Joe Girardi has benched Alex Rodriguez for today’s Game 5, the winner-take-all deciding game of the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
And yet if the Yankees lose this game, it will somehow be Rodriguez’s fault, even though his ability to impact this game or deliver in late-inning situations in the previous two games has been nullified. Before this series even started, it was already determined by fans and the national media that the blame would once again be placed on Rodriguez’s shoulders if the Yankees fell short of a World Series championship.
Girardi has given into the pressures of fans and national media and benched Rodriguez for the Yankees most important game of the season (up until this point, at least). And while I think that this is a mistake because A-Rod has had great success against Hammel in his career (8-for-24, four home runs) and is still a better option than Eric Chavez (only has five extra-base hits and seen his average dropped 20 points since August 15th), Girardi’s biggest mistake in this series was probably batting Rodriguez third in the first place. Not because A-Rod struggles in the postseason (which actually, isn’t that true), but because Rodriguez isn’t the same type of power/run-producing threat that he has been his entire career. Also, now in his fifth season, Girardi needs to be more aware of how the fans and media perceive his team, and that by batting Rodriguez third, anything short of game-winning home runs or 4-for-4 nights would call for Rodriguez’s head. That’s exactly what has happened, and Girardi has given it to them.
Now, I am not in anyway defending Rodriguez’s performance this postseason (or last season, for that matter). He’s been awful (2-for-16 with nine strikeouts), but he isn’t the sole reason the Yankees aren’t scoring runs. How about Robinson Cano, who was coming in as the hottest hitter in baseball, yet has only delivered two hits in 18 at bats? Or Curtis Granderson, who actually has less hits (one) and the same number of strikeouts (nine) as Rodriguez? Or Nick Swisher, who is 1-for-13 in the three last games, or even Ichiro Suzuki whose on-base percentage (.200) is actually lower than Rodriguez’s (.222)? Why aren’t fans and the media calling for those players to be moved down in the lineup or moved to the bench? The fact is that while Rodriguez has been bad, half of the team has been equally as ineffective or worse. Hell, Prince Fielder only hit .190 for the Tigers in the five-game series against the Athletics, but nothing about him struggling has been mentioned.
Baseball is a game of averages, one that is much more true over a long period of time than in a five-game playoff series. It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to a small sample size, such as Rodriguez’s first nine at-bats, when shouts for moving him down in the lineup began. But if you are going to give them to Rodriguez, give them to everyone else too. It’s easy for Yankees fans to blame Rodriguez for their losses, because they still don’t see him as a “true” Yankee and because he makes more money than anyone else in baseball (even though he’s performed around or exceeded his salary for most of his career). And it was an easy decision for Girardi to bench Rodriguez, because that’s what the general public wants to see.
Even if it was probably the wrong one.