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By Steve Silverman
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There’s no reason for Yankees fans to be surprised or panicked by the Orioles’ 3-2 victory in Game 2 that squared the best-of-five divisional playoff series.
The Yankees and Orioles split 18 regular-season games, and it would not be a surprise if this series came down to a final game on Friday to see which team gets the privilege of playing for the American League pennant.
But the Yankees have two significant problems that they are going to have to overcome.
Those problems are Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. Specifically, Rodriguez is going through his usual playoff walkabout, while Swisher is also having difficulty hitting in clutch situations.
Making the problem worse is Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who is going to exploit these problems every chance he gets.
He will pitch around Robinson Cano and let anyone else try to beat him. Cano will get his at-bats early in the game, but once the Yankees get to the sixth inning Showalter is simply going to take the bat out of his hands.
He wouldn’t be able to do this if Rodriguez could do what he was paid to do in playoff games. Rodriguez had a strong 2009 postseason in which he hit .455 against the Minnesota Twins in the divisional series and .429 against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS. While he only hit .250 in the World Series against the Phillies, he drove in six runs during that Yankees victory.
Since then it has been misery for A-Rod. He hit .273 against the Twins in the 2010 divisional series, but he only batted .190 in the ALCS against Texas, as the Yankees went down in defeat. He batted .111 in last year’s divisional-series loss to the Detroit Tigers, and he has the same batting average in the first two games against the Orioles this year.
Swisher, who ended the regular season on a decent hot streak, continues to struggle with men on base. Throughout his postseason career, he is 1-for-33 with men in scoring position.
These numbers are clearly playing head games with Swisher. He knows that Showalter will challenge him at every opportunity he gets, and that’s just a fact of baseball life.
Two games are just the beginning of this series, and early failures don’t have to be repeated in Games 3, 4 and 5.
If the pressure is intense on Swisher, it’s even greater on Rodriguez. Prior to his 2009 postseason success, Rodriguez showed he was a very dangerous postseason hitter — in his early years with the Seattle Mariners.
He never made the playoffs while playing with the Rangers, but his postseason career with the Yankees has largely been awful. In the 12 postseason series he has played with the Yankees, he has hit below .200 in five of them.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has a full off-day to think about what he can do about the A-Rod and Swisher situations.
Changing the batting order would not work because baseball has a way of exposing all weak links. It would be different if it was just A-Rod or Swisher having problems, but when it’s both of them they are going to be exposed.
Could he do the unthinkable and play Eric Chavez in place of Rodriguez or Raul Ibanez in place of Swisher? All he would have to do in the latter case is move Ichiro Suzuki to his preferred spot in right field and put Ibanez in left.
He has to give a lineup change serious consideration. It’s not about ego at this point. It’s about surviving and advancing. Chavez could launch a homer or two over the right-field porch, and there’s little doubt that Ibanez would hit the ball hard.
Showalter is taking what he is given by walking the Yankees’ best hitter and letting the slumping hitters make outs in clutch situations.
Girardi has to counter that move by putting his slumping players on the bench.
It’s a gamble, but it might just be the one that gives his team the best chance to eliminate the upstart Orioles.
What do you think, Yankees fans? Should Girardi sit A-Rod and Swisher and start Chavez and Ibanez in their place? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…