Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lessons Learned

In a weird way I think this series was a positive. The Yankees lost the series, but they played playoff baseball in all three games, all of which were decided by one run. They did this without two starters in Swisher and Gardner, which left them very short, and I was proud of the way they played for the most part in light of that and despite the poor overall result. Had they not been playing absolutely horrendous baseball entering this series, I think their offensive woes wouldn't have seemed like as big a deal. Because the bottom line is that this is how playoff games get played. There's going to be 1-0 and 4-3 and games where you score early but then can't score late and need your bullpen to hold on until you can win 8-7. That's not an excuse, because this offense needs to do more, but we'll get to that.

I think this series was good for two reasons. First, as I mentioned, the Yankees played pretty good baseball. Their bullpen, which quietly has the best bullpen ERA in the American League, allowed two runs in 8.2 innings of work in this series. They got very big hits late in games in games 2 and 3 of this series. They got an absolutely dominant performance from their ace, and they got an extremely good and encouraging performance from one of their rotation question marks (Hughes) outside of two bad pitches, which we will also be getting to. While they lost the series they easily could have won all three games. The playoffs is all about being in close games and then making the plays and hopefully getting the breaks to win them. So if they pay attention to the second reason why this series was good, they can turn a negative into a positive.

This series was, I think, a good learning experience for this particular ball club. If there is anything that hasn't felt quite right this year at times is that this team doesn't have that little extra something that the 2009 team had start to finish. It's that something that special teams have and just very good teams don't. I realize this is one of the more anti-new-age baseball theory things you can say, but I really believe in it. Some teams know how to finish, others don't. I think the Yankees learned what finishing, having that little extra something that separates you at the end of games, is all about. At least they should have learned it, because they definitely saw it happen to them first hand. They were right there in position to do it, and I think were moving in the right direction to do it, but they just didn't. If they can walk away from this series knowing what those things are, then it can potentially be a good thing when it counts.

What are these things?

- Getting runners in from 3rd with less than 2 outs. This has become an absurd problem for this team. They left two runners in that situation tonight. They blew two chances to do it Friday in Texas. Two more Saturday in Texas. Chances are if they get these in they win 2 of those 3 games since all were decided by one run. You just can't do this, you have to get those runs in.

- Finding a way to score one run of elite pitching. C.C. Sabathia is an absolutely ridiculous starting pitcher. He's one of the best I've ever watched. The way he elevates his game as the spot gets bigger is amazing. However, he is usually matched up against other similarly talented pitchers. You can't afford to waste these starts because you can't score against that pitcher. The Yankees should be able to score against most anybody better than other offenses should be able to score against C.C. This also goes for the times when C.C. isn't pitching as well, you just have to be able to find a way to get that one run or couple of runs that you need. Monday was an embarrassment. This offense has to do more, especially against top flight pitching.

- Not letting role players beat you. To be fair, this was a problem for the 2009 team as well. Both last year and this year, the Yankees seem to handle the key hitters in their opposition's lineup. Then something happens and mid to bottom of the order guys are crushing them. No offense to Dan Johnson, but he should not be getting 40% of his season home run total (2 of 5) and 25% of his season RBI total (4 of 16) in one game to account for every single run the Rays score. No offense to these guys either, but the Yankees got beat on a homer by Reid Brignac in a game decided by one run on Monday and a homer by Matt Joyce on a game decided by one run earlier in the year against the Rays. These things are prone to happen more than the Dan Johnson situation, but it's not the individual instances so much as the trend that concerns you. They have to find a way to shut this down.

- Joe Girardi needs to get out of the mode he's been in the last few weeks and get back into mid-season this year mode or last October mode. He has been awful, from the bunting in a 3-0 count in Texas to the bunting in a 2-0 count in Tampa Bay to letting Tampa score 7 runs in one inning turning a 6-0 lead into a 7-6 deficit because he waited too long to lift a pitcher making his 5th Major League start. It's been covered in great detail all over the place, so I'm not going to go into it much further. It also isn't just me, pretty much everyone seems to be confused by what is going on here, as my phone has also been going off left and right with people questioning his decisions during games. In close games managerial decisions can be the difference. Not everytime, but sometimes. You have to give your team every advantage they can get. I'm pretty confident that with managing that was more sound the Yankees could have won 1-2 of their five losses in Texas and Tampa. Can't have that, Girardi needs to get back on track.

- Mental. Brett Gardner can't make the third out of an inning at 3rd base. Focus on lifting fly balls with runners on 3rd and less than 2 outs. Be tough enough not to let the other team score the half inning after you score (another major problem). This has been decent, but needs to be tightened up.

When I say "when it counts" in regards to this thing, I don't mean in the event that the Yankees make the playoffs. I mean starting Friday against the Orioles, a team playing very good baseball. It starts then because the Yankees are no sure bet to make the playoffs. They recently had a 10 game lead over Boston, and that has been cut by 40% in no time. A 6 game lead is not much at all, especially when you have 6 left with that team in addition to a tough schedule otherwise. The Yankees need to take care of business at Baltimore and with Tampa Bay at home next week before the Red Sox come in so that it isn't too close. And then they need to take care of business with the Red Sox too. Making adjustments regarding the above is a good place to start in terms of getting that done.

All in all, this was a very bad road trip. 1-5 against probable playoff teams is a disaster, especially considering that not only are the Yankees no longer in first place, but they have let Boston back in this thing in relation to them. With that said, they got to see the exact ways in which they are coming up short, particularly in close games. If they chose to learn from that, then it can really be a positive thing moving forward.

4 comments:

PF said...

i want to point out that i'm disgusted with the 1-5 against baltimore and texas. that, combined with the lost series in tampa, has me very concerned about the ability of this baseball team to even make the playoffs, let alone do anything once they get there. that said, looking at the tampa series alone, i think there are some positives to be taken. not just the way that they played, but even more so what they can potentially take away from the series for these next 2.5 weeks. they should now know exactly where they need to be better to finish off close games.

Anonymous said...

PF

The Yankees still have a 97% chance of making the playoffs. Those are pretty good odds. Also, it's probably worth mentioning that the 2000 Yankees were absolutely horrible in September, won only 87 games, and still won the World Series.

The bigger thing about this is that while it is unrealistic to have faith in a Red Sox playoff appearance, the fact is that it COULD happen. It is not probable. But it is possible. As a fan, I had given up 2-3 weeks ago. Now? They're still out of it. But there's at least some intrigue. If the Sox sweep this weekend and the Yankees or Rays dip a little, then those Sox/Yankees games could mean something. And just to be discussing the notion that the Sox aren't playing out the string at this point is exciting.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

gunn -

fair points. but you're second paragraph is exactly what has me nervous. also, while 2000 is something worth mentioning, it's very unusual. i know your intention was just to show that if it can happen in those circumstances, then it can happen for a team in a (presently) better situation like the 2010 yankees. my concern is that there are plenty of teams who played much better than the 2000 yankees down the stretch and didn't go anywhere. anything can happen, and this thing could go in either of the directions we are discussing or many others, but the 2010 yankees are not invoking a lot of "this is ours to win" right now.

the gm at work said...

Pat, as I texted you last night, I am taking particular umbrage to your stated claim that the 2010 Yankees team doesn't have that "little extra something" that past "special" teams have had.

Over the course of the season, the Yankees have had extended cold streaks - we're not talking about just your typical slump - from Burnout, Borasbot, Hughes, and both Jeter and Granderson all year. Arod has made you wonder what 2017 will be all about, and injuries to Pettitte, Nick Johnson, and Posada have hardly been crippling. They've had a lot to overcome and they've steamrolled the field. They've faced a lot more adversity than the Rays have, and while they're certainly not bulletproof, they could very well sweep Tampa if they hit one of their little funks. The Yankees have had no such funks. Their funks have been mediocre, while the Rays' funks have been straight-up bad. With players like CC, Borasbot in the second half, and more than anyone else, MVP darkhorse Robinson Cano, they've stayed afloat. And by "afloat" I mean they've achieved the best record in baseball.

Enjoy yo day.