Dead Bats Doom Yankees and Phillies

By John Lund

Before this year’s baseball season began, professional and stay-at-home wannabe analysts predicted that the Boston Red Sox would square off against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Fall Classic. Both teams had stacked batting lineups with possible MVPs and pitching staffs with a handful of Cy Young candidates. The only thing that stood in the way of this reality was having to sit through 169 regular and post-season games, because both teams would surely sweep their opponents in the Divisional and Championship series.

Unfortunately, Boston couldn’t even make it past the Hunt for October. The Yankees were the victors in the A.L East and filled in as the perennial powerhouse favorite to battle the Phightin’ Phils in the World Series. Both teams seemed poised for a 2009 World Series rematch as Fox watched with mouths watering at the hopes of perhaps the highest television ratings in postseason history. Surely the baseball gods would align the stars to allow another storybook ending for one of baseball’s prestigious franchises? Alas, neither team made it out of the first round.

But how can it be? How can two teams who led their divisions in wins fail to even make the second round of the playoffs? Shouldn’t players who make more in a five-year contract than Joe DiMaggio did in his entire playing career be able to hit in the clutch like he did? For the money they make, of course they should. But the bark used to make their bats often doesn’t come from the trees that the money grows on for high payroll organizations.

For the Phillies, many expected them to make quick work of the Cardinals in the Divisional Series. After acquiring the Mecca of all pitching staffs by trading away Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay, signing Roy Oswalt, holding onto Cole Hamels and then ultimately getting Lee back a year later, Philadelphia was poised for postseason perfection. I won’t bore you with game analysis, rather, I’ll highlight some points that stuck out.

For the most part, Philly’s pitching did its job. Halladay pitched strong first and fifth games, Hamels did his job in game three and the bullpen held its own for the series. The only hiccups were from Lee, who squandered a four run lead by giving up five runs in his game two loss. Lee, who once dominated October, is now 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA in his last three starts since last year’s World Series after starting 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his first eight postseason starts. Oswalt also lost game four, which wasn’t as big of a surprise since he’s rated as the fourth best starter on the team. The Phillies’ bullpen was also very reliable; problem is they can’t do much when they’re only given the lead twice.

As for the Yankees, who weren’t expected to win the Division, let alone advance to the next round, still had one of baseball’s best lineups and enough pitchers to squeak out a win in a shortened series. When a rain delay prevented Tiger’s ace Justin Verlander from getting past the fourth inning of game one, New York took a 1-0 series lead behind Robinson Cano’s bat and the reliability of Ivan Nova, who took over in place of C.C Sabathia in what would have been his scheduled start. No surprise that Freddy Garcia took the loss in game two, though the Yankees’ bats came up short in a final inning rally against the heavily animated Jose Valverde, who ran his streak to 51 consecutive saves by series end. Verlander outpitched C.C.  in Verlander v. Sabathia part deux, although it was the Yankees bullpen that gave up the lead to the Tigers. Down 2-1, the series rested on the ever-inconsistent A.J Burnett during game four, but A.J pitched a gem and got more than enough run support that brought the series back to Yankee Stadium for a game five. After Nova gave up two quick runs in the first and exited after the second, the Yankee bullpen protected the lead until Sabathia was brought in to relieve (remember 2008?), and promptly gave up the run that would give the Tigers the lead into the ninth, where Valverde struck out Alex Rodriquez for the final out.

In comparison, the starting pitching for the Phillies outdueled that of the Yankees, but pitching wasn’t what sent the Yankees home, or what should have led the Phillies into the second round. What let down both the Phillies and Yankees down was their hitting. Where were the lead-off hits? Where was the successful situational hitting? Where were the clutch late-inning rally starters or finishers that led both teams to so many wins in the past? Where was the Phight? Where were the postseason ghosts from Yankee postseasons of old?

The Yankees have one of the best lineups in baseball, but saw most of their postseason success unexpectedly come from Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada. Robinson Cano was the Yankees’ strongest bat, but that was predictable. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Nick Swisher continued their dismal postseason showings throughout the series. A-Rod ended the season by striking out for the second straight year and continually missing on clutch opportunities. Swisher’s postseason average is the worst for any Yankee player in the history of the franchise. And manager Joe Girardi’s answer to shake up the lineup and see what some new bats could do was to do absolutely nothing.

The Phillies brought another stacked lineup into the series, and as usual saw success from Chase Utley and small sparks from Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence. As for the 7-8-9 hitters, perhaps it would have been best if they didn’t even take the time to step into the batter’s box. Super slugger Ryan Howard had another pathetic postseason showing and ended game five for the Phils by grounding out to second (at least he didn’t strike out!) and tearing his Achilles’ tendon in the process trying running to first base.

And so ended the seasons for two of baseball’s supposed best. Is it time to panic? For the Phillies, not so much, as they bring back much of the same lineup. But for the Yankees, a younger lineup may be a good idea to add some life to the 1-5 mainstays, as well as a different manager who can light a fire under the team when need be. But what both teams lacked was what their opponents always seemed to have: clutch hitting. The Phillies couldn’t even bring a run across the board in their game five elimination game, while the Yankees’ bats lacked situational and clutch hitting, as well as preventing Mariano Rivera, the best regular season and postseason closer in baseball history, from even getting the chance to acquire a save. Rallies were cut short by ineffectiveness at the plate, which certainly had to take the wind out of the sails of both the players and fans.

It seems like I’ll be spending the rest of the postseason and all of winter still flabbergasted that two of baseball’s best lineups couldn’t record the clutch hits needed to win October baseball games. Fans of both teams surely are hoping that their superstars will bring their bats into next year’s playoffs and will give them the ultimate prize of getting to the World Series. But for now, Yankees, Phillies, common baseball fans, and Fox Sports will be subjected to another ho-hum postseason of underdogs who got hot at the right time in October, something that, at least for this year, the Yanks and Phils couldn’t quite figure out how to do.

Email John at lundy2311@aim.com and follow him on Twitter @lundinbridge

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