Tuesday, October 09, 2007

End of the Torre Era?

It's likely that yesterday was Joe Torre's last game as manager of the Yankees. Ironically, Torre did not make bad moves in this series that helped kill the Yanks. Instead, THE INDIANS WERE THE BETTER TEAM. It sucks, but it's true. The Indians beat the Yanks in every facet of the game: better relief pitching (which won game 2), better starting pitching (which was the edge in games 1 and 4), VASTLY superior clutch hitting and better fielding. For all the Indians' flaws, the Yanks met them with failures (Sabathia walked SIX hitters last Thursday after just 39 in 34 starts all season, but none scored; the Yanks had 12 hits, but 10 LOB last night; the Yanks had 7 HR in the four-game series, but six were solo shots).

The Yanks pulled out their guns, lined up their feet, and aimed: A-Rod whiffing twice on six total pitches against soft-tossing Paul Byrd, Jeter killing a rally in the 6th with a DP grounder during an awful 3-17 series, Posada's one-fer, 0 RBI series, Matsui's third-straight stinko postseason, Wang's horrific pitching (regular season = 19-7, 3.70, 199 IP, 9 HR; postseason 0-2, 19.06, 5.2 IP, 3 HR) . . . it goes on and on. The only bright spots: Cano, Cabrera, Rivera, Hughes and Damon. Not bright enough when the heart of the order (Jeter, Abreu, Arod, Matsui, Posada) combine for 4 RBI -- three in the finale.

Now what? Steinbrenner doesn't really get to "fire" Torre because Joe is in the last year of his contract. Instead, Big Stein gets to replace him with . . . probably Don Mattingly -- who would be a fine choice. But the real question is, where did the Yanks tank?

The Great Verducci noted that the Yanks starters have been awful in their 4-13 run of putrescence starting in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS: no Yankee starter has completed 7 innings and picked up a win in that stretch. Indeed, only one Yankee starter has even completed 7 innings -- Mike Mussina in the game 2 loss to the Tigers last year; and the Yanks have just 5 quality starts. None has even come close to the performance of Fausto Carmona in game 2 this year or Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers last year.

In 1996, the Yanks had a paltry five quality starts in 15 playoff games. But two became legendary -- the game 3 and 5 World Series starts by Cone and Pettitte. Twice in the ALCS, the Yanks received 8-inning two-run starts by their starters. From 1998-2001, the Yanks received 9/13, 10/12, 8/16, and 9/17 quality start ratios -- and some of the others just missed the cut. Verducci complains that the Yanks lack power pitchers among the starters, this is basically true (Wang is not a strikeout pitcher but he throws 95-97). Even in the championship runs, the Yanks did not necessarily have overpowering pitchers (Clemens is an exception) but they had pitchers who got a lot of strikeouts (Cone, El Duque, Mussina). More importantly, the pitchers would constantly throw strikes, adjust throughout the game, and never give in (see Pettitte in game 2 this year) -- that's why El Duque (2-1, 27.2 IP, 2.28 ERA, 34 K in World Series starts with the Yanks) was a great postseason pitcher and Cone (1.40 WS ERA, but 4.28 in ALCS) was a dang good one. Wang did not do that, and he failed. The young kids like Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy seem cut from that mold. Perhaps getting the dogged Cone into the fold to help Wang adjust his mental game would help.

The lone fear The Monk currently has is the rumbling that Rivera may not stay. He had an off year, but showed in the playoffs why he is invaluable. Beyond that, losing ARod and Posada would be very bad, but not necessarily fatal. The Yanks have bashed their way to the playoffs for four years, and do not even have a pennant to show for it. The 1997-2003 teams finished no worse than 4th in pitching, netted five pennants and three rings. The Yanks have restocked their farm system, have some decent position players coming through the ranks, have many pitchers (including top prospects shelved this year for Tommy John surgery) in development and can still spend on both foreign imports and domestic draft picks.

The future probably begins in 2008 -- not just the immediate season, but the next cycle of Yankee teams. It will be interesting; hopefully it will also be successful.

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