had to work and couldn't catch the season premiere of The Walking Dead on Sunday.

Ooh, maybe AMC is planning a baseball-themed spin-off called The Intentionally Walking Dead with A-Rod as the lead zombie. Maybe that's all this is.

John Harper of the New York Daily News didn't kill the Yankees just yet; he just diagnosed them as "comatose." Note to television executives: That drama would be far less compelling than pinstripe-clad walking dead.

If readers are tired of all the death metaphors, there are enough writers and TV commentators talking about a potential ALCS sweep to make you wish you were in a coma.

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Did you know Justin Verlander is taking the mound for Detroit in Game 3? You'd think Verlander has never given up a hit, let alone a run, in his career. Sure, Verlander is a bona fide ace and has had a fantastic end to the season, but without run support from his offense that, let's face it, has been relatively shut down by the Yankees' starters as well, it's difficult to just hand him another playoff win.

Obviously the Yankees have struggled at the plate, an epidemic that goes beyond the first two games of the ALCS, but the New York starting pitching has been downright fantastic.

In addition, Verlander's numbers in 13 starts against the Yankees have been good but not great. He has given up 83 hits in 77 innings, including 27 extra-base hits, with New York batting .272 and slugging .430 against him. His WHIP is 1.494, more than .300 above his career average.

Verlander is one of the best pitchers in the game, but if Phil Hughes—who has better numbers against the Tigers in eight starts than Verlander has against the Yankees—can keep things close, New York could possibly steal Game 3 and make this a series again.

Given the way the series has gone so far and taking into account how well Verlander has pitched this postseason—one earned run on seven hits and 22 strikeouts in 16 innings in two ALDS wins over the Oakland A's—the Yankees are certainly still in trouble. Still, pundits suggesting the Yankees will get swept are out of their freaking minds.

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Have those people forgotten about a guy named CC Sabathia? Oh right, Sabathia, the guy who has been nearly as dominant this postseason as Verlander. He will be pitching in Game 4, so even if the Tigers do win the first game at Comerica Park, it's crazy to think they will be in line for a sweep.

Even if Detroit goes up 3-0, the Yankees still shouldn't be completely counted out. Look at how crazy the playoffs have been this season.

The San Francisco Giants came back from an improbable deficit to advance to the NLCS. The Oakland A's nearly did the same, forcing a winner-takes-all elimination game in their series against the Tigers in the ALDS. The St. Louis Cardinals were down to their last breath before coming back against the Washington Nationals in their NLDS matchup.

Nobody can stay dead in the 2012 MLB playoffs. Why are we to assume the Yankees will be the first?

If Sabathia can win Game 4 for New York, Andy Pettitte would have likely have a rematch against Doug Fister in Game 5. Both pitchers had quality starts in Game 1, with Fister shutting out the Yankees over 6.1 and Pettitte allowing two runs over 6.2 innings.

If the Yankees had to pick any one pitcher over the last half-century to throw in an elimination game, it might be Pettitte, even still, into his 40s.

Game 6 would likely be a rematch of Game 2, with HirokiKuroda taking the hill against Anibal Sanchez. Kuroda took the loss in Game 2 but gave up just one run before Detroit was awarded an extra out in the eighth inning, leading to two subsequent runs that hurt his scoreline.

Kuroda was every bit as dominant as Sanchez, and a rematch in Yankee Stadium would be just as hard to call as a potential Game 5 might be in Detroit.

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Then, hypothetically speaking of course, there would be Game 7 in Yankee Stadium with Verlander on full rest going up against Sabathia on three days' rest. The place would probably have a little more life for that one.

Losing the first two games at home against a very good Detroit team, with the offense struggling the way it has and Jeter on the shelf with a broken ankle, is certainly not the way Joe Girardi imagined the ALCS would begin. But nobody has flat-lined.

New Yorkers may feel like their team is on life support, but the embalming fluid can stay on the shelf a little bit longer. Nobody—not even A-Rod—is dead just yet.

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