How do you fix a Yankee team that led the league in wins?
Well, the New York Yankees' season is over, and the game of locating the precise problem with a team that won 95 games and advanced to the American League Championship Series is on.
Without question, the sweep of the Yankees by the Detroit Tigers, capped by Thursday night's 8-1 loss, was one-sided. The Yankees never led at any point in the series, just the fifth time that's happened in a seven-game series.
Of course, the last team that happened to, the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals, returned to the N.L.C.S. in 2005, and won the World Series in 2006. The 1963 Yankees returned to the World Series in 1964, and lost a very close series to the Cardinals in seven games. The 1966 Dodgers and the 1989 Giants are less-useful comparisons, with the former promptly losing Sandy Koufax, the latter seeing a number of pitchers get injured and regress.
The Yankees hit .188 this postseason. The 1986 Mets hit .189 in the N.L.C.S., en route to a World Series victory.
So bringing the same team back, when possible, didn't hurt teams who got swept, or those who struggled in small samples after excelling in large ones.
Not really. The Yankees were quite good at hitting home runs in 2012, leading the major leagues. But they were quite good at reaching and rounding the bases generally, with an O.P.S.+ that ranked second in the major leagues. And they didn't even strike out much, with only nine teams striking out less all season.
Exactly what is the difference between the 2012 Yankees, who led the league in home runs but bowed out in the A.L.C.S., and the 2009 Yankees, who led the league in home runs and won the World Series? They slumped at the wrong time this year. Nothing about hitting home runs during the regular season in 2009 prevented the Yankees from hitting 20 more of them in the postseason.
The Yankees actually tried solving this "problem" once before, 31 years ago. In 1981, a Yankees team suffered the indignity of merely losing the World Series in six games. That team actually was relatively homer-dependent, with a slugging percentage second in the A.L., but an on-base percentage that ranked eighth.
With George Steinbrenner intent upon changing the team's identity, making it more speed-based, the Yankees let Reggie Jackson go as a free agent, and signed speedy outfielder Dave Collins to replace him. The result? They still didn't get on base enough, and no longer had as much power. And the 1982 Yankees finished 79-83.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
R.A. Dickey had successful surgery on the torn abdominal muscle he played with for much of the season.
Amar'e Stoudemire is scheduled to make his preseason debut Friday night, and plans to deploy the post moves Hakeem Olajuwon taught him.
MarShon Brooks made his first bid to be the Nets' sixth man in Thursday night's 115-85 loss to the Boston Celtics.
Great. Now the Jets will have a running back controversy.
With a win Saturday at home against Sporting Kansas City, the Red Bulls can clinch a playoff spot.
Kristian Dyer has a fascinating background story on the dismissal of general manager Erik Soler.