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Yankees 2012: OK But No Cigar…Yet

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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.

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