Through seven postseason games, the Yankees have struck out 67 times in 258 at-bats, which means 26 percent of their at-bats are ending with strike three.
It seems astounding, and the Yankees haven’t yet faced Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer — who had the top-2 strikeout totals in the AL this regular season.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than Verlander, but it doesn’t really matter at this point,” Russell Martin said. “We’ve just got to try to find ways to win, whatever it is. Somebody has to step up.”
The Yankees’ regular season strikeout total was a little under the league average.
“We just got to swing at balls in the strike zone pretty much,” Curtis Granderson said. “Guys got to be patient but also still aggressive. If you’re too patient and taking strikes, which we’ve done, and if you’re too aggressive and swinging at balls out of the zone, which we’ve done, [you will struggle].”
“We’re all doing the same thing,” Alex Rodriguez said. “If you look at our rally [Saturday] night, it was at strikes. When you see us struggle, it was around chases. If a guy gets you out in the strike zone then you can tip your cap a little bit, but not when you help out and expand it.”
It can be especially annoying to fans when they see how Detroit put together its three runs on Sunday. The Tigers scored their first runs by doing “the little things” teams often talk about. Miguel Cabrera had a two-strike, opposite-field single that put Quentin Berry at third and then slid enough into Robinson Cano at second to force a misplay on the transfer and allow Berry to score.
In the eighth, the Tigers added two runs, Jeff Nelson’s blown call notwithstanding. The Yankees still had to get the final out, but could not do so as Avisail Garcia and Cabrera drove in runs with line drives to right.
“He didn’t hit it hard but in the right place,” Jim Leyland said. “And those are some of the things you need in postseason play.”
The four players responsible for the highest strikeout totals during the regular season were Granderson, Nick Swisher, Rodriguez and Robinson Cano and none of them were able to do what the Tigers could do in the eighth. They are the same players whose struggles are the most noticeable and drawing most of the grief from the fans.
Granderson broke his own team record by striking 195 times. He broke the mark set by Alfonso Soriano in 2002 when he struck out 169 times.
Swisher struck out 141 times, nine shy of his career-high, but 16 more than last year.
Rodriguez struck out 116 times while Cano equaled his career-high set last season with 96.
So while the foursome combined for 118 home runs, they also accounted for 548 strikeouts, which is 46.5 percent of the team’s total. The fact that they have combined for 40 of the Yankees postseason strikeouts is hardly surprising.
Manager Joe Girardi is likely well aware of those numbers. In his postgame comments, he was empathic, saying the team needs to adjust its approach at the plate and make contact, specifically Granderson.
“He is not swinging at strikes a lot of times, and they are making really good pitches,” Girardi said. “I saw one of his at-bats; every pitch was on the outside corner. And Sanchez, I looked at it and every pitch was on the black. I mean, that’s not easy to get hits when they are throwing 94 [mph] on the black. They are throwing with movement on the black. They are throwing breaking balls on the black. I mean, when he gets that pitch he can’t miss it.”
Granderson seemed to be poised for improvement after a late-inning home run in Game 5 against Baltimore. But in the two ALCS games, he has five strikeouts while making contact on nine of 41 pitches without putting one in play.
Rodriguez saw 25 pitches in the last two games and made contact on 11. He was pinch hit for by Eric Chavez on Saturday and got a ninth-inning single Sunday.
Cano has put the most balls in play of the quartet and has made contact on 21-of-47 pitches over the weekend. He had six groundouts, one flyout and one lineout.
“Saturday was a prime example of a guy who I thought swung the bat really well and got nothing,” Long said. “[Cano] got nothing guys. He lined out to left. He hit a ball off the pitcher and he hit a ball hard to first. What did he get, 0-for-6? And what does that look like, he stunk? He didn’t stink. Some things have to go his way too.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.