Alex Rodriguez the Least of Yankees’ Problems as New York Faces Tougher Test Against Detroit

Alex Rodriguez the Least of Yankees' Problems as New York Faces Tougher Test Against DetroitIt's easier to just blame A-Rod.

The man commands $29 million in salary and was about as bad as possible in the American League Division Series against the Orioles, going 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts before the pinch hit that changed everything and a Game 5 benching.

With New York welcoming the Tigers to town for the ALCS just a day after the Yankees got rid of the Orioles for good, the main questions continue to be about where Alex Rodriguez will bat and whether he can contribute.

It's valid to wonder, especially since the Tigers will be sending four right-handers to the mound for the series — Rodriguez's definite weak point.

But the rest of the Yankees lineup should also be getting another look as the anything-but-Bronx-Bombers reload for their next series.

While New York's pitching, which has been uneven at times this season, was exceptional in the ALDS, the Yankees' bats — their supposed strong spot — couldn't have been worse. The Yankees batted .211, with just four home runs and 13 extra-base hits overall, leaving 34 men on base. While New York averaged 1.17 home runs and 3.19 extra-base hits a game in the regular season, the Yankees had just 0.80 home runs and 2.60 extra-base hits in their small sample against the O's. ("Small sample" — that's what the players like to point to. But no one gives you a "small sample" card to use toward winning a series.) New York's numbers were further inflated by a five-run outburst in Game 1's 7-2 win.

Rodriguez was the easy scapegoat, looking overmatched at the plate from the beginning. But he took the criticism and the demotion that followed, leaving the rest of the lineup to prove that the other big names could step up. Game 5 seemed to provide the answer, with Curtis Granderson recording two hits (including the now-rare New York home run) and Mark Teixeira, Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter contributing just enough to eke out the victory.

But as the Yankees turn to deal with Detroit next, New York is in poor shape. A 3-1 win where Teixeira had to steal second base and leg out a grounder that got through second to put the Yankees on the board does not exactly mean an offensive renaissance is coming.

Robinson Cano batted .091 in the ALDS with just two hits (after a 24-for-39 — or .615 — stretch to end the season). Granderson went .158, with one hit before Friday night. Nick Swisher was at .111. A key player for the Yankees? Try the hefty contributions of Suzuki, who hit .217 and had three RBIs on his two doubles.

If the Yankees thought they had a mess against the O's, the Tigers will be far worse. Detroit boasts one of the best rotations in the league, and that's even without Justin Verlander, who won't start until Game 3 since he pitched Thursday night in a complete Game 5 win.

Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez will probably go in the first two games, with 16-game-winner Max Scherzer likely waiting in Game 4. That rotation held the A's to a .194 average in their ALDS series, with 50 strikeouts. Verlander, who had 239 strikeouts this season — tops in the American League — and Scherzer, who had 231 (2nd), will be no easier for a Yankees team that struck out 47 times against the Orioles.

The Yankees will be facing quality pitchers throughout the series, with the pressure to start hitting coupled by the edge the Detroit pitchers have in knowing that New York's batters are desperately trying to get on track.

But even if the Yankees do start hitting, it may not be enough.

The Yankees were forced to use CC Sabathia in Game 5 on Friday night, meaning the team's ace will not be available until Game 4 this time around. If the Yankees wanted to use Sabathia twice in the series, he would have to go in Game 7 on short rest. Andy Pettitte is due to pitch Saturday night on regular rest, but either Hiroki Kiroda or Phil Hughes would have to push their workload up a day to make a Game 2 start on Sunday, which the Yankees clearly prefer since they have no other real starters to send out.

The Tigers also have one of the better offenses coming into the championship series, and their Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, is hitting better than .350 against Hughes, Kuroda and Sabathia.

The storyline may seem easy coming into Yankee Stadium on Saturday, where Rodriguez has often failed as the Yankees seem unable to turn one of the best rosters in MLB into another World Series title-holder.

But as a very difficult test against the Tigers looms, and with Rodriguez no longer the only one striking out in key spots, it appears the Yankees may have a tougher test this time around, and it won't just be about beating Detroit.

If New York fails to get its bats going and can't whip out another miraculous pitching stretch, the Yankees may not be able to just shovel the criticism A-Rod's way. They may have to start answering for the entire roster.

And in a city where $10 million-plus is turning into .111, that may be the biggest test of all.

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