Ranking the blame as Yankees get swept

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It takes more than a couple of goats for a team to get swept in a seven-game series. Let’s run down the five people most responsible for the Yankee meltdown.

Derek Jeter’s ankle not being a person, we’ll leave it out of this.

5. Eric Chavez – Alex Rodriguez struggled mightily, yet Chavez was worse. A-Rod finished the ALCS 1-for-9 with three strikeouts. His replacement at third base was 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. Chavez also committed an error in Game 3 and made what seemed to be a lazy defensive play in Game 4, hanging back on Omar Infante’s infield single in the first inning. Infante came around to score the Tigers’ first run of the game.

4. Mark Teixeira – After a nice ALDS in which he went 6-for-17 with five walks, Teixeira hit third and fourth in the ALCS, displacing A-Rod, yet he went without an RBI in the series. Of course, that hardly makes him unique among Yankees players. Still, it was bad enough that he wasn’t hitting; his two defensive miscues in Game 4 led to a run in the third and probably contributed to CC Sabathia’s blowup in the fourth, given that the big left-hander had to face three batters too many the previous inning.

3. Joe Girardi – Sitting Rodriguez was appropriate, if oddly timed. And while I’m in the minority, I don’t really blame him for not hitting for Raul Ibanez at the end of Game 3. Benching Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson was pure desperation and was counterproductive to the Yankees’ chances of winning. Then in Game 4, he suddenly became more interested in getting everyone into the series than trying his best to set up an unlikely comeback. Still, it’s really hard to look at this series and suggest that Girardi’s performance was worse than the guys who took the field.

2. Curtis Granderson – Granderson’s big homer in Game 5 of the ALDS didn’t let him off the hook for long. He went 0-for-10 with six strikeouts and a couple of walks before taking a seat prior to Thursday’s Game 4. When he did make an appearance in the finale, he struck out once again. Granderson’s pull-happy, uppercut swing has made him a big threat in Yankee Stadium, but his old Tigers approach might have done him more good here. That said, he was surely more likely to help in Game 4 than a rusty Brett Gardner.

1. Robinson Cano – Really, this isn’t even close. Cano had one hit in 18 at-bats in the ALCS, a single in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s loss that ended his 0-for-29 skid. He also never drew a walk in the series. And in the Game 2 loss, he mishandled a double-play relay, giving the Tigers their first run of the game in the seventh inning.

Now, I still wouldn’t go so far as to say Cano was the Yankees’ worst player in the series; Rodriguez and Granderson probably had more bad swings while getting fewer at-bats. But Cano is the one who had the opportunity to do the most good — half of his at-bats came with men on base — and he never got the job done. His performance is the biggest reason the Yankees went down so easily.

Joe Girardi won’t use Masahiro Tanaka in Game 7

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The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.

Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.

Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.

Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.