The Yankees were already going it without Mariano Rivera this month, a strange sight to everyone who has followed baseball since the mid-1990s. But then Rivera was only out there for one or two innings per night.
Derek Jeter was the immovable object. The Yankees have played in 158 postseason games since 1996, and Jeter has started every single one of them. He’s the all-time postseason leader in games played by 30, in at-bats by 185 and in hits by 72. He’s also the postseason leader in runs scored and total bases. He’s first in singles, first in doubles, tied for first in triples and even third in homers.
And now he’s done for 2012 due to a fractured ankle.
When the Yankees take the field without Jeter in Sunday’s ALCS Game 2 against the Tigers, it’ll be the first time they’ve done so in the postseason since Oct. 8, 1995. That was a Game 5 loss to the Mariners in the ALDS. Randy Johnson famously came out of the pen and got the win in relief for Seattle.
Tony Fernandez was the Yankees’ shortstop in that contest. Dion James played left field, believe it or not. A 20-year-old Alex Rodriguez pinch-ran for Seattle and got his first ever postseason at-bat in the contest (he grounded out). Tino Martinez was the guy he replaced (he was traded to the Yankees two months later).
That ALDS loss was the Yankees’ first postseason series in 14 years. So, the Bombers haven’t actually won a postseason series without Jeter since 1981, when they prevailed in the ALDS and ALCS before losing to the Dodgers in the World Series.
The odds are stacked against them winning this one, too. They’re down 1-0 to the Tigers, they have Hiroki Kuroda going on short rest in Game 2 and they’ll be up against Justin Verlander in Game 3. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson are all struggling mightily. And now they’ll be going with Jayson Nix or Eduardo Nunez at shortstop. It’d be a stunning achievement if they can somehow pull this one out.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.