Story after story after story have been written in the past week about Alex Rodriguez' playoff redemption. For a player as maligned as Rodriguez, truly positive press can be hard to come by. After a season of high expectations for his team, the Yankee third baseman thriving outside of the spotlight- free agent signees Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia, the resurgent Derek Jeter and their new baseball palace have stolen headlines that used to belong to A-Rod. If the result of this relative lack of exposure is the success we've witnessed over the first few games of the playoffs, then maybe Rodriguez could use some of that $300 million contract to force the NY beat writers to focus on Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Brett Gardner in 2010.
Besides the lessening of external pressure on the slugger, the lineup the Yankees have fielded this season is much stronger than those in playoff years past. Outside of 2004, his playoff performances have been well below his career averages. It's tough to judge a player based off of fewer than 35 AB, but it's the nature of the beast playing in New York, on baseball's biggest stage.
Jeff Bagwell never had to deal with the New York media, or the ire of the baseball public during his illustrious career. After four failed attempts to escape the first round the playoffs, Bagwell and the Astros finally managed to lay their collective demons to rest by beating the Atlanta Braves in the 2004 NLDS. Bags would see extended playoff ABs for the first time in his career, and he responded by posting a stupendous "triple-slash" of .318/.400/.682 in 22 ABs. No longer would he be forced to head into yet another off season coming off of tepid October performances.
Was there anything special about that October as compared to 1997, '98, '99 or 2001 (which in fairness was a solid, albeit short, postseason for Jeff)?
Note: This season saw the likes of Daryle Ward (.336), Javier, and Matt Mieske (.333) start playoff games in the outfield. Yikes.
While the addition of Beltran and Kent in 2004 were huge additions, it wasn't as if the Astros became the '27 Yankees. In fact, this was Bagwell's worst season in his career (to that point), yet he had his best postseason ever. While A Rod's mates are clearly superior in 2009 than in seasons past, the same can't truly be said of Bags' bunch in 2004. Between his and Craig's declines, and the lowest output from 3B since 1997, this was a pretty good, but not superior lineup. What surprised me was that Jeff Kent, a power hitting second baseman throughout his career, posted Biggio-like numbers at second in 2004. Lance Berkman is great....like, "play for five more seasons and punch his ticket to Cooperstown" great.
If anything, I'd chalk up their 2004 NLCS appearance to not having to face Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Kevin Brown, and John Smoltz, and instead facing off against Jaret Wright, John Thomson, Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton. Wait a second...Ortiz? Hampton? Weren't they on the....this season? Damn.