Several years after Mike Ilitch hired Dave Dombrowski to run Detroit’s baseball operations, the new man convinced the Tigers’ owner that if he wanted to win, it would cost more money than he had been willing to spend. Ilitch had spent to build his National Hockey League team, the Detroit Red Wings, into a champion, but he hadn’t made money available to the Tigers.
When Dombrowski became president of the Tigers in 2001, the team was coming off a season in which its payroll was $49 million, ranking 19th in the major leagues, and its record was 66-96, which was 25th in the majors. This season the Tigers won the American League Central title with an 88-74 record, seventh in the majors, and a $139 million payroll, fifth highest.
Going into Thursday’s fourth game of the American League Championship Series, the Tigers were one win from playing in the World Series for the second time in seven years. Given the ammunition to do the job, Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland have done it.
They have also done a job on the Yankees. The Tigers defeated the Yankees, three games to one, in the division series en route to the World Series in 2006, and they knocked the Yankees out in last year’s division series in five games. The Tigers, in fact, have never lost a post-season series to the Yankees.
Their dominance of the Yankees in the first three games of this league championship series was awesome. The Yankees, whose scoring drought began in the division series against Baltimore, scored five runs in the first three games, four of those runs in one inning.
After the Yankees scored seven runs in the opener of the division series, they played four more games, including seven extra innings over two games, and scored a total of only nine runs. That meant they had scored 14 runs in virtually 8 games going into Game 4 in Detroit.
There were, however, even more alarming statistics for the Yankees. More than half of their starting lineup was not hitting, and their playoff numbers go a long way toward explain the lack of runs. These numbers were the players’ production going into Game 4:
When all of those players produce those meager numbers, you’re going to be in trouble. The Yankees are in trouble.
The team’s plight reached a sufficiently dismal level that Manager Joe Girardi decided to take drastic action. Having benched Rodriguez for Game 5 of the division series, he did the same for Game 3 of the league series, putting Swisher on the bench as well.
The lineup changes didn’t change the Yankees’ fortunes, but when Girardi posted the lineup for Game 4 Wednesday – before it was rained out – Rodriguez again was missing and this time Granderson was to join him in the dugout.
The Yankees who have shown up in October are not the same guys who wore Yankees uniforms the previous six months, the ones who hit the league’s most home runs and scored only four fewer runs than league-leading Texas.
These hitless Yankees are not likely victims of a collective slump. They more likely have been undermined by sharp-eyed Detroit scouts. This is a facet of post-season play that is generally overlooked. Contending teams have scouts following other contenders, and one of the keys to winning in October is the quality of the scouting reports and pitchers’ ability to execute the scouts’ recommendations.
Scouts focus especially on a team’s most dangerous hitters, trying to make sure those hitters don’t beat them. Teams would rather be beaten by Andy Dirks than Miguel Cabrera.
Rodriguez has often been the target of scouting reports, and he previously has had poor playoff performances. Not that this affects his post-season hitting, but he has become a target of reporters who allow their disdain for him affect their reporting.
Rodriguez’s lucrative contract – the Yankees owe him $114 million for the next five years – also invites disdain and negative reporting as if Rodriguez forced the Yankees at gunpoint to give him the $275 million contract.
In a recent piece in The New York Times, Tyler Kepner cites positive aspects of Rodriguez’s play – savvy baserunning, ability to draw walks, helpful to young players. Then he adds, “Imagine a player who did all those things, without the outrageous salary.”
How does the salary figure in Kepner’s assessment? Is he paying part of it?
Kepner, using a new-age statistic, further puts down Rodriguez by reporting that a statistical baseball Web site says that “Rodriguez brought the Yankees just two more wins this season than a replacement player would have.” I have as much disdain for that statistic as Kepner has for Rodriguez.
Kepner writes that he sees no evidence of a comeback by Rodriguez next season. Yet two years ago people were writing and saying that Derek Jeter was finished, and look at the season Jeter had this year.
Besides reading his obituaries in the coming winter, Rodriguez will read all of the trade stories. They have already started with reports that he will be traded to the Marlins in his hometown of Miami.
That report made a big splash this week, except it’s not true.
The genesis of the story was a conversation Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, had with Jeffrey Loria, the Marlins’ owner, when the Yankees were in Miami last April for the opening of the new park.
“It was a joke,” said a person who heard the conversation. “Jeffrey said ‘A-Rod is from Miami. I wish we had him.’ Randy jokingly said ‘go ahead and take him.’”
The person said the teams had no subsequent discussion about Rodriguez.