The Detroit Tigers swept the Oakland Athletics last night, winning their seventh game in a row; including three in a row in the ALDS against the Yankees. Detroit’s pitching looked superior against the A’s, just like it did against "Murderer’s Row and Cano." If they go on to destory the NL Champion in the World Series, say in 4 or 5 games, how bad would the Yankees look having lost to the in a best-of-five series? Of course, they are the Yankees and with a $200 Million roster this season, expectations are what they are. What most fans don’t understand about baseball is that a group of All-Stars doesn’t win championships. It is the collective effort over a 162 game schedule of players that work well together and can overcome each others weaknesses when the other has a bad day…and for 162 days, there will definitely be bad days. Once you get to the playoffs, it really comes down to solid pitching that keeps you ahead or close enough to rally at the end. It’s being able to engineer runs methodically by being patient at the plate to get the right pitch to hit or get a walk…anything to get on base, in order to steal second or bunt the runner over to second or third (ie, scoring position). Detroit has done all those things right and are poised to win it all with only one or two losses. An incredible run for an incredible team. Sure, the Yankees could have done a few more things right and had a chance to have made it to the ALCS, but they didn’t and Tigers did. The New York Yankees biggest weakness, pitching (minus their closer Mariano Rivera), has been exposed and it will interesting to see if General Manager Brian Cashman will FINALLY address that Achille’s Heel with a vengeance in the off season. If he doesn’t plug this gaping whole in the dike with at least two solid starters and at least three solid middle relievers that can get the lead to Rivera in the ninth inning, they will have little chance of winning the World Series. Get the spotlight off Joe Torre and put it on the GM, who uses the bosses money and makes the trades. NASCAR drivers are only as good as their car and pit crew. All of them know how to race and the consistent winners know what to do, when it counts; but if their car isn’t ready or their pit crew doesn’t perform to standard, they can lose a race before they even leave the starting line. Joe Torre has made decisions that have produced an envious standard since his first season in 1996. During the past eleven seasons, who has done a better job?
I am waiting for the so-called "experts" to come forward and express concern over Brian Cashman’s failure to build a strong pitching rotation like they had in the late 90s. That is the obvious difference between then and now, but everyone seems to be mum about it. If there is a logical explaination, I am listening. If I had a chance to talk to George Steinbrenner, I would advise him to pull out all the stops to get the best pitching possible. If the Red Sox can pick up Beckett, Wakefield and other successful pitchers, why can’t the Yankees? Hitters sell more tickets during the season, but if you want championships, they will rarely make that dream a reality. It’s reality time.
It has been **** for Yankees fans this past week, after receiving an early exit from the post season by a Tigers team that looks poised to win it all, the plane crash that took Pitcher Cory Lidle’s life and an incident near L.A. where Alex Rodriguez was involved in an airplane accident that could have ended tragically. Through it all, the Yankees will recover and carry on and it won’t be with a new manager. I believe that George Steinbrenner has become a better owner, since his early years, where he was very impulsive and acted on his first reaction too much. This time, he took some time to reach a decision and made the right one. Looking at the list of possible replacements, only Joe Girardi looks like the kind of guy who "might" be able to handle the spotlight of managing the most important team in baseball. The media, fans and owner are watching every game, every inning and every play…right down to facial expressions. All are scrutinized and anyone who manages this team, better be able to handle the criticism (and praise) with dignity, class and a thick skin. Joe Torre has mastered these attributes, which is a large reason they have had more success than any other team over the past decade. Lou Pinella is loved in New York, but he has a volatile temper that may play well with die-hard Yankees fans, some players and some who cover the game…but the media longs for the days of the "Bronx Zoo" and stories that sell. Nothing sells better than controversy, which is what the Yankees "could" have had after their early exit from the playoffs, but the steady leadership of Joe Torre, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry and others, plus the maturity of the team itself, won’t allow it. Other teams with so many big name stars (and salaries) that have failed to live up to expectations, have crumbled and imploded under similiar circumstances; but not the Yankees. As Detroit is proving, the Yankees have nothing to be ashamed of by losing to them, because I don’t see anyone who can hit against this line-up or out-slug them. The Detroit Lions are showing us the real reason why the Yankees didn’t win the ALDS. The Yankees have a great team, but if you focus on the pitching, Detroit is a much better ball club, which is why it shouldn’t come as a shock that they won that series. Yankees pitching has been a problem for more than 5 years and no major efforts have been made to address it. Until they can get two young, solid starting pitchers and three solid middle relievers to help out when the starters get in trouble, the Yankees will continue to see other teams win the World Series. As I stated in an earlier post, great pitching will always beat great hitting in the post season and the ALDS between the Yankees and Tigers proved it.
Congratulations Joe Torre on your opportunity to serve as Yankee skipper for at least one more season and I wish you all the best next year. To his critics: I hope Joe is given the personnel he needs, so he can win it all next year prove you wrong. He is definitely up there with Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel and the other great managers. I would also ask that his critics look at Joe Torre’s career managing this team from the perspective of ALL the other managers (past and present) and judge whether his 11 of 11 seasons resulted in a playoff birth, Winning 9 consecutive Division Titles, 6 World Series appearance, 4 World Series Championships (3 of which were consecutive) and 2 times being named AL Manager of the Year. Except for only a select few, no one has been so successful in such a short period of time. Saying he can’t manage would be like saying Michael Jordan couldn’t play basketball. Joe Torre needs just keep doing what he is doing and if Mr. Steinbrenner were to foolishly get rid of him, a lot of teams will be firing their managers to try and get him. I doubt the Yankees could have as much success with another manager as they do with Joe Torre, but hopefully, we won’t have to find out for many years to come, when he decides to retire.
Alex Rodriguez has received a lot of heat from Yankees fans and the media. I wanted nothing more than to see A-Rod Succeed during his time here with the Yankees, but anyone who has seen him play understand why he isn’t working out with this team. He hit over 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in, but most were not during clutch situations. During critical moments throughout this season, he has struck out, hit into a double play or failed to contribute significantly when it counted. On the other hand, Derek Jeter consistently reached base and made contributions with the bad when it counted the most. As for doing it with the glove, A-Rod had more than 20 errors, which could have been a lot higher had Giambi and other First Basemen not dug a lot of his throws out of the dirt or caught his errant throws and tagged the base runner before they reached First Base. Derek Jeter consistently made his patented leaping throws to first or made amazing grabs to get vital outs, which should earn him another Gold Glove Award, if not the AL MVP. He IS the Captain of this team and played like it every day. I’ver heard the rumors that Jeter didn’t reach out to A-Rod or should have stepped aside…all of which are idiotic at best. Jeter has been paying his dues for more than a decade and for him to abdicate his position for a player that is way overpaid by any standard should be able to play any infield or outfield position. A-Rod is good, but got paid $25 Million this season to play $5 Million baseball. Money isn’t everything, but considering how much improvement could have been made to the pitching rotation with that money AND a decent third baseman who actually knows how to play the position without committing a ton of errors; it is obvious to me that the Yankees made a very poor investment and are drowning in its wake.
Joe Torre isn’t the problem. Derek Jeter isn’t the problem. The problem falls squarely on the GM Brian Cashman and Owner George Steinbrenner. They gambled on what they perceived as great hitting to beat any teams best pitchers. During the Regular Season, that formula works. Unfortunately, the post season is about pitching and keeping the games close or largely in your favor. The Yankees simply haven’t had that kind of talent (or mindset) since their last championship season in 2000. Firing Joe Torre only amounts to treating the perceived symptoms of their early exit from post season play, but does nothing to cure the problem that has prevented this team from winning it all lately. Lou Pinella is adored and respected here, but Joe Torre is Yankee Baseball. I don’t know if his loss would keep the Yankees from making the playoffs, but am less confident that they will. Mr. Steinbrenner: do all Yankees fans a favor and assure us that Joe Torre is going to stay and that the lessons learned from this "Sad Failure" don’t go unnoticed this off season.
The 2006 season is over for the Yankees, but there will be more opportunities to come…starting next spring. The "knee-jerk" reaction to fire Manager Joe Torre after losing to a team that was considered the best in the American League for almost the entire season, is absurd. The Yankees have a formidable hitting line-up, but those line-ups have rarely won championships. In the post season, great pitching will beat great hitting almost every time. The Detroit Tigers beat the Yankees with a pitching staff that shut down "Murders Row and Cano" for more than 20 innings, while their hitting nibbled away at Yankees pitching like all teams did throughout the season. Here is the difference between the regular season and the post season. During the regular season, teams can afford to lose a few games here and there (even go into a "slumps"), because there are 162 games to play and make-up for it. In the post season, wins are precious and the strategy for winning changes from being able to score runs over the long season to keeping the scoring down so that a couple swings of the bat can get you back on top. Hitting is the key throughout the regular season, but pitching will win the championship. So why have the Yankees spent most of their $194 million salary this season on hitting, when the most dire need has been (for the past few years) pitching? If anyone should be replaced, it should be General Manager Brian Cashman, who is responsible for upgrading this teams weaknesses in the off season. During his tenure (1997-Present), the pitching staff has steadily declined…especially in the area of middle reliever. When the starting pitcher’s struggle, there are no consistent reliever’s to limit the damage in order to give the hitter’s an opportunity to get them back on top for Mariano Rivera to seal the deal. GM Cashman has had the largest payroll to get the pitching help "required" to win in the post-season, but has instead focused on getting more hitter’s for a line-up that has consistently gotten them to the post season. Until the Yankees commit themselves to going after great pitching (like they had with David Cone, Jimmy Key, etc) in the late 90s, they will continue to finish the post season without a Championship. Joe Torre can only use what the ownership gives him and so far he has achieved the success equal to the talent provided. Until he gets the pitching that this team has lacked since their last championship in 2000, they will continue to make it to the post season and come up short. Joe Torre has the respect of his players, the city and fans everywhere, but when will he get a General Manager who understands what it takes to win in the post season?
Here is my solution. Keep Joe Torre until he wants to leave. Give Brian Cashman one more year, but with the goal of getting two new "proven" starting pitchers (depending on who is available at the end of the season) who are peaking or in their prime (not past it) and three new "proven" middle relievers (again, depending on who is available) that are also peaking or in their prime. The biggest shake-up needs to be focused on the hitting line-up. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams should stay. Period. This is the heart and soul of the Yankees offense. I would trade or release Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson and Jason Wright, while looking to the farm system to bring in "home grown" players, like we had in the mid-90s, because that formula won championships. All others are suspect and on the bubble. As for Joe’s Assistants, all MUST stay. Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry and the others can get the job done, but only with the right players. It’s time to get back to the fundamentals of the game. Looking back on the history of the game, we have seen this time and time again. The 1927 Yankees had "Murderers Row," but they also had great pitching, which had four players with 18 or more wins and low ERA’s. Hitting to win the season, but pitching that won the Championship. In the World Series against the Pirates that year, they never gave up more than 4 runs and kept it close. Great hitting did the rest. That is baseball…Yankees style. We saw that same line-up in the late 90s when they won three straight championships. The hitting is there and did its job getting to the post season (even if it could have done it without all the overpaid players on the roster), but the pitching gave up the 3-1 lead in Game 2 and failed to keep Games 3 and 4 within reach. Had the Yankees pitching staff prevented the late rally in Game 2 and kept the scoring to 2 runs or less, this series most likely would have gone to the Yankees.
I choose to look back on this past season and Yankee history for one purpose: To get it right in 2007. What’s done is done and we must learn from the same mistake that has been made the past few years of not acquiring outstanding, solid pitching, in order to win it all next year. Jeter and Rivera only have a few more "great" years left and we can’t afford to waste another season on winning the division, but having an early exit from the playoffs due to the lack of solid pitching. They deserve to have as many opportunities as other Yankees Legends, but until pitching gets as much attention (if not more) than the hitting and fielding, their efforts will be in vain. I don’t have all the answers, but every year since 2002, I have complained about the loss of pitching and each year the issue isn’t addressed adequately. It is time to change strategy, not Manager.