2011 MLB Postseason: 10 Division Series Goats (and One Heroic Squirrel)
Q.: How do you catch a flying squirrel?
A.: Climb a tree and act like a wing nut. (courtesy of an online source named Cap'n Tim, all rights reserved)
Actually, if you're the Miller Park grounds crew, you import the the now-infamous Cardinals Rally Squirrel(s) and keep them well fed and spunky; the Cards' NLDS foes, the Phreaked-out Phillies, were a bit undone by the furry fellas.
Geez, guys. Really? The best starting rotation in baseball, a Murderers' Row lineup and home field advantage, and you were (partially) undone by a squirrel? That's just nuts.
The Phillies' nuts—er, sensitivities—aside, this year's division series featured some serious choke jobs.
Some of the games were played to less than full houses—in multiple venues. That's an embarrassment for the involved franchises, Commissioner Selig and the game itself.
As for the goats, here's my Bottom 10.
Arizona Diamondbacks: World's (Nearly) Worst Fans
For shame, Arizonans.
Ten thousand empty seats at Chase Field for Game 4 of the NLDS? A day after winning Game 3? The club's first postseason appearance in four years. Eeeech.
Perhaps that shouldn't have been a surprise considering that Snake fans filled their home yard twice in 81 regular season home games this season.
Where'd everyone go? There were no local conflicts; the NLDS game was on a Wednesday. The Suns are locked out, and the Coyotes hadn't begun their regular season.
Of course, the Diamondbacks' ranked 18th in baseball in regular season attendance (2.1 million, 25,000 per contest), so big crowds are far from the norm.
But, c'mon, this is the postseason.
I should say, was the postseason. The Brewers—whose fans created the sort of raucous playoff atmosphere you expect—eliminated the Snakes on Friday.
Which is what those D-Back non-paying fans deserved.
Gerardo Parra: Safe? No, Out!
Staying with the Snakes (briefly), let's call out left fielder Gerardo Parra for Conduct Unbecoming a Playoff Performer (CUPP).
A .292 BA, .784 OPS, 46 RBI contributor in the regular year, Parra went 1-for-18 against the Brewers.
That's a .058 BA, worst among D-Back regulars. By far.
Parra contributed a double and run scored in Game 5. That was nice, but not nearly enough.
It was a bit surprising to see Kirk Gibson stick with Parra throughout the Brewers series. But, facing a righty-dominated rotation and lacking a great alternative, you can't blame Gibson here.
Parra just didn't rise to the occasion.
Tampa Bay Rays: World's (Truly) Worst Fans
Congratulations, Rays fans. Your apathy makes Arizona Diamondbacks fans look like Cheesehead Nation.
Yeah, the Trop sucks as a baseball venue. (to think the San Francisco Giants nearly fled the Bay Area for Tampa in 1992...)
Yeah, the Rays were mediocre for much of 2011. And regular season attendance at Tropicana Field averaged just 18,000 per game, second-lowest in baseball.
But: failing to fill a smallish ball yard for an ALDS home game—38,000 for Game 3, only 28,000 for Game 4—leaves no doubt about declaring Tampa's the game's worst fan base.
It's especially galling to see such poor fan support after a tenacious, inspiring late-season push that otherwise should be remembered as one of the greatest ever.
Unless you're part of Red Sox Nation, of course.
Way to go, Tampa.
Evan Longoria: What's That Around My Throat?
Gotta flog at least one Tampa Bay Ray before moving on to other division series losers.
Easy choice: Evan Longoria.
The Ray's third baseman has been steady-as-he-goes over four regular seasons, averaging 33 HR, 115 RBI and .874 OPS.
He wasn't bad in the Ray's 2008 ALDS and ALCS appearances, either: six HR, 11 RBI.
But beginning with the 2008 World Series, Longoria fell into a stupor that continued through this year's ALDS series loss to Texas:
2008 World Series: 1-20, two RBI, nine strikeouts.
2010 ALDS: 4-20, two RBI.
2011 ALDS: 3-16, three RBI, eight strikeouts.
With his salary rising from $2 million to $4.5 million in 2012 and $6 million in 2013, postseason performances like those won't sit well with Rays fans or the front office.
It's far too soon to declare Longoria a chronic postseason bust, but that's the direction he seems headed.
C.J. Wilson: Aces Low
Even a series winner can have a goat or two.
C.J. Wilson fits the bill—er, horns—for the Texas Rangers.
Touted as their staff "ace" after Cliff Lee's offseason escape to Philadelphia, Wilson was really good in the regular year (16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 206 SO/74 BB in 223.1 innings).
The postseason? Game 1 vs. Tampa: five innings, seven hits, six earned runs. Awful.
Fortunately for Wilson and the Rangers, their second-tier starters and bullpen were terrific; Texas swept the next three games to advance to their second successive ALDS.
Unless Wilson is a whole lot better against Detroit, Texas won't be in its second successive World Series.
New York Yankees' Randy Levine: Postseason's Best Whiner
New York Yankees CEO Randy Levine was so on-form after his club lost Game 5 of the ALDS to Detroit that his post-ALDS comments sounded as if they'd been prepared (and perhaps practiced) in advance.
He offered this shocker: "We are the Yankees," Levine told ESPNNewYork.com Friday as he and the franchise coped with being eliminated at home in Game 5 of the ALDS by the Detroit Tigers. "That is the way The Boss set it up. When you don't win the World Series, it is a bitter disappointment and not a successful year."
Gosh, ya' think? With a payroll of $207 million at the start of 2011 and nine players earning $10 million or more, how else can ending the year with anything but the World Series title be seen as successful?
Dude, listen: you approved the budget, right? You signed off on all deals proposed by G.M. Brian Cashman, right?
Next time you're consigned to giving a postseason public postmortem, start by thanking your loyal fans. Then, button it up and go scream into a pillow.
You aren't The Boss; you don't sound like The Boss; you fumble away all pretense of leadership by invoking The Boss.
And, to the rest of America, you sound like a whiner, not a winner.
Alex Rodriguez: $31 Million for That?
Following the San Francisco Giants, I've grown fairly comfortable ripping into front office boss Brian Sabean for consistently paying aging veterans more than their current market value to under-perform.
So, pardon me for having to take a moment to digest this:
Alex Rodriguez's 2011 salary: $31 million, in fourth year of a ten-year, $275 million deal signed in 2008.
2011 regular season numbers: 62 RBI in 99 games, lowest WAR and oWAR of his career.
2011 ALDS numbers: .111 BA/.111 SLG, more K's (6) than RBI (3).
Rodriguez is 35 years old; his contract runs through 2017 when he'll be 41.
At that point A-Rod won't be just any postseason goat; he'll be a really, really old goat.
Nick Swisher: The Affordable ($9 Million) Goat
The Yankees' Nick Swisher isn't even in Alex Rodriguez's league in terms of goat-value.
Swisher earned only $9 million in 2011—less than one-third what the Yankees paid A-Rod to suck.
For their money, the Yankees got Grade-A postseason Goat value from Swisher: one RBI in 19 AB; one extra-base hit; five SO.
After a passable regular year—23 HR, 85 RBI, .822 OPS—Yankee fans must be disappointed.
But not altogether surprised. Swisher's career postseason numbers are legendarily Goat-quality.
In 38 playoff games—28 with New York—he's batted .169 with six RBI, eleven extra-base hits and 36 SO.
Brian Cashman has a decision to make this offseason; the club holds a $10.25 million option on Swisher for 2012, from which they can walk away with a $1 million buyout.
Either way, Swisher will have enough coin to afford plenty of goat milk.
Ryan Howard: All He Needs Is a Goat(ee)
Confession: I'm a fan of (and B/R columnist for) the San Francisco Giants. So, you can imagine that my heart's not bleeding for the Phillies in the wake of their NLDS loss to St. Louis.
Confession II: As a Giants fan, I do empathize with Phillies fans—honestly, I do—in the wake of yet another Phils' postseason face-plant. Since my team failed to make the postseason, I'm tossing no stones from my glass house.
At Phillies fans, at least. But I will throw one in Ryan Howard's direction.
Howard, last I recall, was watching stonily as strike three from Giants' closer Brian Wilson crossed the plate in the ninth inning of Game 6 of last year's NLCS (an image burnished in my brain, forever).
So, there was Howard at the plate on Friday night facing the Cardinal's Chris Carpenter in the ninth inning of Game 5.
This time Howard made contact, flying out harmlessly to open the ninth (no, Phils fans, it was not a line drive; only looked that way).
Another very Goat-ish job by Howard: .105 BA/.143 OBP/.263 SLG for the series with six RBI that were misleadingly useless to the Phils (half came on one swing, a three-run HR in game one).
Howard's career postseason numbers—.265 BA, 8 HR, 33 RBI, .864 OPS—are also misleadingly non-goatish.
Of the 33 RBI, 26 came in four series; Howard contributed just seven runs in the other five series combined.
So, goat horns (or a goatee) for Howard: for $20 million, Phillies fans deserved more.
Goat of the Division Series: Charlie Manuel
As noted on the prior slide, I'm a Giants guy. No offense to Phillies fans, but I couldn't bring myself to root for Philadelphia in the 2011 NLDS.
On the other hand, I respect fans who love their team and show their love by showing up. So, kudos, Philly Phanatics: your support for the Phils in 2011 was something to behold.
And, given your sustained support—the Giants and Phillies were the only two clubs in baseball to sell out their home stadiums in 2011—you deserved a better outcome than losing in the NLDS.
For that, my NLDS Goat Horns go to Charlie Manuel, the Phillies' befuddled-looking manager.
Who besides Manuel could possibly deserve the horns? He was handed an All-Star pitching rotation, the season's most valuable mid-season trade acquisition (Hunter Pence) and an every-day lineup with which a monkey (or Rally Squirrel) could have won 95 games.
No idea what went on in that clubhouse, but to have fallen to the Cardinals in Game 5—at home—is simply one of the biggest choke jobs of the 2000's.
You can blame the players, but the manager bears some responsibility for the team's emotional state.
The Phils choked. To me, the manager is the biggest choke-ee.