Yankees need to identify their flaws
Power pitching, more reliable offense apt starting points
NEW YORK -- These Yankees limit their laments. They turn the page quickly and move on. There is no pennant to be won this fall, and no need to change Joe Girardi's uniform number.
So, by sometime Thursday night, or perhaps it will keep until the following day, they will begin the remodeling and the repairs.
Brian Cashman, en route from the Tigers clubhouse to the home clubhouse early Friday morning at Yankee Stadium, interrupted his sorrowful walk long enough to explain the plan in the broadest of terms.
"It's always pitching," he said. "Win or lose, you look at your pitching first to see if there's something you have to do."
A moment later, the Yankees general manager added, "You're forced to look at the area of weakness. Hopefully, the strengths remain the strengths, and ..."
OK, OK, so the Yankees' exit from the postseason wasn't even an hour old. Cashman can be forgiven for being vague or imprecise. How could he not be both after what he had witnessed? What exactly are the Yankees' strengths and weaknesses at this point, anyway? Anybody care to take a stab at that?
The Tigers certainly blurred the lines distinguishing the two areas and, at the same time, put themselves in the American League Championship Series and cracked the veneer that formed when the Yankees led the AL with 97 victories.
This five-game Division Series, not readily reckoned or rationalized before the Tigers won the decisive game, 3-2, made even less sense by the time Jose Valverde added yet another blemish to Alex Rodriguez's postseason resume with a 27th-out strikeout. The result of Game 5 and the series was not expected, not when the Yankees were at home.
But how this series reached the point where the Tigers were toasting each other and the Yankees were searching for answers was more surprising.
The Yankees overcame the Red Sox, Rays and all that a Yankees team always battles by hitting the ball out of the park, particularly their own, and scoring runs in bunches. And in the other halves of innings, they played survival games. Then, they run into the Tigers, their pitching holds together, and the bats too often go limp.
"One sac fly could have made the difference, could have gotten us even," Girardi said.
No sac fly was forthcoming.
Winning teams often have players with sacrifice-fly swings. Jim Leyland's Pirates teams had players with that specialized skill. Bobby Bonilla was one. These Yankees, descendents of Roy White, Willie Randolph and Bobby Murcer -- all adapt at hitting a fly ball when needed -- are postseason spectators for lack of one.
One visit from the Ghosts of Octobers Past, those spirits so often invoked by Derek Jeter, might have worked. But fly balls by Mark Teixeira in the sixth and Jeter in the eighth fell short of the walls. And even when the unseen hand prevented Joaquin Benoit from handling Robinson Cano's infield bouncer in the seventh, the Yankees lacked the wherewithal to exploit circumstances.
Twice they loaded the bases with one out, and twice the circumstances produced nothing but angst and a growing sense that the evening belonged to the guys from Motown.
Detroit had the big hits -- the home runs Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit in the first inning, even before the right forearm of Ivan Nova began to ache, and the measured-swing single Victor Martinez sent through the middle in the fifth. Kelly's home run nearly brought Leyland to tears after the game.
The Yankees used to produce the kind of professional hit Martinez provided. The runs they scored Thursday night came on a home run by Cano and a bases-loaded walk by Teixeira two batters after Benoit played laissez faire with Cano's ground ball. Only a semblance of sustained offense occurred in two innings, and produced one run.
Perhaps it is the lineup that is in greater need of remodeling.
How can the Yankees make that judgment now? Their No. 4 hitter -- perhaps it was Girardi's decision to bat A-Rod fourth that should be judged instead -- was invisible for most of the series, and particularly in Game 5 when he struck out three times, walked once and grounded out. The Yankees said they didn't expect much from him in his diminished state. He delivered less.
But would anyone be startled if Rodriguez hit 35 and drove in 120 next year? Look how Jeter regained his form. How do the Yankees see A-Rod now? And all that money.
Of course the Yankees need pitching. Even with the emergence of Nova, they have been lacking since March. They need a power starter like Doug Fister and a No. 3 or 4 guy like Max Scherzer. They need to get younger and better, not just better.
The Tigers are playing Saturday because of the depth of their rotation and the power in their bullpen. The Yankees have a bullpen, no question. But what did it do for them in this series? The great Mariano Rivera pitched 1 1/3 innings. What kind of a strength is he when protecting a deficit as he did in the finale?
Because they couldn't score enough early, the Yankees became discombobulated. What kind of a series is it when CC Sabathia appears in only losses, save his two-inning outing in Game 1 before rain washed away his chance at a decision?
But this is not to demean the Yankees. They didn't lose the series so much as the Tigers won it. Girardi said, "Obviously, this is a terrible day for us." But the outcome was more a case of the Tigers doing all they could and finding out -- perhaps to their surprise -- that it was enough.
"You come to Yankee Stadium, and you really don't know what to expect," said Tigers ace Justin Verlander. "Especially in a deciding game. But we won twice here. Yeah, I've heard about the ghosts and from what I know, they might exist. But they didn't do too much to get in our way. We beat their pitching, we beat their offense.
"If there are ghosts, we beat them too. We're a pretty good team. And we might be getting better."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.