Goats and Rabbits - the 2012 Yankee season in review

In mid-August I tried to remove myself from being a Yankee fan for a bit and try to figure out where this team was going - my thoughts were exactly right - probably win a round in the playoffs then lose in the ALCS - although they way they got there was a lot different than I would have predicted. It's an odd season when there's no measuring stick in Boston (and as it turned out, none in Tampa either, despite their late charge with positioned them much closer in the standings than they were for more of the season).

The post-season was full of many goats. Somehow Alex Rodriguez was the head goat, probably because he makes the most money and, well, because he's A-Rod. Boston fans despise A-Rod, even though he was willing to take a pay cut to go there. He's the only player who was leaked on the list of players who failed baseball's "secret drug test" to admit what he did was wrong, but he didn't admit what he did. Also, he was injured through no fault of his own (broken wrist, hit by pitch, an injury that takes a long time to heal in full.) A-Rod only had one hit in the ALCS, but he also only had nine at-bats. And his replacement, Eric Chavez, didn't hit at all and made two key errors at third, including one that ultimately cost them Game 3 of the series.

Chavez and Cano also fall into the "instant goat" category. Cano was absolutely crushing the ball, especially in the final series of the year against Pawtucket, err, I mean the Red Sox. Chavez had a nice hot streak in the middle of A-Rod's time on the DL, but manager Joe Girardi tapered down the at-bats of Chavez, who can be described as "frail" (I believe this was his first season in 5 years where he wasn't on the DL at some point). Chavez fizzled down as he was relegated to the bench.

Curtis Granderson was a goat all season, despite the fact that he's now hit more home runs than any player in baseball over the past two seasons. He, like Mark Texiera, got a little too friendly with right field. Texiera appeared to snap out of it, but he too (for the second straight season) was playing on one leg at the end of the year. Texiera, quietly, had a respectful post-season. I'm still screaming at the TV wondering why he didn't lay a bunt down in Game 2 with no outs and a fast runner on first. There was only one infielder who could have had a chance at the ball - the pitcher. If done with any accuracy it's first and second no outs or first and third if you sent the runner. Risky move, but they didn't score any runs that game anyway.

Injuries were a problem most of the year but the Yankees (at least in their talking points) didn't mention them as excuses. Brett Gardner was down most of the year before he willed himself healthy enough to play in the ALCS (which deserves some applaud). With the speedy rabbit Gardner down, the Yanks made their second trade of the season with Seattle (we'll get to the other one shortly) and acquired future hall-of-famer Ichiro Suzuki. All the talk of Ichiro has washed up and a bad teammate proved untrue. Ichiro was the new rabbit on the team, and especially in the ALDS win over Baltimore, he was a multidimensional weapon of speed, hitting and power. The one bright spot in the ALCS came from Eduardo Nunez. At one point, he was a forgotten; he didn't hit like he had in the past and he made 7 errors in the 19 games he started in the field (as a comparison, Derek Jeter only made 10 errors all season). But Nunez was the one bat that came alive in the ALCS, hitting a line drive home run off nearly perfect Justin Verlander in Detroit in Game 3 - a day where the ball was carrying as poorly as it can in a giant stadium.

People will knock this team as underachieving for the simple reason of their giant payroll. Keep in mind, however, that only one of the top five payroll teams made the playoffs and the one with the second highest payroll to make the playoffs was Texas, which blew their division with a three-game sweep by Oakland, then lost the one game playoff to Baltimore.Money helps but guarantees nothing. Despite "only" making baseball's final four, there were some great moments this season. The highlight has to be Game 3 of the ALDS where the Yankees were down to their final two at-bats facing a one-run disadvantage, Girardi sent up Raul Ibanez, and he promptly tied the game on the second pitch he saw. On the next pitch to Ibanez, he ended the game with his first Yankee walkoff. Ibanez came through again in the ALCS as the Yanks staged a miraculous four-run comeback against Detroit in Game 1. I still don't know how they didn't win this game. That, and no error by Chavez in Game 3, and that series probably goes back to New York. Credit the Tigers for finding a way to beat the Yankees in the post-season in 7 of their last 9 meetings over two years, with only one of the games decided by more than 3 runs.

The regular season had its enjoyable moments too. The April 21st game against Boston where they set the tone for the season with the Red Sox, trailing 8-0, they put up matching seven run innings in the seventh and eighth inning on their way to a 15-9 victory. The interleague series with good Atlanta and Washington teams, both road sweeps by the Yanks, were pluses too. Derek Jeter followed up a strong 2011 second half (when he reached 3,000 career hits) by having his best season since 2009. Jeter led all of baseball with 216 hits. Sadly, his season was cut short in the playoffs when he broke his ankle ranging to his left on a ground ball. Surgery and a long recovery during the offseason could keep Jeter from being ready even for opening day next year. It also will hurt Jeter's typical off-season routine, a key to his long-term success. Ace CC Sabathia may also have surgery in the off-season on his shoulder, another ominous cloud heading into 2013. Russell Martin and Nick Swisher had their strong moments, Martin batting right around .200 most of the year, but he was the only Yankee who seems to hit better in the clutch then during other at-bats.

The year when the term "RISP" (runners in scoring position) became synonymous with frustration had some difficult moments. First there was the season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera, which was caught on camera as he was catching flyballs during batting practice. It was replayed like the Zapruder film, Rivera writhing on the ground clutching his knee. Even before that, Michael Pineda, the off-season's big move (in a trade for former Yankee super prospect Jesus Montero) pulled a Pedro Feliciano, getting hurt in spring training and not playing a game the entire season. Pineda had surgery May 1. It's unlikely he'll even be a factor before the 2013 all-star break, if ever again. Rotator cuff surgery doesn't have a great prognosis. Ivan Nova was hurt off and on with the infamous "tired arm", which scares me personally heading into 2013. Phil Hughes showed an upside, other than his penchant for giving up solo home runs. Hiroki Kuroda was as good as any Yankee pitcher in 2012's second half. Rafael Soriano was wonderful in place of Rivera while David Robertson, who battled an injury then slumped, was back to his old self in the eighth inning during the last week and playoffs. Joba Chamberlain, who battled a freakish ankle injury after Tommy John surgery, contributed but was rusty. I get the feeling 2013 will be a good season from him; the velocity and movement is back, just not the command. Ageless Derek Lowe even contributed. Even though he missed much of the middle of the season with another "freak" injury that had nothing to do with age, it was great to have Andy Pettitte back from the Core 4 (Core 3, Core 2?). At the end of the season, Pettitte was the only of the four to be on the roster with Jeter and Rivera's injuries and Jorge Posada retired.

There's a lot of old offense coming back next year. Will Ichiro and Swisher be back? Who will catch next year? How much of a lost year was it in the minors (virtually every Yankee prospect had a stepback last year, Betances will miss 2013 and it didnt' help that the Yanks' AAA affiliate had to play all their games on the road in 2012). Is Nunez the only chip they have left? Will Rivera and Jeter be back next year to their pre-injury forms? Fittingly, no Yankee had a save in the post-season in 2012 (none of the four wins required a save). Soriano can opt out forcing Rivera/Robertson/Joba/Boone Logan bullpen we were familiar with in the past.

I say I won't get involved as much in 2013 as I did in 2012 but a long, cold New England winter can change that quickly. I just hope we see a golden year from the Core 4 that return, another solid year from the starting pitchers and can someone please get a hit with runners on?

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