Baseball Beat/WTNYNovember 04, 2005
What Went Wrong in the Playoffs (AL Edition)
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

With both a World Series and All-Star Game victory in hand, we know one thing: the American League is currently baseball's dominant conference. It appeared before the playoffs that it would be a crapshoot which AL team won, as all were legitimate title contenders. In the NL, this really could have only been said about two teams.

When it was all said and done, the White Sox prevailed, beating out the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels. Today, we want to look at the three losers, remembering their seasons through some of the best team writers in the blogosphere.

We start with the American League runner-up, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Even the name change couldn't put the team over the hump, though some would argue the Angels were one good umpire away from moving to the World Series. No matter what, it had to be a great season in LA, as the team was in first for much of the season and also fought off the rival A's run in the second half. In to talk about the season is Rob McMillin, from 6-4-2:

1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?

Without a doubt, offense. In the ALDS, the bottom of the order carried the Angels, the top four going 16-77 (.207) and accounting for only nine RBIs. Alleged catalyst Chone Figgins disappeared (4-21). Though Vlad went 6-18, he didn't collect a single RBI, and Figgins' failure to get on base was a main culprit. These problems only got worse in the ALCS, with the top of the order going a mind-numbing 10-73 (.137) and collecting a grand total of four RBIs. As Joe Sheehan has said, this is an offense that works when everyone's hitting .280, but falls apart when everyone's hitting .265.

2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?

The Angels have three major problems with their offense.

1. A reluctance to take playing time away from veterans. Steve Finley, and to a lesser degree, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad all absorbed at bats at times when their performance could have been outmatched by someone on the bench. Respectively, that would have been Chone Figgins, Juan Rivera, and Casey Kotchman. Kotchman in particular has proven himself as earning the starting job next year; the team simply can't afford to let Erstad, who has become a slap-hitting singles hitter, continue to play first. It's too much to hope that Stoneman releases Finley, by far the most useless regular hitter on the squad, but in the absence of that scenario, it's hard to see how Scioscia doesn't play him in 2006. That is, veteran hitters, no matter how bad, are a temptation Mike can't let pass.

2. A failure to get a real leadoff hitter. Chone Figgins plays one on TV, but he's not really capable of working a walk, and as a result, Garret Anderson and Vlad don't often have a guy to drive in by the time they get to the plate. David Eckstein used to be able to get walks and the odd hit-by-pitch to get on base, but there isn't really anyone on this team -- save for bench player Jeff DaVanon -- willing to shake hands with ball four. This is as much an organizational failing as it is a player issue, so the Angels will have to find someone out of the organization to fix it. One answer might be to put Kotchman, who has a very good eye, at leadoff, but that presumes that (a) they won't play Erstad regularly, and (b) you would want a guy with 20-25 HR production and not necessarily a lot of speed at that slot. Going outside the organization means finding a middle infielder or another centerfielder.

3. An absence of power. This one's actually the easiest problem to solve, and what it means is playing Kotchman as a regular, and Dallas McPherson to get healthy. McPherson will be 26 next year, which means he doesn't exactly have a lot of time, and so will have to prove himself next year or risk becoming an intermediate solution until Brandon Wood can replace him.

3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?

Shooting from the hip:
Regular season MVP: Vlad.
Postseason MVP: Bengie Molina
Regular season LVP: Steve Finley
Postseason LVP: Vlad Guerrero, followed closely by Darin Erstad. Both of them gave up at bats, weakly grounding out innumerable times. Vlad had the excuse that his shoulder was bothering him; Erstad had no such excuse.

4) Season Highlight:

Certainly, being the first team in the AL to clinch a postseason spot, finishing with the second-best record in franchise history.

5) Season Lowlight:

1-4 in the ALCS. This team beat the Chisox in the regular season series, and should have done so in the postseason. Some of that was luck and a remarkable string of terrible calls by the umpiring crew, but a good bit of it was lousy offensive strategy, and giving away at bats.

* * * * *

We move from the team the White Sox beat in the ALCS to their ALDS opponents. Despite all the current drama that has taken over the Boston Red Sox, it really wasn't too bad of a season for the defending World Champs. The club showed a lot of guts winning the Wild Card over the Indians and A's but, in the end, the pitching staff could not match Chicago's in the first round. Randy Booth from Over the Monster has agreed to share his views on the season:

1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?

If you watched the Boston Red Sox for just one game in the 2005 season, you immediately became aware of their largest problem: pitching. Whether it be starting, middle relief, long relief, or the closer situation, it was all atrocious and entirely evident in the post-season.

It all started when Curt Schilling couldn't hit his spots, Keith Foulke was hitting his spots too well, and Terry Francona making bad bullpen decisions. From there it just escalated to a point of no return. The Boston offense was the best in the majors, but if your starter can't go seven innings with solid relief, you'll still lose.

2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?

General manager? At this moment in time, we have no general manager. That's a different story, though. Still, I'll toss out a few ideas. Let's just pretend I'm the GM for a day.

A reliable starter needs to be added. Whether it's a #1 or #3 type, we need to fill that specific hole. Jonathan Papelbon will be a huge help if he's added to the rotation (which he should), but we'll still need someone if the Sox trade David Wells. I hope the Sox also trade Manny Ramirez and Keith Foulke. Not for nothing, but both are deteriorating the clubhouse chemistry. That brings me to another thing: forget the chemistry. Dump Kevin Millar and the loyalty. We need to add players that play the game well, not wear Tom Brady jerseys to practice.

3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?

The team's MVP is most definitely David Ortiz. .300 batting average, .397 on-base percentage, 47 home runs and 148 runs batted in. Don't forget numerous game winning hits and the fact he is the glue that holds together the team and the lineup.

The LVP is a little harder to decide. Many would say Edgar Renteria is the LVP, but I won't go that far. He was too good to be the LVP. For the LVP, we must head to the pitching staff where all the problems were. I am torn to pick some of the short-term relief pitchers, but I'm going to stick with someone who lasted the whole year as a Red Sox and was a huge disappointment: Foulke. 5.91 ERA and five losses in 45.2 IP before he landed on the disabled list for the rest of the season. If we had Foulke at the top of his game, we may be holding the World Series trophy in Boston once again.

4) Season Highlight:

The season highlight is debatable, but I don't think I'll forget when Curt Schilling made his walk from the bullpen to the mound in his first appearance as a closer for the Boston Red Sox on July 14. The crowd roared and a feeling was sent through many fans' bodies. I can honestly say I never re-felt that feeling for the rest of the season.

5) Season Lowlight:

The lowlight has to come on September 1 when the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, and once again allows the Yankees to clinch the American League East. The Red Sox led the East for the majority of the season, yet we lose it in the final weeks.

Wait 'til next year, I guess.

* * * * *

It was a heartbreaking season for New York relative to expectations. The acquisition of Randy Johnson was supposed to be the one that put them back in the World Series. As it turned out, Johnson, who failed to live up to his standards, had a difficult time carrying an injury-depleted and underperforming staff. Before this team reloads for the 2006 campaign, Cliff Corcoran from Bronx Banter has agreed to share his feelings about what happened in 2005:

1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?

Despite what you might read elsewhere, the Yankees lost the ALDS to the Angels not because the Angels pitched around Alex Rodriguez (which they did), but because Randy Johnson punted Game 3. One could argue that the Yankees came from behind to take a lead in Game 3 after Johnson was removed, but had Johnson pitched at the level he had established during the September surge that put the Bombers in the playoffs to begin with, that would not have been necessary. Of course, despite his struggles, Johnson was the Yankees' most valuable pitcher (well, Johnson or Mariano Rivera), so the fact that he wasn't the dominant pitcher the Yankees thought they had traded for cannot be called an "overarching problem." Nor can the team's Game 5 struggles with runners in scoring position, as the Yankees were second in the majors (to the Red Sox) in runs scored during the regular season.

With the spectacular exceptions of Rivera and Tom Gordon, the Yankees' relief corps was an overarching problem in 2005, but that didn't really hurt them in the playoffs. It was the 10-0 Aaron Small who took the loss in Game 3, and Johnson himself filled the middle relief role with great success in Game 5. Rather, the one overarching problem that contributed most to the Yankees' ALDS loss was their awful team defense. Chien-Ming Wang should have won Game 2, but errors and misplays by Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Wang himself handed the game to the Angels. Meanwhile, the decisive play of Game 5, and thus the series, came when Gary Sheffield collided with Bubba Crosby while attempting to catch Adam Kennedy's fly ball in the second inning and the ball dropped for a two-run triple.

There's nothing that could have been done about Giambi, Rodriguez or Wang. The latter two are generally good to excellent fielders and Giambi has, consistently throughout his career, been a far superior hitter when playing first base as opposed to DHing, and is thus able to out-hit his poor defense at first (indeed, he was the Yankees most productive hitter in the ALDS). But the Yankees could have done something about their centerfield situation, which remained unresolved even in the postseason. The Yankees' failure to sign Carlos Beltran, despite his disappointing performance with the Mets, remains the biggest mistake in one of the worst, if not the worst, winters in franchise history. Following that failure, their inability to settle the centerfield situation during the season, be it via trade or the decision to give the defensively superior but offensively questionable Crosby the job for better or worse, led directly to that misplay in Game 5. If Sheffield and Crosby are used to playing next to one another the odds are that Sheffield would have looked for Crosby or Crosby would have called off Sheffield (which the replays showed neither did) and Crosby would have caught Kennedy's "triple" unencumbered. Instead, it was clear that neither expected the other to be there, which could only be the result of a lack of familiarity with the one another's range.

2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?

As I said, there's nothing to be done about the infield defense, but the Yankees have to find someone who can play centerfield on an everyday basis. Unfortunately, there's not much out there. Perusing the free agent market, it boils down to Kenny Lofton -- who was dumped by the Yanks for Felix Rodriguez last winter, presumably in anticipation of the arrival of Beltran, only to go to Philadelphia and see spikes in both his hitting and fielding numbers -- and Johnny Damon. Lofton will be 39 in May and Damon is sure to be overvalued due to the dearth of alternative options, the Championship ring on his finger, his flowing locks, and in spite of his age and lack of a throwing arm. That leaves a trade or a Cano-like rookie-cum-savior. Neither of which is a particularly attractive option as the latter is as unlikely as the former would be costly.

The player the Yankees could most afford to deal is Gary Sheffield, as they could sign Brian Giles, who is two years Sheffield's junior and outperformed him in 2005, to play right and swap Sheffield for a centerfielder with perhaps a middle-relief throw in (Sheffield to Minnesota for Hunter and Rincon or Romero?), but Sheffield's comments around the trading deadline last year, advancing age (he'll soon be 37), declining production (it's subtle but it's there), and likely demands for a contract extension wherever he ends up are likely to put the kibosh on such a deal. Meanwhile, the Yankees hole in centerfield is so glaring that other teams are sure to attempt to fleece the New Yorkers, asking for top prospects such as Phillip Hughes and Eric Duncan or the established rookies Wang or Cano in exchange for, say, Juan Pierre (for whom I foresee a Womackian future) or the rapidly aging and currently damaged Torii Hunter or Mike Cameron. I'm not sure I have an answer here.

Brian Cashman's other important tasks are re-signing Hideki Matsui, but for no more than three years, rebuilding the bullpen from scratch (save Mo, of course -- it appears Gordon is headed somewhere he can close), and finding a back-up catcher who can hit, thus extending what's left of Jorge Posada's usefulness.

And, just to be greedy, I'd sign Giles anyway, sticking the aging and perpetually hurt Sheffield at DH (where he's an even more frightening hitter) and forcing Giambi into the field where his bat is most potent.

3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?

Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Mariano Rivera were clearly the team's best hitter, pitcher and reliever respectively, a status they've enjoyed no matter what uniform they've worn throughout their careers. Rodriguez (.321/.421/.610), however, was clearly the most valuable player on the Yankees this year. After all, he is one of the game's true greats and he had one of the best seasons of his career. As such, he was not only the Yankees' MVP, but the obvious choice for MVP of the American League.

You might expect me to list Tony Womack (.249/.276/.280 in 351 plate appearances) as the Yankees' Least Valuable Player, but Womack, though a detriment as a whole, did things of value during the season, including stealing 27 bases in 32 attempts (84 percent), playing uncharacteristically outstanding defense during his one month as the Yankee second baseman, seeing 3.89 pitches per at-bat (even if he only watch ball four go by twelve times all year), picking up a couple of game-winning hits, and playing multiple positions. Indeed, Womack was a virtual world-beater compared to the Yankees' true LVP, John Flaherty (.165/.206/.252 in 138 PA). Despite having less than 40 percent as many plate appearances, Flaherty's VORP was -9.6 to Womack's -8.9. Honorable mention to the starters whose performances set those of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon into such sharp relief: Jaret Wright (-9.8 VORP), Kevin Brown (-9.5 VORP), and Darrell May and the unfairly rushed Sean Henn, who combined to be 17.2 runs below replacement in a mere 18 1/3 innings pitched.

4) Season Highlight:

Sunday, September 11, with my girlfriend and me cheering them on from the right field bleachers, the Yankees win the rubber game of their final home series against the Red Sox 1-0, a stirring pitchers duel between Randy Johnson and Tim Wakefield that was decided by a short-porch Giambi homer in the first on a Wakefield curveball. That game kicked off an 11-1 run that catapulted the Yankees to their eighth straight AL East title.

5) Season Lowlight:

After a dismal 11-19 start the Yankees appeared to have salvaged their season with a ten-game winning streak in early May that kicked off a 16-2 stretch that pushed them eight games over .500. That stretch was halted by a pair of home loses to the Red Sox at the end of May in which Boston outscored the Yankees 24-3. But that wasn't the worst of it. No, the worst was the three game sweep at the hands of the AL-worst Kansas City Royals that followed in which the Yankees scored a total of six runs. That sweep dropped the Yankees to 27-26 on June 2. They would lose the next day in Minnesota to drop back to .500 and wouldn't shake the .500 mark for good until early July.

* * * * *

Thanks again to our wonderful guests for providing their insights. We move out of the pessimistic world tomorrow as we take a look at What Went Right with the World Champion Chicago White Sox, before turning our attention toward the Hot Stove.


Jason Giambi did not play in the field in game 2, he was the DH. Cano, Rodriguez and Wang made the errors in that game. I think sometimes his reputation as a poor defensive player outshines his actual play, so that it is just assumed that it was Giambi that made the errors. It is true, however, that he hits much better when playing first over being the DH.

Enjoyed the comments all the way around. I must take issue with one however...

"trade Manny Ramirez and Keith Foulke. Not for nothing, but both are deteriorating the clubhouse chemistry. That brings me to another thing: forget the chemistry. Dump Kevin Millar and the loyalty. We need to add players that play the game well, not wear Tom Brady jerseys to practice." --- Pick one. Either keep good players (like, y'know, the guy with the 86 home runs the last two years) or go for chemistry. You can't have it both ways though. For the record, I keep both Foulke (who was hurt, look at the previous 7 years) and Ramirez and let Millar and his 9 HR go play in Japan or Kansas City.


A response to:

"The Yankees' failure to sign Carlos Beltran, despite his disappointing performance with the Mets, remains the biggest mistake in one of the worst, if not the worst, winters in franchise history."

I recall that the Yankees had to make a choice between Carlos Beltran and Randy Johnson. So, what you should be arguing is that if the Yankee's would have signed Carlos instead of Randy it would have turned the season into a much better on for the Yankee's. But you list Randy as one of the MVP's. Also, your season highlight may have turned into a loss without Randy on the mound that day.

Teams have to make those descisions all the time. At least the Yankees had the choice to sign one or the other. Most teams would not be able to sign either. (you may argue that all the other bad signings caused them to not sign Carlos, but those bad signings could have turned out very good, Wright and Pavano had good years in 2004.)

I don't want to do the math but it's either a wash or it was better to have Randy in 2005. So, that argument really does not hold water.

The yankees had a good team but they did not execute when it mattered. I think Yankee fans are just used to having much better teams.

Thanks for all the good reading at Bronx Banter even though I am no yankee fan.

Zak, Randy Johnson was acquired via a trade. Of course they did give him a contract extension, so there was money involved, but if the Yankees had Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro back and Carlos Beltran in center field, I think that would have been a lot more useful than what Johnson gave them this year, even though he was their best starting pitcher. What's more, all four of those players are in their 20s and should have major league careers that stretch well beyond Johnson's. When the Johnson trade went down, my initial response was negative. I then talked myself into supporting it using the logic that Johnson was so dominant that he could single handedly make the difference in the Yankee season. As it turns out, he didn't dominate, and, at least for 2005, the trade proved to be a bad one, especially considering the Yankees' catching situation.

All of that said, I do not believe that Johnson and Beltran were an either/or situation. I think the Yankees got cold feet on giving Beltran a long-term contract, largely due to the fact that it appeared they had been badly burned by the Giambi deal, though it is certainly true that they wasted their money on Pavano and Wright, who if they might have been worth a flier, were so massively overpaid it's not even funny.

Katherine, you got me on Giambi, I was thinking of his error in Wang's start in Boston during the final regular season series. I was also thinking of his misplay in Game 5 (throwing home on a dribbler up the line to try to get Vlad, but not getting anyone), which was not ruled an error but cost the Yankees at least one out and maybe two.

It's hard to know without inside info, but I also seem to remember last winter there being a lot of hullaballoo about how the Yanks couldn't sign Beltran because of the Johnson deal (people made kind of a big deal about the Boss tightening the purse strings just a little teeny weeny bit). Realistically, it was the Pavano and Wright signings that made Beltran prohibitive, I suspect. Combined, those two gentlemen made nearly $16 000 000 (to Beltran's $11.6 mil) and pitched a grand total of 163.7 innings with a combined RA/9 of about 6.4. Yuck. Methinks it would have been better to overextend a little on Beltran, with the idea that he'll be good several years into the future, than extend at all on Wravano.

I appreciated your fair assessment of the situation involving the Crosby/Sheffield collision. I don't believe either of them would have been able to hear the other, so calling off would probably not have been an option. I know I could hardly hear the TV announcers above all that racket. It almost seems that the noise level was raised to an unsportsmanship level. I have been disappointed that Sheffield has not commented to the effect that Crosby was not at fault. A few journalist, unlike you, have laid the blame on Bubba.

Why the Yankees don't give Bubba a more extented trial is beyond me. The last month when he got to play more, he batted 370+ didn't he? In the stretch he showed great defensive play. I have a feeling that he is fully capable of being the Yankee centerfielder, given the chance.

Crosby is 29 years old, so the odds that he can establish himself as a solid everyday player are slim. Starting ten of the Yankees final twenty games he hit .340/.353/.440. Note that those stats are almost entirely batting average. I think Crosby's ceiling is being another Scott Podsednik. Which means an overrated hustle type known for speed and defense and bunt base hits. That said, things are so dire for the Yanks right now, such a player could be quite useful.


Forty+ years of Angel fans taking a bad rap for being passive mellow Californians that are not "real" fans might be motivating me to misunderstand your post - BUT when our stadium's deafening roar upsets two mediocre NY outfielders from phoning in a catch, tell me agin that it is UNSPORTSMANLIKE of us?

Hi Halofan,
I didn't make the "unsportsmanlike" comment, but I think what Jack was alluding to was the noise level on the TV. FOX makes so many bad decisions doing baseball the mind boggles. The 8:30 EDT starts are losing them a whole generation of east coast fans.

The Yankees' backup catcher requirement goes beyond the need for a bat. They need a young all-around catcher who can replace work as an apprentice to Posada and replace him in 2007 (his option year) or 2008.

Unfortunately, finding such an apprentice is difficult, as the trade of Navarro is beginning to have the same sting as the trade of Rick Dempsey in 1976.

Here is my blockbuster proposal: Pavano to the Dodgers for Russel Martin (who starred this year at double-A Jacksonville). Pavano has demonstrated success with NL clubs with large outfields. The Dodgers could use another starter, have some payroll flexibility and may feel set at catcher with Navarro.

If the Dodgers refuse to part with their blue-chipper, perhaps they will return Navarro, along with someone else, to the Yankees. Navarro will never be a hall-of-famer, but he will be a capable major league starter.

Here is my blockbuster proposal: Pavano to the Dodgers for Russel Martin

I can see why the Yankees would love that trade but, tell me, what's in it for the Dodgers?

There isn't one team in baseball that would take Pavano off the hands of the Yankees even if they could do so without giving anybody back in return. Pavano's contract is a liability at this point. Therefore, he has zero trade value unless the Yankees were willing to pick up a good portion of his salary the rest of the way.

Martin is an untouchable. You don't trade blue-chip prospects who have three years of pre-arb ahead of them and another three before free agency comes a calling unless, of course, you are going to get a similar talent in return.

Navarro is more than a backup catcher and could garner a much better player/contract combo than Pavano.

Nice try though.