Yankees 2012: OK But No Cigar...Yet
Is it possible that following one team up close, day by day, for an entire season, can actually give you a distorted rather than accurate perception of how good they are?
Like many Yankee fans, I've been ruthlessly criticizing the team's performance, or at least its performance since the All-Star break. Now, after the breathtaking thoroughness of the three-game sweep of the Red Sox, I find that they actually had the best record in the American League. I didn't even see the possibility of that happening during the final week. Midway through September I simply assumed that the Texas Rangers, the Oakland As, the Detroit Tigers, and probably the Baltimore Orioles would finish with better won-lost records than the Yankees.
But the Yanks finished the season in a mad rush, winning three games from a hated rival by a collective score of 28-7. They did everything that they hadn't been doing coming down the stretch -- namely scoring runs, getting hits with runners on base, and coming from behind to win in the 9th inning (as they did Tuesday night against Boston, winning 4-3 -- something they had failed to do in 58 games this year.
So, when you have the best record in the league, you must have been doing everything right, right? I guess by definition much of the criticism that I and many others had leveled at the team was unfair.
I guess, especially since the Yanks suffered an incredible run of injuries, losing the greatest closer in the history of baseball, Mariano Rivera, as well as their big stud new right-handed started, Michael Pineda - both for the entire season. And on top of that, Bret Gardner, their only real speed merchant, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, C.C. Sabathia, and several other players for large chunks of the season. Give the Yankees half of that lost time back again, and God knows how many games they would have won - 105 or maybe even 110 games sound right? I think so.
And yet ... I just can't shake the feeling that the Yankees' real problem this season wasn't injuries but the sub-par performance of the players on the field. It seemed that every Yankee who turned in a good performance on one side of the ledger took it back on the other side.
For instance, Curtis Granderson, a fine centerfielder and terrific children's book author, hit 43 home runs, nearly tying Miguel Cabrera for the league lead. How do you complain about a guy who plays a great centerfield and hits 43 home runs? And yet, the Grandy Man -- thank you, John Sterling -- batted just .232 this year, 30 points off his career average, and he struck out a staggering 195 times. One of my primary images I take with me from the 2012 season is Granderson, with runners on base, going down swinging at pitches so low they were actually skimming off home plate, swinging and still missing even though he was dipping so low that his right knee was actually on the ground.
And then there's Russell Martin. It probably sounds picky to criticize a good defensive catcher who hits 21 home runs, but Martin finished at .211, 26 points lower than last year, and for most of the season was hovering around 195.
And Andruw Jones, who showed some power, 14 home runs, and was a fine left fielder, hit just .197 - 50 points lower than last year.
Even Robinson Cano, who spent much of the second half of the season around .295 and looking lackadaisical in the field. His crazy finish - particularly the memory of last night's final game, the AL East clincher, in which he hit he got four hits, two of them homers, and drove in six runs - makes his whole season look just a little better than it really was.
I could do this with just about every Yankee - except for Derek Jeter, who was, clearly, the team MVP this year even over Robinson Cano. If all the above and A-Rod and Teixeira, the Yankee would have never had a second half slump and the Orioles wouldn't have been breathing down our necks in September.
So, I can't quite shake the feeling that the 2012 Yankees are underachievers, and I can't help but feel uneasy going into the playoffs, no matter who we play. Okay, I'm cheered that we clobbered the Red Sox in those last three games, but, after all, was that team really the Red Sox? Without Big Papi in the lineup, they seem more like a collection of refugees from Boston's Triple-A affiliates a collection of sad-sack .250 hitters lucky to be getting some big league playing time. I was even saddened to see once-splendid Dice-K sent out there yesterday like a sacrificial lamb.
Perhaps focusing on one team all year causes you to overanalyze and underappreciate. You lose the perspective you get from watching all the teams from a distance. But only one thing would make me feel better about this year's Yankees - winning the World Series.