Experience has shown never to count out the Yankees. But in this American League Championship Series (ALCS), the team certainly has its work cut out for it.
On Tuesday night, Tigers ace Justin Verlander takes the mound, with home-field advantage at cavernous Comerica Park. This comes after the Bronx Bombers couldn’t capitalize on playing Games 1 and 2 at Yankee Stadium.
“It would be very rare to come back after losing the first two games at home,” says David Pinto, author of the blog Baseball Musings and a former ESPN researcher.
Yet other teams, including the Yankees, lost the first two playoff games and then came back and won. Usually, however, the first two losses were on the road. That happened to the Yankees in the 1978 ALCS, when they lost the first two games in Los Angeles but eventually won the series. And in the epic ALCS of 2004, the Boston Red Sox lost the first three games, then rallied to beat the Yankees in the next four games.
Other statistics aren’t in New York’s favor. For one thing, several Yankees are mired in postseason slumps. As a whole, the team is hitting .205 in the postseason. They are even worse when they have runners on second or third base, hitting only .200.
“The team is in a slump, to put it mildly,” Mr. Pinto says.
Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher have all come up empty at the plate. Robinson Cano, who hit more than .300 during the regular season, has yet to get a hit against Detroit. Yankee manager Joe Girardi has put all the slumping batters – except Cano – at the bottom of the lineup. “You want your best players hitting together, so what is Joe to do?” says Pinto.
In addition, the Yankees will have to play without Derek Jeter, the team captain and one of the few members of the team hitting well in the postseason (.363 against Baltimore in the Division Series). Jeter broke his ankle in the 12th inning of the first game of the ALCS.
“It is not a player you want to lose,” said Girardi before Game 2. “He means a lot to this club. And we understand that.”
But, Girardi added, the team would have to find a way to win. “If you want to move on, you have to find a way,” he said.
Another factor for the Yankees, Pinto says, might be fatigue. They have played games that started late and went even later because they dragged on to extra innings. In their last 11 games, the Yankees played six extra-inning games. “All their extra-inning games have been at least 12 innings or more,” Pinto notes.
Indeed, when runners on second or third fail to score, that can prolong the game. And this results in the use of more pitchers, which can tire out the bullpen.
Of course, part of the reason the Yankees may be whiffing at the ball is that they could be facing better pitchers.
That could also be said of the Tigers. On Sunday in Game 2, right-handed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda stuck out seven of nine Detroit players in the first three innings. But once they started hitting, the Tigers scored when they had runners on second or third.
“The Tigers’ big guns are hitting,” says Pinto, referring to Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, and Delmon Young, who is driving in a run per game in the postseason. Overall, the Tigers are hitting .258 in the postseason – more than 50 points higher than the Yankees.
“The Tigers just have to keep doing what they are doing,” Pinto says.
As for the Yankees, they may make some changes. Girardi, who remains optimistic, says perhaps all it will take is one key hit for the team to get its swagger back.
However, after losing Game 2 by the score of 3-0, he also said the team might have to make “adjustments.”
Just having had Monday off might help. “They get a day off, and then maybe everything clicks and all of a sudden they could score some runs,” says Pinto.