Pitching was Bombers' downfall
Although powerful on paper, New York's offense fizzled
DETROIT -- The New York Yankees, as it turns out, could use an upgrade in three fundamental areas: pitching, pitching and pitching.
The superficial way to look at the Yankees' stunning loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series would be to blame it on the lack of offense. But that just underscores the pitching point. The Tigers had pitchers capable of rising to this postseason occasion, pitchers able to stop even baseball's best lineup. The Yankees did not have this kind of pitching. And it is this kind of pitching that wins in the postseason.
"They showed that good pitching can stop good hitting," Yankees manager Joe Torre said of the Tigers.
There will be a movement in some quarters to make Alex Rodriguez the all-purpose villain. True, he had another inadequate postseason performance, bad enough in this case to get him dropped to the eighth spot in the lineup by Game 4. It has become fairly clear that A-Rod will not be the Mr. October of the new millennium. But he wasn't the principal cause of this postseason disappointment, either.
Of the four Yankee starting pitchers, only Chien-Ming Wang was able to win, and his start was not especially brilliant. He was the beneficiary of a typically productive Yankee offense, but he was also the only New York starter who produced what is classified as a quality start.
Mike Mussina was not quite Mike Mussina. Randy Johnson was a 43-year-old man with a herniated disc in his lower back. Jaret Wright was not up to the task at hand.
The Tigers, on the other hand, came up with a capable performance from Justin Verlander and then absolute gems from Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman. The Yankees did not score a run for 20 consecutive innings, from the fifth inning of Game 2 to the seventh inning of Game 4.
Torre was asked if the Yankees would have been better off with a seven-game Division Series, and to his credit, he refused to lean in the direction of that excuse.
"Well, I mean, the way they pitched today, I don't think five or seven would have made a [darn] bit of difference," Torre said. "The last two days, Kenny and Jeremy pretty much dominated us."
It should come as no surprise that the Tigers had better pitching than the Yankees. Detroit led the American League with a 3.84 team ERA. The Yankees were seventh in the league with a 4.41 ERA.
That is a sizable difference. The New York starters were not the only area in which the Yankees came up short in a pitching comparison with the Tigers. Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest closers in the history of the game. But in the bridge between the starters and the closers, the Tigers' edge was substantial.
Joel Zumaya helped to set a tone for the Tigers' eventual triumph with his overpowering work in Game 2. He is a rookie, but he had his three-digit heat under control. On the Yankees' side of the argument there was Scott Proctor, who was a workhorse this season for the Yanks and has good stuff. But he does not have Zumaya's potential for simply dominating a relief appearance. And there was Brian Bruney, released earlier in the year by the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team without enough pitching. And there was Kyle Farnsworth, undoubtedly talented but also notoriously erratic in pressure situations.
In the end, the Tigers had pitchers capable of reaching the top of their form in this series. They had more potential for pitching outstanding postseason games than the Yankees pitchers did, and for the most part, they fulfilled that potential.
The Yankees' edge in a matchup with anybody is their offense. But that offense was neutralized by great pitching. That is the common denominator in the history of postseason baseball.
And that is why the Yankees' run of autumns without a World Series championship will now stretch to six. You can look at the five teams that have won in the interim. They all had better pitching than the Yankees. You can look at the two teams left standing in the American League this year, Oakland and Detroit. They both have better pitching than the Yankees.
Why then were the Yankees favored to beat the Tigers in the first place? The Yankees had that wonderful lineup and the Tigers had won only 19 of their last 50 regular season games and none of their last five. The belief was that the Yankees would overpower the Detroit pitching, because the Tigers pitching appeared to be wearing down as the season ended.
But the Tigers pitchers were able to forget about their late-season slide. They pitched the way they had pitched for the majority of the season, and in some cases pitched better than they had all season. But that is what the best pitchers are supposed to do in the postseason.
And that is why the Detroit Tigers are moving on to the AL Championship Series and the Yankees are going home. It did not matter that the Bronx Bombers came to October with the best everyday lineup in baseball. Once again, the team with the better pitching won a postseason series. Once again, that team was not the New York Yankees.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.