Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections On The 2011 Baseball Season

Over the last two weeks I’ve lost several postings on my blog and couldn’t understand why this happened. Eventually, I discovered a software issue with my personal computer.  Finally, it’s corrected and I decided to recreate this one posting.  

The day after being eliminated in the ALDS was not one of the most appealing days but rather a dull one. I spent the entire day trying to understand why in the world we were not getting ready to play on Saturday in the ALCS.  Furthermore, we had to absorb all the analysis by everyone as to why the Yankees lost and where should the blame be placed. But the bottom line is that we had plenty of chances to score and didn’t capitalize on the situation.  The probability of getting to the World Series and winning it every year is not a possible or a favorable one, yet we still maintain the yearning.  The success of four World Series in five years where the team played .754 winning baseball (46-15 in postseason) resonates profoundly.     

It’s never easy to write a post-mortem for a baseball season, especially - if you’re a die-hard fan. The Yankees’ 2011 season had many good moments and we had good reasons to be excited about the playoffs. There was plenty to rejoice during the 2011 season:  Jeter’s 3,000 hit and Mariano Rivera became the all-time saves leader, Jorge Posada’s bat was picking up some steam down the stretch and appeared to be primed for a signature moment in the playoffs as he delivered the division clinching RBI. The offense was really good and the best in baseball against lefties – an intriguing thought in the event we face Texas in an ALCS rematch.  Robinson Cano continued to bolster his status as one of baseball’s great talent and Curtis Granderson achieved a career season.  Both players will receive consideration for the MVP award.  Jesus Montero infused new blood and power threat as a September callup – hitting .328/.406/.590 with 4 HR’s and 12 RBI’s, and most of all, the Yankees were hungry after a disappointing loss to Texas in the 2010 ALCS.  For any die-hard fan this would yield ample excitement for the postseason. 

The pitching staff did a great job considering the lack of depth coming in the season. Pedro Feliciano was done before throwing a pitch, Damaso Marte out as well and Joba Chamberlain underwent T.J. Surgery.  After posting 18 wins last year, Phil Hughes evaporated before making a respectable mini-comeback at the end.  AJ’S season long collapse - although, he delivered a very important game for us.  Ivan Nova excelled in his rookie year and Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon exceeded the expectations of many.  Specifically, Colon – who did not pitch in the Majors in 2009 and registered the most innings since 2005 – the year he won the Cy Young.  Although CC was not dominant in his last few starts, we were big believers that he would provide his usual workhorse performance in the playoffs.   The bullpen was one of the best in baseball (an AL-best 3.12 ERA), especially the back end with Mariano Rivera and David Robertson. This was an important aspect of the team – considering the starters after CC and Ivan Nova.  The 2011 Yankees were resilient all season and this mystic was destined to carry us through the World Series. 

However, since the wild card was introduced in 1995, we have learned the hard way – how a short series in the first round of the playoffs can derail any chance of advancing to the World Series.  Sudden-death games are nerve-racking and the Yankees have had their share: eight out of 32 postseason series have gone the distance.  The Yankees are 3-5 during the span including 2011. They also didn’t fare well in one run games (21-24) during the season, and were 1-27 when scoring 2 runs or less – Detroit was 29-17 in one run games.  It’s much easier to connect the dots reflecting on the past than on the future, but the Yankees should have employed the small ball philosophy in the fifth game vs Detroit – particularly with runners in scoring position (2 for 9 with RISP – 11 LOB).  Unfortunately, the team is not built that way.  

Some of the blame should be allocated to AROD, but he’s not the only batter and there are eighth other batters to which blame can be proportionately assigned.  The rest of the lineup in this series with RISP:  Derek Jeter – 1 for 8, Curtis Granderson – 1 for 4, Mark Texeira - 0 for 3, Alex Rodriguez - 0 for 5, Nick Swisher – 1 for 5, and Russell Martin – 0 for 3.  One can question some of the moves Girardi made, but I though he did a respectable job during the season and the only thing I would have done differently in game five was to give Jesus Montero one at bat.  Say, Girardi would have pinch hit for Swisher late in the game with Montero and we won the game – then Nick’s feelings would not be hurt knowing that he would be playing on Saturday. 

The Yankees had the highest payroll in 2011 ($196,854,630) and no more reason is needed to be granted space on the front line of the hate and envy world - in New York, the word ENVY cannot be spelled without the letters NYY.  All that is understandable: you make the most money and as a result you should have the best performance.  It’s always the same one-liners in the newspapers across the board.  But the Yankees were not the only team with a high payroll to spoil expectations. The Phillies came in second with the highest payroll at $172,976,381, the best pitching rotation in baseball and bested the majors with a 102-60 record.  Yet the Yankees and Phillies ended their respective playoffs series with Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard at the plate – both are highest paid players on the team. Having the highest payroll and best players doesn’t guarantee anything as the game of baseball must be contested between the white lines.  Since 1990, only 3 teams with the best regular season record have won the World Series: The ’98 Yankees, ’07 Red Sox and the ’09 Yankees. 

This may be the 10th season in the last 11 without a World Series game at Yankees Stadium but that doesn’t take away from a productive baseball season. An early exit is always disappointing as the harsh reality of an early winter settles in – leaving the fans with the long anticipation of spring training.  For most of the fans with the enduring loss-outlook, we just won the 2009 World Series. More importantly, if you have been a fan for as long as I (1974), then you will remember the euphoria of eleven World Series appearances and seven rings. I Simply channeled the enthusiasm sensed with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera’s count down to history along with other memorable baseball moments to help alleviate the empty feeling and disappointment of losing in the ALDS.  

Remember this feeling will function as inspiration and will bring about determination for the next season.  From the start of spring training - winning a championship is every team’s goal and this is more paramount for the Yankees – who pride themselves on trying to achieve this objective annually.  But first, a successful season and making the playoffs has to occur before the ultimate reward, and for me – the great season we had - affords solace for the unpleasant taste of falling short. 

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Geo Ginrosge