AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES PREVIEW
DETROT TIGERS (95-67) vs. NEW YORK YANKEES (97-65)
The 2011 Yankees lived up to their Bronx Bombers nickname. They hit more bombs than any team in baseball. But, they also led the major leagues in stolen bases. That is a tough combination to beat because it has happened so rarely. That is why the Tigers have to be worried. You shut down the longball and the Yankees steal bases and score runs on base hits. You shut down the running game and sooner or later someone will hit a home run.The Yankees boast two American League MVP candidates in Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. They also have the third-best home run hitter in the league in Mark Teixeira. You add Alex Rodriguez, wounded or not, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada and you have a veteran lineup that is used to making starters work and not chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Then you have table-setters like Granderson, Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner, who can get on base and create havoc on the basepaths with their feet.
The Tigers, on the other hand, are a reflection of their two best hitters: Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They are not a speed team at all. They play station-to-station baseball and look for the extra-base hit or home run. Cabrera hit .344 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. Martinez, the DH, hit .330 with 12 home runs and 103 RBIs. They set the tone for the Tigers’ offense. In addition, they have rookie catcher Alex Avila and shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who combined for 40 home runs and 168 RBIs. The Tigers even added former Ray and Twin outfielder Delmon Young to the mix. What speed there is lies with leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, who stole 22 bases. No one else is even in double figures. Manager Jim Leyland plays platoons at the other three spots to match up against opposing pitchers. This is very similar to the offenses of the Minnesota Twins the Yankees have destroyed in recent playoff series.
EDGE: You have to give this to the Yankees because of their combination of power and speed. They did not lead the league in runs scored for nothing. Detroit’s station-to-station philosophy plays right into the Yankees’ hands. Teams that run on them have had more success.
The Yankees will open the playoffs with a three-man rotation of CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00 ERA), Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA). Sabathia is expected to pitch Game 4 no matter what happens and Nova will get the ball in Game 5. The Yankees are 8-1 in Sabathia’s postseason starts and Sabathia is 5-1 in those starts. Sabathia is 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA against the Tigers in his career. This season he was 0-1 with a no-decision victory on Opening Day and an ERA of 4.15. Nova will be making his first postseason appearances and starts in this series. He has not lost a decision since he lost to the Los Angels Angels on June 3. Since then he is 12-0 in his 16 starts. He has never started against the Tigers but he did make his major-league debut against them on May 13, 2010 with two innings of scoreless relief. Garcia earned his start because 16 of his 25 starts were quality starts. Garcia also has postseason experience. He won three games with the White Sox in 2005 to help lead them to a championship. Garcia is 18-8 with a 3.88 in his career against the Tigers. This season he was 0-1 in his only start against Detroit. He gave up four runs on 10 hits in seven innings on May 4 at Comerica Park.
The Tigers plan to start Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, in that order, to open the series. They have not announced a Game 4 starter, but Leyland has said Verlander will not pitch in that game. He will start Game 5, if necessary. Verlander (24-5, 2.70 ERA) is likely going to be a unanimous choice for the A.L. Cy Young Award and also a potential MVP. It was easily his best season. It was his first 20-game season and the first time he recorded a sub-3.00 ERA. He is 4-3 with a 3.97 ERA against the Yankees in his career. This season Verlander was 0-0 in his two starts against the Yankees and in both games the Yankees rallied late to win. Fister (11-13, 2.83 ERA) was a midseason acquisition from Seattle and he paid big dividends. He was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in his 10 starts for the Tigers. He was 3-12 with the punchless Mariners. He is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees. He lost his only start against the Yankees this season on July 26 at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Mariners, giving up three runs in seven innings. Sabathia struck out 14 and won the game 4-1. Scherzer (15-9, 4.43 ERA) has very good stuff as his 207 strikeouts attest. But he has been hit hard, too. He has had success against the Yankees. He is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA. He was 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA this season. He won on April 3 in New York despite giving up six runs. The Tigers took advantage of Phil Hughes pitching with a weak shoulder. Om May 4 at Comerica Park, Scherzer shut out the Yankees over eight innings, fanning nine batters.
EDGE: The Tigers have an edge but it is not as big as you would think. Verlander has not beaten the Yankees this season and he really has struggled at Yankee Stadium. Game 1 is not a lock for the Tigers. Nova has been doubted all season and the Yankees have had success against Fister. The Tigers’ biggest edge may be Game 3 with Scherzer pitching. I will take Sabathia over anyone the Tigers can find to pitch against the Yankees in Game 4.
This was the best bullpen in baseball. They recorded the best ERA in baseball by a margin of a half-run. Think about that. The Yankees are more than just Mariano Rivera and his 602 career saves and his 44 saves and his 1.91 ERA at age 41. The Yankees lost key relievers like Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano to injuries early and found out just how great David Robertson was. Robertson led all major-league relievers in ERA with 1.08 and he struck out 100 batters in on;y 66 2/3 innings. He also made the A.L. All-Star team. Last season’s A.L. saves leader Soriano returned from right elbow inflammation and pitched very well down the stretch. He is content now to pitch the seventh inning. That means the Yankees have reduced the game to six innings. You get to their starters or you lose. The Yankees also have lefty Boone Logan (3.46 ERA) and right-handers Cory Wade (2.04 ERA) and Luis Ayala (2.08 ERA). The Yankees have also placed starters A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes in the bullpen for this series. Hughes was the key setup man to Rivera in the 2009 championship season so he knows how to pitch quality relief.
A.L. saves leader and resident 100% beef hot dog Jose Valverde heads up a pretty decent bullpen. Valverde did not blow a save this season, which is hanging up there like a tempting pinata for the Yankees in this series. The Tigers’ setup man is Joaquin Benoit , who was not as good as he was with the Rays in 2010 but he still had 47 holds. They also have rookie right-hander Al Alburquerque (6-1, 1.97 ERA). They have a pair of lefties in Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke. Both have ERAs over 4.00, however. The Tigers also will have underachieving righty Ryan Perry and reserve starters Rick Porcello and Brad Penny to use. This bullpen has some quality in it but it also has a soft underbelly that can be exploited by a team with a good offense like the Yankees.
EDGE: The Yankees clearly have the superior bullpen and it is a huge edge going into this series. The Yankees’ pen shortens the game to six innings and the Tigers merely get it to seven. That is a big difference when you are talking a short series like this. Look for the Yankees to attack pitchers like Perry and Schlereth in this series.
Due to injuries and manager Joe Girardi resting his payers down the stretch, the Yankee bench has played extensively this season. Infield reserve Eduardo Nunez started for Jeter and Rodriguez when they were hurt this season and hit very well. Nunez can play second, short or third. But he is an error waiting to happen as a fielder. Eric Chavez, 33, meanwhile is a former Gold Glove winner at third and he provides a veteran lefty power hitter off the bench. He also could start if Rodriguez is unable to play because of his thumb or knee injuries. Outfield reserve Andruw Jones is actually the platoon leftfielder against left-handed pitching and he can also DH and play rightfield. He provides power against lefties. Jorge Posada may be at the end of his career at age 40, but he still can hit from the left side, as he will in this series. Backup catcher Jesus Montero will likely not see any action as a catcher and will play a limited role since the Yankees do not want to pinch-hit him and lose Martin to injury. But when he gets his chance, Montero, 21, can be a valuable bat off the bench with his incredible power. He hit four home runs in 61 at-bats in September. The Yankees also chose to keep Chris Dickerson as outfield reserve. Dickerson will likely be a late-inning replacement for Nick Swisher in rightfield. He also provides another left-handed bat off the bench and he can be used as a pinch-runner late in a game.
The Tigers platoon a lot in the outfield and at the middle infield spots so their bench has been extensively as well. The reserves include backup catcher Omir Santos, veteran outfielder Magglio Ordonez, former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit and young outfielder Andy Dirks. Manager Jim Leyland is not afraid to use his bench and he is good at putting them in spots in which they succeed. There is not a whole lot of power or speed here. These guys, much like the Tiger starters, just try to get on and wait to be driven in.
EDGE: The Yankees have a much deeper bench. How many teams have two former Gold Glove winners and a former All-Star catcher on the bench? These players have also played a lot this season and are ready to go for the postseason. Where the Tigers bench lacks speed and power, the Yankees are loaded with it on their bench.
The Tigers won the season series 4-3 but these teams last played on May 5 in Detroit. That was an awful long time ago and both teams have improved some since then. The Tigers defeated the Yankees 3-0 in the ALDS in 2006 in which the Tigers went on to lose the World Series to St. Louis. Oddly, it was a soft-tossing left-hander named Kenny Rogers who gave the Yankees fits in Game 3. Garcia is a veteran soft-tossing right-hander scheduled to pitch in Game 3 for the Yankees. Could this be karma for the Tigers? The Yankee roster is full of veterans with lots of postseason experience. The Tigers have some older veterans but they also have a lot of young players, particularly pitchers, who have no postseason experience. That is something that could be in the Yankees’ favor. Jeter is also one of those players who makes plays that can turn a series. Who can forget “The Flip?” How about in 2009 when he took two outfield relays and cut down two Twins runners who had rounded the base too far? Watch what The Captain does in the series. It only takes one play to turn a series sometimes.
EDGE: The Yankees have a lot going for them in addition to home field. The Tigers will not back down but, ultimately, I do not think the Central Division is an equal or even close to the teams from the East. The Tigers have been hot, but who have they been playing except weak division rivals in September? That tends to make their record and their stats look inflated. The Yankees have a real edge here.
The Yankees will win this series in four games. The only game I see the Tigers having any edge is possibly Game 3 in Comerica Park with Scherzer facing Garcia. Sabathia has been money in the playoffs and I see him pitching well enough to give the Yankees victories in Game 1 and Game 4 – even if he is gone before the Yankees win it. There is just too much talent on this Yankee team even with a somewhat suspect Rodriguez due to his health.