Even A-Rod can’t hold the Yankees back

The Yankees turned Alex Rodriguez from baseball’s highest-paid player into baseball’s highest-paid cheerleader Friday night, and beat the Orioles because CC Sabathia delivered a performance worthy of one of the game’s highest-paid pitchers. That may only temporarily have saved A-Rod from being the game’s highest-paid scapegoat.

All of the attention on A-Rod obscures a more important point: few of the Yankees are hitting. In fact, A-Rod’s 2-16 ALDS was better than Nick Swisher’s extra-base-hit-less 2-for-18 and arguably better than Robinson Cano’s 2-for-22, both of his hits doubles. You don’t see them being benched or anyone calling for it.

A-Rod was replaced by Eric Chavez, who lined out and struck out twice in an 0-for-3 Game 5 performance Rodriguez could have easily matched. For the series, Chavez was 0-for-8; some of us are near-sighted enough not to see the point.

The Yankees, who averaged 5 runs a game in the regular season, averaged 3.2 vs. the Orioles — and that with 12- and 13-inning games. The Yankees scored 16 runs in 51 innings, or nearly six games, and only one of those innings was a multi-run inning. That’s not much production for a lineup averaging $14 million a man.

(Against pitchers not named Jim Johnson, the Yankees scored just 10 runs; Orioles pitchers, other than their closer, had a 1.75 ERA.)

None of that, in addition to the recall of last year’s Tigers’ 5-game divisional series win, plus the day of rest Sabathia loses to match up with Justin Verlander, or the cold weather both teams will likely be playing in, bodes well for the Yankees’ chances in the ALCS.

But there’s a caveat for Tigers’ fans before they go into Jose Valverde-like gyrations: your team isn’t very good. The Tigers were seventh in the American League in wins — two teams which didn’t make the playoffs won more games, and every division champion won at least six more than the Tigers’ 88; and the Tigers were seventh in the AL in run differential — the White Sox were three games worse, but 16 runs better.

The Tigers beat the A’s in part because Verlander pitched twice in a five-game series, the same number of times he’ll start vs. the Yankees (the five games might not have impacted any other divisional series, but it might well be the biggest reason the A’s aren’t in the ALCS). Valverde, the Tigers’ closer and Senor Smoke, has been Senor Choke, and the Tigers walked just seven times in five games vs. the A’s — and one of those was intentional.

The Tigers have the game’s best middle of the order, but it won’t matter if they’re often seen with the bases deserted.

This isn’t one of the Yankees’ best teams, but it only has to be better to get to the World Series.

Cardinals vs. Nationals: If you thought St. Louis’ Game 6 escape in the World Series last year was improbable, it was routine compared to Friday’s Game 5 win over the Nationals. First the Cardinals were down 6-0 before the third inning was through, then they were down to their final strike twice in the ninth inning — with their two weakest hitters at-bat. But Daniel Descalso, a .227 hitter, singled to tie the game, and Pete Kozma, a .232 AAA hitter and veteran of 72 big-league at-bats, won it. There’s been a lot of pre- and post-game second-guessing of the decision to shut down Nats’ ace Stephen Strasburg, but not here. It’s like blaming the deficit on funding NPR. The Nats gave Gio Gonzalez, their best starter and MLB’s winningest this year, a 6-0 lead, and he only gave them five innings. Then they gave closer Drew Storen a two-run lead in the ninth, and he gave them Closers Gone Wild, walking the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Yes, it’s possible the series might have been different had Strasburg pitched, though it’s more likely his presence would have made Ross Detwiler scarce and not Edwin Jackson. The Nats were the best team over 162 games and ahead after 44 innings. That they lost need not have anything to do with Strasburg. And now the Giants, who were 30-15 after losing Melky Cabrera, their best hitter, to PED suspension, open the NLCS at home. Like the Nats minus Strasburg, they’ll play without Melky by their own choice. The Cardinals, presumably, aren’t complaining.

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