Yankees Split in Detroit as AL East Becomes a Race
Added by Elizabeth DiPietro on August 9, 2012.
Back-to-Back home runs by Mark Teixeira (pictured) and Eric Chavez helped the Yankees leave Detroit with a series split.
Face it, boys: we’re in a pennant race.
It seemed like not too long ago I was counting my blessings that the Yankees wouldn’t be involved in the wackiness masquerading as dual wild cards this postseason. Now, that’s not necessarily a given.
Going into Thursday’s games, the Orioles trailed the Yankees by a mere 4.5 games in the American League East, a lead that was double digits in the not-so-distant past. As if the Orioles’ hot streak wasn’t enough to make pinstripe-clad fans sweat, Evan Longoria rejoined the Rays this week after a long stint on the disabled list, fortifying their lineup and complementing their elite pitching with some much-needed power.
The pennant race isn’t the only reason why Thursday’s win in Detroit was huge. The 4-3 victory was their first win in a one-run game since July 13. Also, the win allowed them to leave Detroit with a split of the four-game set under their belts after losing the first two games.
Perhaps the biggest morale boost came in the bottom of the fifth, when manager Joe Girardi was ejected for arguing a botched call by umpire Tim Welke. Welke initially called a pop-up to left field off the bat of Andy Dirks foul, who hasn’t needed any extra help from the umpires this week to kill the Yanks. Welke quickly reversed the call to fair, allowing the Tigers to take the lead.
However, back-to-back solo blasts by Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez in the eighth enabled the Yanks to retake the lead, one they didn’t relinquish even when Rafael Soriano pitched himself into deep trouble in the ninth.
Thursday’s game can be viewed as the protocol for everything the Yankees need to do correctly to ensure that 2012 is not just another first-round exit in October. I don’t have to remind you what happened last year: the Tigers beat them in Game Five by one run. The successful components include:
- Decent starting pitching. Notice I said decent. I’m not even asking for spectacular, because, at this point, I’m not expecting it. For example, Hiroki Kuroda’s line on Wednesday (6.1 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 0 BB) was sufficient to give them a chance to win. If the starters post lines of this ilk each day, and the offense and bullpen live up to their expectations, there should be no problem.
- Clutch hitting. I know, I know. They needed back-to-back blasts to take the lead. But some timely hitting earlier in the game by Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez allowed the Yanks to jump out to a 2-0 lead. And both their RBIs came with two outs. By the way, Ibanez and Chavez have 79 RBIs between the two of them. Not bad for two guys whose salaries barely equal $2 million.
- Flawless relief pitching. Here’s where the high expectations come in. I do expect our bullpen to perform to perfection come October. Why? Because they have shown they are capable of it. Clay Rapada has supplemented Boone Logan nicely as lefty specialists, and David Phelps and Cody Eppley have exceeded expectations as well. We know David Robertson and closer Soriano like to make things interesting, but as long as they can get themselves out of it, hey, go nuts. We trust them at this point, which is more than I can say for Joba Chamberlain. His extended absence from the game appears to have left him with some issues that need to be worked out, and I wouldn’t want him out there in a crucial spot at this point.
- A well-designed lineup card. Derek Jeter needs to lead off; I refuse to debate this stance. His 146 hits lead the AL and he bangs into too many double plays when he bats second. I like Nick Swisher in the two-hole; he has a good eye and can walk his way on base after Jeter. Curtis Granderson has been striking out too much lately and the lower-profile six-hole is a nice change of pace for him. Ichiro provides some extra punch at the bottom of the lineup, and can lead off occasionally, but only when Jeter is resting.
The Yankees should consider themselves lucky that they were able to salvage a split from Detroit. Monday’s game was nearly unwatchable. Tuesday was yet another one-run loss, and Wednesday, despite a Yankee victory, was one of the sloppiest games I have ever seen from every standpoint—pitching, fielding, and base running. Meanwhile, the Rays and Orioles were both riding winning streaks going into Thursday.
At times this season we have seen glimmers of the 1998 team; other times, we have seen the broken shell of what the Tigers chewed up and spit out of last year’s ALDS. We know the Yankees are championship-caliber; let’s just hope that’s the side that shows up in October.