It was a disappointing end to the 2011 season for the Yankees, but a few players shone in the bleakest of moments.
Once again, the Yankees succeeded in disappointing a fanbase full of high expectations in 2011. A team with the best record in the American League failed to persevere through the first round of playoffs, defeated in five games by a gritty Detroit Tigers club.
The playoff series was full of excitement, both old and new, good and bad. Many players did exactly was expected of them. Granted, that could be either success or failure. So what can we take away from the Yankees in this postseason?
This may have been Posada's last chance for a ring, ending in failure.
With a year full of new faces and young talent, the lasting images of the will to win when it mattered were of the oldest faces. Scenes from Game 5 against the Tigers are snapshots of careers riddled with success and consumed with their hatred to fail.
Derek Jeter, the renowned leader of the Yankees for the last 15 years, usually leads with little emotion on the field, but a lot of hustle and determination. But in their final game, you caught a glimpse into Jeter’s immense drive to win.
Down 3-2 in the eighth inning with one man on and two outs, Jeter launched a deep fly ball to right field. It had a chance, a chance to get over the wall and a chance to etch another remarkable chapter into Jeter’s postseason legacy.
It was, however, caught on the warning track, and a dejected Captain turned in rage, snapping at himself in frustration. His anger continued into the ninth inning on the field, muttering as he tossed the ball around after recording an out.
But with such a strong team behind him, you would have thought confidence in the lineup would have subdued such frustration, which begs the question: How much confidence does Jeter have in his team?
If his confidence was in the biggest players failing in the biggest spots, then he would have been very comfortable in the bottom of the ninth inning, which brings us to our other image. It’s a split-screen of two players with two very different legacies in pinstripes.
One is of Alex Rodriguez, a Hall-of-Fame, all-time great in baseball who has been ridiculed to no end in New York for his repetitive failures in the postseason. The other is of Jorge Posada, a Yankee legend who has delivered big hits in many playoff and World Series runs over his career.
The two collided in the team’s last 2011 at-bat. A-Rod, not surprisingly to be honest, struck out to end their season, and at the top step of the dugout was Posada, reflecting on what was possibly his final day in the Bronx. Was their faith in Rodriguez getting the big hit? Maybe, but it would be hard to believe.
Cano was the bright spot for the Yankees once again, providing a devastating force in the middle of their lineup.
The Yankees’ offense looked feeble at times in the postseason, even over-matched, something difficult to fathom based on its destructive power in the regular season. Few bright spots shone through, like a surging Brett Gardner and Posada and a timely-hitting Jeter.
One blinding area of greatness was Robinson Cano, who finally had his breakout in the playoffs, assuming the role of the best hitter on the Yankees from here on out. Cano nearly won two games on his own. Game 1 was his, knocking in six RBI with three hits, including a grand slam to seal the game. He returned in the bleakest moments of Game 5, launching another home run into right field while down 3-0, giving the team hope.
After struggling early in his career during October, Cano has turned into one of the best playoff performers in baseball. In his last three postseason series, the Yankees’ second baseman has batted .333, .348 and .318 with six home runs and 15 RBI over 14 games. It’s now clear that the Yankees will go as far as Cano can carry them in the playoffs offensively, and whether that’s a positive thought or not, it seems to be more confirmed after this postseason.
Yes, Cano is a great hitter, but shouldn't the hitters around him be close to their expected value as well? Mark Teixeira, who came to New York as a terrific hitter, has been slowly morphing into a switch-hitting Jason Giambi in Yankee Stadium and hasn't come close to delivering in the playoffs to date. Nick Swisher, a very good player with a high on-base percentage, looks completely overwhelmed by the moment in every postseason series.
Finally is Alex Rodriguez, whose struggles in the big moment are well documented. It is now no secret that no player deserves the prime spot in the line-up more than Cano, and just because other names were bigger, it doesn't mean they should have it.
Sabathia wasn't outstanding this postseason, but he will be consistent in the future.
For once in a Yankees’ failure in October, it was not their pitching that was an issue. Granted, C.C. Sabathia was not up to “ace” status in his game against fellow front-liner Justin Verlander, but he pitched sufficiently to give the team a chance to win.
Ivan Nova showed real promise for the future, displaying qualities he showed over the entire season in two crucial games during the series. He pitched terrifically in his start/relief of Game 1 and looked to be settled down and ready to roll after letting up back-to-back home runs in Game 5. Tightness forced him out of the game, but it didn’t change the image of his resolve.
Finally, there was A.J. Burnett, a pitching enigma so despised and not trusted by New York that it was pretty certain the Yankees wouldn’t make it through his start. Well, that was almost the case, but a great catch by Curtis Granderson settled down what was almost a disaster.
Pitching was certainly a concern going in, but it looks as though the Yankees are more prepared than first thought. Their rotation was obviously built for the regular season, but the top-end of their starters can win games in the playoffs. And most importantly, their bullpen was excellent. Outside of a Rafael Soriano home run (be it a crucial one), the back-end did very well.
The only concern is the longevity of Mariano Rivera, whose skills have apparently not diminished with age. He can't, however, continue on forever, so a replacement must be found before he departs.