Detroit’s elite pitching leads to Yankee downfall

Jim Piascik

The 2012 New York Yankees finished with the best record (95-67) in the American League and scored more runs than every team except the Texas Rangers.

Yet, when it came to the American League Championship Series, New York’s offense fell flat as the Detroit Tigers ended the Yankees’ championship dreams.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the Yankees’ playoff collapse, with the most intense focus on Alex Rodriguez (1-for-9 in the ALCS). That is not to let fellow underachievers Robinson Cano (1-for-18), Mark Teixeira (3-for-15), Russell Martin (2-for-14), and Curtis Granderson (0-for-11) off the hook, as those four also contributed to an offense that only scored six runs in four games en route to a sweep.

So much of the national focus to date has been about New York’s downfall that I think the real story was buried. The Yankees did not endure a debilitating slump only because their hitters wilted under postseason pressure; they simply ran into the buzzsaw that is Detroit’s elite starting rotation.

The Tigers built a potent playoff pitching staff full of power arms that are capable of taking over the game. Justin Verlander is quite possibly the best pitcher on Earth and Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister round out a rotation that is arguably the best in baseball.

Detroit starters combined for 27.1 innings in the ALCS, striking out 25 Yankee batters while only allowing 14 hits, nine walks and two runs. The only starter who did not get credit for a victory in the series was Fister, who would have gotten a win if not for closer Jose Valverde’s four-run implosion in Game one.

Some of the Tigers’ success does belong to Granderson’s inability to lay off pitches in the dirt, Rodriguez’s struggles to catch up to fastballs or hit right-handed pitching (Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, and Fister are all right-handed), and Cano’s ice-cold postseason (3-for-40), but it was not a group of Ubaldo Jimenez clones shutting down the Yankees.

Detroit’s impressive starting rotation propelled them past the Yankees and put the Tigers in position to capture their first World Series crown since 1984.

The Tigers are well-positioned for the World Series now that they vanquished the Yankees. Detroit has elite hitters Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson in tow and enough days off to set its star-studded rotation up the way it wants.

But for all the confidence and jubilation in Detroit, there is equal unrest and frustration in New York.

It can easily be said that all playoff games and series are small sample sizes that are often overblown. Not much can be taken from nine regular season games, but the nine playoff games the Yankees just played could cause New York to make wholesale changes to its roster.

In particular, Rodriguez’s troubles this postseason have led to rampant speculation that he played his final game in a Yankee uniform. A trade of Rodriguez, a Hall of Fame player with $114 million and five years left on his contract, would be monumental, even if the 37-year-old is not the player he once was.

The Yankees just finished a season that fans of the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates would kill to have, but that is rarely enough for New York.

There may not have been much suspense in the ultimate result of the ALCS, but the long-term implications of the series could be felt for years to come.

Contact Jim Piascik at [email protected].