Hindsight and Torre's Mistake
October 9, 2006
Well, I was absolutely perfect in my Division Series predictions - a perfect 0 for 4. San Diego flopped, Los Angeles acted like they didn't want to be there, Minnesota got outplayed, and the Yankees didn't hit despite boasting a lineup of stars. Where did it all go wrong? Let's step into the Wayback Machine and take a look.
Starting in the American League, the Twins simply got beat at their own game. Once Johan Santana lost Game 1, a lot of the air let out of the Minnesota balloon. When Minnesota surged mid-summer, it was all on the arms of Santana and Francisco Liriano. When Liriano went down, the Twins coasted a bit as Santana still carried them but had no backup. When the playoffs come around and your secret weapon fails you, what happens? You get swept by Oakland.
Managers don't lose games, players do. But Joe Torre didn't help win any this year in the playoffs. Alex Rodriguez, the best hitter in the American League, hit EIGHTH on Friday. I don't care what kind of pressure you think he's putting on himself. As a manager, you call ARod into your office, you tell him he had 121 RBI this year, was the MVP last year, and he's hitting cleanup. As unreasonable as New York fans can be, they want their players to succeed, even if their actions speak to the contrary.
This time around, Joe Torre's actions echoed the fans, as if to say, "You're not a true Yankee (whatever that is), so I'll hide your incredible resume of history-making stats at the bottom of the order since you haven't come through in the playoffs for us, which is an incredibly small sample size. Instead, I'm going to let Gary Sheffield hit fourth. He has played in the same amount of postseason series, has a LOWER batting average than you, a LOWER slugging percentage than you, has only played in 39 games this year, and is anything but a leader, but hey, he's not you."
Before the rumors begin again about ARod's penchant to fail under pressure, take a look at his playoff numbers heading into this year and you'll see his downfall is completely overblown. In 1997, his first playoff appearance as a starter, Rodriguez hit .312 with a HR while losing to Baltimore. In 2000, Rodriguez had a good ALDS, knocking off Chicago, then hit .409 with 2 HR and 5 RBI in a 6-game series against the Yankees. Hmm, peak performance in a pressure situation? Interesting. Not to be outdone, Rodriguez excelled WITH New York in 2004, hitting a robust .320, including 3 HR and 8 RBI in just 11 playoff games. Last year was his only down year in the playoffs (2 for 15), but ARod's track record demanded more than just a spot in the lineup reserved for slap hitters.
Since Rodriguez came to the Yankees, he has been constantly criticized despite gaudy stats, while Randy Johnson has been mediocre at best in his tenure in New York, but he seems to get a free pass with management and the fans. In fact, it was Detroit's dominance in pitching that led to the series win more so than New York's lack of hitting. While the Tigers put out young (except Rogers) healthy arms on the mound day in and day out, New York was forced to make due with an injured Big Unit and a past-his-prime Jaret Wright. The difference showed, and Detroit earned everything it got.
In the National League, St. Louis did what they could not do the last couple months: pitch well. Jeff Weaver surprised the world with a solid performance in Game 2, and Chris Carpenter took care of the rest. Of course, when the other team (San Diego) lays an egg and hits just 2 for 32 with runners in scoring position, it's bound to make the other team look good. The 9th inning of Game 4 perfectly summed up San Diego's failures in the series. Putting two men on with just one out, the Padres failed to score a run, ending any hopes of a comeback. Too many times St. Louis gave San Diego a chance to get back in the series only to see the Cardinals step up when it mattered. St. Louis deserves credit, but don't expect to see New York's lineup roll over and die in the NLCS.
Speaking of rolling over and dying, Los Angeles was physically on the field for 3 games, but mentally they were somewhere else. Fielding errors, running miscues, and just about everything in between changed what should have been a close, exciting series into a laugher. Tom Glavine and the rest of New York's starters gave the team a huge advantage by sweeping the series. Now Willie Randolph can set his rotation as desired, and his talented corps of middle relief will also be rested and ready for a long series if necessary.
I'm still shocked by the poor play of the NL West in the playoffs, but I should have heeded my own advice in the Detroit series and gone with the team with the better pitching. Recent history has shown that September's momentum doesn't mean much in October, and Detroit and St. Louis proved that again this year.