We've seen the New York Yankees look bad in the postseason before. They lost in the LDS three years in a row between 2005 and 2007, and they fell short of the Fall Classic in both 2010 and 2011 when they came up against superior teams.
But in this year's postseason, the Yankees have sunk to a new low. They barely got past the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS, and they find themselves down 2-0 in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers with the series set to start up again in Detroit on Tuesday night.
The primary source of the Bronx Bombers' misery isn't hard to pinpoint. They haven't been doing a whole lot of bombing in these playoffs, as they're batting just .205/.277/.326 as a team. The only time they've looked good at the plate is when the opposing club's closer has been on the mound.
At this point, there are only two questions worth asking.
One: Do the Yankees really stand a chance of coming back against the Tigers?
Two: If they must lose, are they going to lose with dignity?
Right now, the answer to both questions appears to be no.
While there is certainly a blueprint for a Yankees comeback out there, the final nail in their coffin could come as soon as Tuesday night in Game 3, and Justin Verlander could be the guy who drives it home. He's been the best pitcher in baseball over the last two seasons, and he was dominant in the two starts he made against the Oakland A's in the ALDS. Against a Yankees lineup that's in a historically bad slump, Verlander should have little trouble giving the Tigers a commanding 3-0 lead.
The answer to the second question is no as well because the Yankees are already showing some cracks in their otherwise shiny and oddly mystical armor. The losing is getting to them.
Though some Yankees players kept their cool and gave the media garden-variety quotes about staying positive and not worrying about the past, calmness was by no means universal in Yankee-land after the Bombers dropped Game 2 to the Tigers. In some places, emotions were spilling over.
Most notably, manager Joe Girardi aired his frustration with the blown call that cost the Yankees an out in the eighth inning of Game 2, when Omar Infante was ruled safe at second base after Robinson Cano had clearly tagged him in the chest well before his hand reached second base.
With a mix of anger and frustration in his voice, Girardi took to the podium after Game 2 and went on a rant about how expanded use of instant replay is desperately needed in Major League Baseball.
"Let's have instant replay," he said, via ESPNNewYork.com. "And not just home run fair (or) foul (calls). Let's have instant replay."
He would eventually add:
I am not saying we win the game if the call (was) right. I am not saying that. ... But in this day and age there is too much at stake, and the technology is available. That's what our country has done. We have evolved technology to make things better.
Girardi was't wrong about instant replay. It definitely needs to be expanded. And if it had been expanded somewhere along the line, replay certainly would have reversed the call that went against the Yankees and saved them from a pair of crucial runs that followed. They would have been dealing with a 1-0 deficit rather than a much more formidable 3-0 deficit.
And indeed, Girardi was most certainly right in saying that much more time was wasted when he got upset and went out to argue the call than the amount of time that would have been wasted on instant replay if it was available. And had the play been reversed, he would not have been ejected when he argued the call again during a pitching change. MLB would be wise to heed his words.
...But there are still criticisms to be made of Girardi.
Most days, Girardi is the calm center of the Yankees, rarely failing to keep his composure. When he does let his emotions show, he manages to avoid embarrassing himself in the process. His rants are meant to inspire, not to drag everyone down with him.
Girardi's rant on Sunday didn't fit this mold. He was clearly letting his frustration speak for him, and he did so seemingly totally unaware of what he had said about instant replay three years earlier when a crucial call went the Yankees' way in the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins.
In Game 2 of that series, Joe Mauer blooped a ball down the left field line that was clearly fair and should have been a ground-rule double, but it was ruled foul by left field umpire Phil Cuzzi. The Yankees went on to win the game.
Said Girardi at the time, via USA Today:
The thing about baseball is it's a real rhythm game, and I am sure football is, too, but I think if you were to start to instant replay all these plays, I think it would break the rhythm of the game, and our games all get to be four games long.
When a call worked out in favor of Girardi's Yankees, he wanted nothing to do with replay. There have been two calls that have gone against the Yankees so far in this ALCS, and now Girardi is suddenly all for instant replay.
This isn't a rational change of heart. It's blatant hypocrisy brought on by frustration and anger. Girardi wanted to make it look like he was taking a stand rather than making excuses, but one is left with an impression that making excuses is exactly what he was doing.
While Girardi was busy taking up arms against MLB's stance on instant replay, right fielder Nick Swisher took to sounding off on the team's fans. He told Peter Botte of the New York Daily News and others that he was hearing some nasty things from the fans at Yankee Stadium in Games 1 and 2, with some even going so far as to blame him for the season-ending ankle injury that Derek Jeter suffered in Game 1.
Even Swisher's beloved Bleacher Creatures turned on him, and he just couldn't take it:
That’s the last thing that I ever thought would be in this ballpark, that people would get on you that bad. Especially your home, where your heart is, where you’ve been battling and grinding all year long. It’s just frustrating, man. You never want to be in that spot. It’s not like you’re trying to go out there and do bad on purpose. It’s just tough, man.
It hurts. Sometimes I’m a sensitive guy and some of the things people say, they get under your skin a little bit. I’ve been lucky to be here for the past four years, bro. We’re not going to go out like this. We’re going to go to Detroit and give everything we’ve got.
Honesty wasn't the best card for Swisher to play in this situation. At least, not this much honesty. There's a fine line between airing a gripe and just plain whining, and Swisher crossed it in a fashion worthy of much eye-rolling.
Swisher was basically pleading for a pity party, and he's barking up the wrong tree for something like that. No doubt many Yankees fans would tell him to shut up and play ball if they could.
To Swisher's credit, at least he showed that he genuinely cares how he is perceived by fans. He demonstrated that he really doesn't want to let them down if he can help it.
You can't say the same thing of Alex Rodriguez right now.
This has been a brutal postseason for A-Rod. He has only three hits in 23 at-bats, and has been pinch-hit for on more than one occasion. We could see him pinch-hit for at least once more before the ALDS is over, as Raul Ibanez has done way more than enough to prove that he's a better option against right-handers in the later innings. Eric Chavez is also a better option.
A-Rod has said all the right things to this point in the postseason. He's tried to create an impression that he cares far more about the plight of the team than he does his own personal plight.
But you just never know with Rodriguez. Every once in a while, A-Rod reminds the world that he only really cares about A-Rod.
Such is the gist of the New York Post report that hit the Internet on Tuesday detailing A-Rod's flirtations with a couple of lovely ladies behind the Yankees' dugout after he was lifted from Game 1 for a pinch-hitter. He apparently even went so far as to send them "a ball bearing a note asking for their phone numbers."
The story goes that A-Rod didn't get serious about the game again until Jeter went down in a heap with a broken ankle near second base in the 12th inning. If so, then the reality is that it took the most soul-crushing development in the last two decades of the franchise's history to get A-Rod's attention.
To be sure, the Post story should be taken with a grain of salt. You just never know what kind of motivations these "witnesses" and "sources" may have, and you certainly don't know if their stories are even true.
But would it be a total shock if this story turned out to be true?
Not in the slightest. After all, this is A-Rod we're talking about.
Between Girardi's hypocrisy, Swisher's whining and A-Rod's flirting, you get a big picture of a team that should be any other team besides the Yankees. They're not immune to controversy, but several different controversies of this magnitude don't tend to envelop the Yankees while they're losing so spectacularly in October.
Indeed, that's because the Yankees don't tend to lose so spectacularly in October. They're in uncharted waters these days, so none of us should be surprised that the media is going into a shark-like feeding frenzy.
In many ways, it feels like we're talking about a repeat of the collapse of the 2011 Boston Red Sox. First came bad baseball, and then came reports and quotes that put a tabloid spin on where the bad baseball was coming from.
In the case of the Red Sox, their collapse last September was the result of too much beer and fried chicken, which was the result of indifference on the part of several key players, which was the result of a clear lack of leadership.
The Yankees' collapse—a word I hesitate to use seeing as how it's not finished yet—is different, yet it has the same flavor. The mentality of the clubhouse is crumbling, and it's going to take something drastic to save the team's season. They're basically in need of a white knight to come along and save them.
A simple captain would suffice, but the Yankees' own captain will be nowhere to be seen when the Yankees take the field in Detroit on Tuesday night. As Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has reported, Jeter will be with the Yankees in spirit only, as he's been sent to see a specialist for his ankle in Charlotte.
So suddenly, here are the Yankees: Captainless, rudderless, classless and totally offense-less. They are not your father's Yankees. Shoot, they're not even your older brother's Yankees.
Get a good look at 'em while you can. They may not be around for much longer.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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