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Keefe To The City: The Blame Game

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(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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We are on Day 4 of the offseason, and yes, I’m still devastated. The initial depression and surrealistic feel of the season coming to an end is over. It’s finally starting to settle in that the last few days aren’t just off-days, but in fact the beginning of the offseason. The Yankees won’t be playing this Wednesday night in San Francisco. They won’t be playing again until the spring.

Whenever the season ends with a postseason loss, it hurts. This one hurts a little less since the Yankees won it all last year and because it was pretty much over after Game 4 and because Cliff Lee was waiting in Game 7. But that feeling of losing still exists. I wasn’t really shocked that they lost since the final blow didn’t come via a dagger on a walk-off hit. It came in the bottom of the fifth inning when Joe Girardi walked Josh Hamilton once again to face Vladimir Guerrero and Vladimir Guerrero finally showed up for the ALCS. The same Vladimir Guerrero that could have been the designated hitter for the Yankees.

But you can’t forget about Nick Johnson and his on-base percentage! Whenever you can sign a guy who has never played more than 133 games in his career just one time, that’s a move you have to make. Guerrero made $1 million more than Johnson this year, and he played in 128 more games, hit 27 more home runs and drove in 107 more runs. They both have mutual options for 2011. I wonder how those will both play out.

OK, back to talking about people who were actually involved in the ALCS and contributed to games past May 7.

I wish it were as easy as placing all the blame on Joe Girardi for what happened in the second half of the season and in the ALCS, but even though he trusted his binder more than simple logic, he wasn’t the one striking out against Colby Lewis or swinging at the first pitch from Tommy Hunter. Girardi certainly didn’t gain any fans over the last few months as has became the poster boy for being second guessed in the majors, and if the Cubs didn’t hire Mike Quade last week, you can bet your first-born child that Girardi would have took off for Wrigley or at least used the Cubs as leverage to drive up the price of a new contract with the Yankees. But now Joe has no leverage and will be back with the Yankees for what is being reported at $3 million a year. With no leverage and no other appealing managing opportunity, I would low-ball Girardi. But, hey, that’s just me.

The problem is that even though Girardi fills out the lineup card and builds the rotation and decides how to utilize the bullpen, he doesn’t play in the games, so he can’t really be accountable for the Yankees being dominated by the Rangers. Sure, he is supposed to make decisions to put his players in the best possible position to succeed and his team in the best possible situation to win, and he sometimes fails to do either, but it’s hard to say that the Yankees lost to the Rangers because of him.

The players are the ones to blame, and there is a lot of blame to go around. There were 23 players who saw action in the ALCS, and out of those 23, here are the 11 that did their part in trying to help the team advance to the World Series:

Lance Berkman: He only hit .250, but knocked in two runs in 12 at-bats and proved he wasn’t the disappointment he was for most of the second half.

Robinson Cano: Your ALCS MVP if the Yankees had won the series. He went 8-for-23 (.348) with four home runs and five RBIs. The rest of the team hit two home runs. It’s too bad no one could ever get on base for him.

Francisco Cervelli: People were upset about Cervelli playing and were even more upset when he went 0-for-2 in Game 4. If you have to complain about the lack of offensive production from your backup catcher, there is a much bigger problem.

Joba Chamberlain: He was used oddly in the series, but allowed just one earned run in 3 1/3 innings with three strikeouts.

Greg Golson: A defensive replacement. He didn’t have an impact.

Curtis Granderson: He hit .294 with one home run and three RBIs and seven walks in the series. He justified the Austin Jackson trade and once again became the dangerous hitter he was in Detroit.

Dustin Moseley: He threw two perfect innings in relief including four strikeouts and earned the win in Game 1.

Andy Pettitte: He pitched good enough to win in Game 3 (7 IP, 2 ER), but Cliff Lee pitched better and the offense didn’t show up.

Mariano Rivera: He didn’t allow an earned run in three innings pitched. What’s new?

CC Sabathia: He didn’t pitch like he did in the regular season or the way he did in the 2009 playoffs, but the Yankees won both games he started.

Kerry Wood: He allowed one earned run in six innings and was reliable as he was in the regular season.

Those 11 players get a free pass in my book because they did their jobs. Or at least they did a good enough job that they actually were part of the solution and not part of the problem.

As for the other 12 players that played in the ALCS, well let’s just say their work was unsatisfactory. Some players are more to blame than others and it would be unfair to group all of the underachievers together, so in an attempt to be fair, I decided to divide the blame up. Here are the 12 players responsible for the series loss to the Rangers with the percentage they are responsible next to their name.

Phil Hughes: 17%
Phil Hughes was an 18-game winner and All-Star this season. He has a .633 career winning percentage and is a former No. 1 pick.

Colby Lewis has a 5.27 career ERA and has kicked around with six different teams in the majors. He appeared in just 28 games in the majors from 2005-2009 and spent the last two seasons playing for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan because no one wanted him.

So why is it that Phil Hughes (0-2, 8.2 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 1 HR, 7 BB, 6 K, 11.42 ERA) was almost as bad against the Rangers as Chien-Ming Wang (0-2, 5.2 IP, 14 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 3 HR, 4 BB, 2 K, 19.06 ERA) was against the Indians in the 2007 ALDS?

And why is it that Colby Lewis became the latest unlikely pitcher to shut down the Yankees in recent years, joining Paul Byrd, Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers.

You can’t predict baseball, but you had to think that with Phil Hughes pitching twice on the road where he had a 3.47 ERA this year and allowed just five of the 25 home runs he gave up, and pitching twice in Texas where he had never allowed an earned run in his life, that the outcome would have been different.

Alex Rodriguez: 15%
I guess we can put to rest the theory that when A-Rod finally wins a championship he will just go off since he will no longer have any postseason baggage about not being able to hit in the clutch. Well after winning the World Series, A-Rod was barely able to keep his consecutive season streak of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs alive and then he had a postseason that mirrored the last three game of 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The Yankees needed A-Rod to step up against his former team in a stadium where he used to crush it (with or without the help of his cousin), and especially with Mark Teixeira missing the final two games of the series.

I always said that if the Red Sox didn’t win the World Series in 2004, Tony Graffanino would never be able to step foot in the city of Boston again. Trailing 1-0 in the 2005 ALDS against the White Sox, the Red Sox were leading Game 2 in Chicago, 4-0, in the bottom of the fifth inning. Graffanino let a grounder go through his legs in what ended up being a five-run inning for the White Sox. The White Sox went on to win the game and the series in three games.

If A-Rod didn’t have the postseason he had in 2009, well let’s just say Brett Favre’s odd cell phone use wouldn’t be consuming the headlines daily.

But both of those items are based on hypothetical situations and I’m really not one for hypothetical situations. I’m more of a pure facts guy. So let’s forget that I just used two “if” scenarios to describe how bad A-Rod was against the Rangers. Let’s just look at the facts: 4-for-21 (.190), no home runs, two RBIs.

Mark Teixeira: 14%
Mark Teixeira missed Games 5 and 6 of the ALCS because he blew out his hamstring trying to beat out a grounder in an attempt to record his first hit of the series in his 15th at-bat. I honestly thought when Mark Teixeira’s hamstring popped that it was a blessing in disguise. That’s right, I was happy that the Yankees’ All-Star, Gold Glove first baseman and No. 3 hitter was done for the season. When you go 0-for-14 with three walks, you can’t blame people for their unusual thinking.

When it comes down to it, Mark Teixeira shouldn’t have been hitting third this season. Robinson Cano is the best hitter on the team and the best hitter on the team hits third. I don’t care that the Yankees won the World Series last season with Mark Teixeira hitting third. If anything, Teixeira hitting third only prevented them from winning the World Series faster than the 15 games in the postseason it took them. What other team has their best hitter hitting fifth? Isn’t the objective to maximize the at-bats over the course of the season for your best hitters and to create the most scoring chances possible? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?

I’m not sure if Girardi is afraid of change or if he is afraid of hurting Teixeira’s feelings if he drops him in the order. On Opening Day 2011, I want Mark Teixeira hitting fifth. Or don’t be surprised if it’s May 15 and we are wondering why the Yankees offense is struggling with the perennial slow starter Teixeira hitting .190 in the three-hole while Cano is going “Boom!” and leading the league in hitting out of the fifth spot in the order.

Nick Swisher: 12%
If Nick Swisher isn’t a Yankee in 2011, that’s OK with me. I have had enough of Nick Swisher in the postseason, and yes, two postseasons and 23 playoff games for the Yankees and a .148 average (12-for-81) is enough of a sample size for me.

And who does Nick Swisher think he is? Here is what Nick Swisher had to say about being asked about Cliff Lee all the time:

“You guys are talking about Cliff Lee? [Expletive], who cares?”

“I can’t wait to hit against his [behind].”

“I’m not talking about Cliff Lee. I don’t give a [expletive].”

If I went 2-for-22 (.091) and struck out seven times in six games in the ALCS and was a .162 career hitter in the playoffs, I probably wouldn’t be happy either. But to talk about Cliff Lee (7-0, 1.26 ERA in postseason career) like he is some loser off the scrap heap is embarrassing for Swisher and the Yankees.

Brian Cashman told Mike Francesa on Monday that he doesn’t take into account postseason numbers for players in evaluations. Now either Cashman was lying, so that there wouldn’t be a follow-up question regarding Swisher’s awful postseason history, or he really doesn’t think that performing in the postseason matters. Either way, he’s wrong.

A.J. Burnett: 10%
It’s no secret that I would rather watch You Don’t Mess with the Zohan on a continuous loop for nine straight days than watch A.J. Burnett pitch. I wasn’t surprised when A.J. Burnett allowed five earned runs in six innings in Game 4, but I was surprised when Michael Kay, who said the series was over after the Yankees won Game 1, said on the postgame show that aside from the Bengie Molina home run that A.J. Burnett didn’t pitch poorly.

This is the same Michael Kay that frequently complains during the season about “quality starts” because three earned runs in six innings translates into a 4.50 ERA and that isn’t “quality.” Well, how “quality” is giving up five earned runs in six innings after losing 15 games in the regular season and basically costing your team the season?

I am not sure who really thought A.J. Burnett was going to go out and dominate the Rangers for seven or eight innings in Game 4. Sure, he started the game out looking like he might have the type of performance he used to have against the Yankees that made the Yankees sign him, but I think everyone expected it to come to a crashing halt. Everyone except Joe Girardi, who once again let Burnett remain in the game for just a little too long.

A.J. Burnett! Three more years!

Derek Jeter: 9%
This is what the giant screen in center field at Yankee Stadium read when Derek Jeter came to the plate for his fourth at-bat of the game in the sixth inning of Game 5:

1st Inning – Groundout to SS

2nd Inning – Groundout to SS

4th Inning – Groundout to SS

I never say anything bad about Derek Jeter. Never. That’s why it was a shock to some when I tweeted negatively about the greatest Yankee of my lifetime, but you know what, it was well deserved. At some point, swinging at the first pitch of the game or of nearly every at-bat isn’t a good idea whether or not you have been doing it your whole career. There are times to take a hack at the first pitch of an at-bat, but how about picking your spots?

On a side note … prior to Game 6, I was watching Around the Horn on ESPN and the panelists were debating whether or not the Yankees could come back in the series. J.A. Adande said the Yankees were finished because they weren’t hitting. He said A-Rod hadn’t homered since September and Jeter hadn’t homered since August. So, I guess if you’re wondering why the Yankees are sitting home, it’s because Derek Jeter didn’t hit any home runs. Citing Jeter’s lack of power as the reason the Yankees would lose? Does Adande know who Derek Jeter is? Has he ever watched a Yankees game in Jeter’s 16-year career?

Jeter had six hits in the six games and struck out seven times. The only time he struck out more times in a series was in the 2000 World Series when he struck out eight times in five games, but he also won the World Series MVP.

My friend Mike Hurley of NESN made a good point that Jeter had the same haircut from 1995-2009. He switches it up in 2010 and hits .270 with a .340 OBP. Coincidence? I’m not sure. But don’t be surprised to see Jeter show up to spring training with a high-and-tight look under his hat.

David Robertson: 8%
Where was the pitcher that left the bases loaded with no outs against the Twins in Game 2 last year and didn’t allow a single run in the entire postseason in 2009, and what did he do with David Robertson?

To say that David Robertson simply didn’t have it in the playoffs would be a major understatement. He couldn’t even buy an out and every lead he was asked to hold became insurmountable. He was horrible. He was awful. He was atrocious. He was … you get the point.

Brett Gardner: 5%
Brett Gardner was supposed to bring the type of speed the Yankees haven’t seen in years to the starting lineup and cause trouble on the bases for the opposition. The only problem is you actually have to get on base to create havoc on the base paths.

Prior to the playoffs, I thought the idea of signing Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth and rearranging the outfield was completely out of the Yankees’ offseasons plans. Well Brett Gardner has made a career out of fighting for a starting job, and I think he reopened the discussions about the possibility of making changes to the outfield for 2011, though I am all for keeping Gardner in left.

Boone Logan: 4%
Ladies and gentlemen, Boone Logan! Don’t let that streak of retiring left-handed hitters fool you. The real Boone Logan showed his face in the ALCS and helped Josh Hamilton win the MVP.

Here is what Rangers lefties did against Mr. Lefty Specialist in the series: 2-for-2, double, home run, walk. Boone Logan!

When I officially apologized to Boone Logan on September 14, I also said, “Now, I say I am sorry, but I know that at some point between now and the last game the Yankees play this season, Boone Logan will be asked to get a BIG out, an important out, a significant out in the 2010 Yankees season. And mark my words … he will put a scare into every Yankees fan.”

Well, Logan was actually asked to get a few big outs against lefties, and he didn’t get one.

Jorge Posada: 3%
Jorge Posada had a big game in Game 5 (2-for-4, run, double RBI), but the rest of the series was just a microcosm of what life with Jorge Posada behind the plate has become for Yankees fans.

Posada is like the aging family dog that just wanders around aimlessly and goes to the bathroom all over the place and just lies around and sleeps all day. You try to pretend like the end isn’t near and you try to remember the good times to get through the bad times, and once in a while the dog will do something to remind you of what it used to be, but it’s just momentary tease.

Posada’s career as even a mediocre defensive catcher and productive power hitter is on its last legs. 2011 is going to be hard to watch as Posada becomes more of a full-time DH with the emergence of the young catchers, but once his career is put to sleep after 2011, it will be for the better.

Marcus Thames: 2%
Marcus Thames had the game-winning hit in Game 1 of the series and did have a big home run in Game 3 against the Twins (even though we are strictly talking about the Rangers series here), so it’s hard to get on my favorite bench players in years for going 2-for-16 (.125) with eight strikeouts in six games.

Sergio Mitre: 1%
Have a large lead you want to blow? Want to let the opposition extend their lead? Bring in Sergio Mitre. Mitre is last on this list because he should have never seen action in a postseason game and no one expected anything other than failure for him.

One day we might find out what dirt Sergio Mitre has on Cashman and Girardi that is keeping him on the roster of a team with a $200 million payroll. But until then I am just going to have to believe that Girardi and Cashman actually think there is talent somewhere in this man’s right arm.

I just hope the Yankees aren’t keeping Mitre because they think he will land somewhere else and figure it out. He isn’t going to figure it out! He’s 29! Let him go to another team! Let the Yankees offense face him! Please!

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe

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