By Ernie Palladino
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Utterly, totally, completely lost.
Such is the state of the once-powerful Yankees offense after Sunday’s 3-0 setback to the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS.
And you know what the worst part is? They head off to Detroit and Comerica Park now. This is not to be mistaken for the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, where Raul Ibanez fly balls managed to sail into homers. Baseballs don’t fly out of Comerica as easily as they do in the Bronx.
So Joe Girardi and his crew of assistant coaches had best find an answer to the Yanks’ hitting woes before they throw away another stellar pitching performance like the one Hiroki Kuroda just turned in.
Perfect through five, pitching into the eighth, Kuroda was charged with all three Tigers runs, through no fault of his own. Indeed, there was that blown umpire’s call on Robinson Cano’s tag on Omar Infante’s over-run at second. A correct call gets Kuroda out of the inning. Instead, the Yanks had to go through Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Clay Rapada, and Cody Eppley, not to mention their own manager, who got himself ejected for arguing that tag call, to get that third out.
But this is not about Kuroda and his excellence despite going on short rest for the first time in his career. This is about a bunch of career hitters who have for most of the playoffs wandered out of the dugout with a compass, map, and searchlight, and still not found the batter’s box.
Except for the ninth-inning heroics of Saturday — two two-run homers by Ichiro Suzuki and the amazing Ibanez — it’s a dead lineup. The temptation is to blame it all on Alex Rodriguez’ huge contract and puny career playoff numbers. But it goes way beyond him.
Robbie Cano, so hot at the end of the season, has melted into nothingness. He’s at .063 this postseason, with two hits in 32 at-bats since the ALDS started. His current 0-for-27 has set a new negative record for postseason slumps. As bad as A-Rod is going — and it’s just gosh-awful — Cano’s woes make him look like he’s on a hot streak after that ninth-inning single Sunday.
Nick Swisher, anyone? He’s 4-for-26 this postseason, with eight strikeouts. Still six Ks behind Curtis Granderson’s team-high 14, but that’s not exactly a bragging point. Swisher has driven in all of one run.
And then there’s Granderson. Power hitter. Forty-three homers in the regular season, good enough for second in the AL. Hasn’t a clue right now. It has gotten to a point where a pitcher could walk the ball up to the plate, lay it in the palm of his hand, and Granderson would still miss it.
He accounted for three of the Yanks’ 10 strikeouts Sunday, including the game-ending whiff with Rodriguez standing on second.
Russell Martin? He hasn’t hit all year, so we’ll give him a pass on 5-for-26 performance. Mark Teixeira is hitting, but not homers. So when he gets on base, which he has done in almost half of his plate appearances, nobody drives him in.
Compounding matters is the loss of the heart of this team, Derek Jeter. Before that left ankle when “snap,” he was hitting .333. It’s unlikely Jayson Nix will become an overnight hero these next two games, or that Eduardo Nunez will supply the inspiration Jeter does.
So what is Girardi to do with this gang that suddenly cannot hit straight?
Perhaps Nunez is part of the solution. And Brett Gardner.
Throw them both into the Game 3 lineup and see what happens. Let Granderson sit a spell in the dugout and try to get a read on what fastballs and breaking pitches really look like. Meanwhile, Gardner can use his speed in center and, unless he, too falls victim to Pinstriped Anemia, on the base paths. That might shake things up. Imagine, manufacturing a run without benefit of a homer.
Nunez, though not a slick fielder, could go to short so at least the Yanks will have his bat in the lineup.
Girardi may have no other choice. The time for waiting for his star-laden lineup to come around has passed. His team is down 0-2 in a short series. And right now, they have a better chance leaving the bases loaded three times in a game, as they did Saturday, than they have of pushing some of those runners across the plate.
The manager doesn’t believe in panicking. The locker room doesn’t believe in panicking.
But if ever there was a time for it, with Jeter done and the Yankees’ hitters as lost as lost can be, this is it.
What moves would you make, if any? Be heard in the comments below…