Fresh off of their ALDS win against the gritty Orioles, the Yankees advance to the ALCS to take on the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year, the Detroit Tigers.
What we learned from the ALDS against Baltimore has been that the Yankees pitchers are in their groove and the hitters are slumping, for the most part. In order for the Yankees to have any chance to move past the Tigers the Bombers have to score and pile up the hits. Both teams had to use their aces to clinch their respective division series so we won’t see CC Sabathia (9 innings, 4 hits, 9 strike outs and one run) or Justin Verlander (9 innings, 4 hits, 11 strike outs and no runs) until game three.
Before we get to the headline-pitching duel, the Yankees will have Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87 ERA) start game one followed by Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32 ERA) in game two. The first two games will be Saturday and Sunday, meaning the Yankees will be playing five games in five straight days since game three on Wednesday. A lot of stress will be put on the Yankee pitching staff and their bullpen. Having Sabathia pitch a complete game to clinch the ALDS was a huge factor going forward for the bullpen. Pettitte and Kuroda both pitched fantastically against the Orioles but the Tigers will present different challenges throughout the Detroit line up. Sabathia (16-5, 3.38 ERA) will take the ball in game three and go head-to-head with Verlander in a duel for the ages with how both aces are pitching. Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23 ERA) will more than likely get back on the mound for game four after a week off from his own good performance the other day.
What they will be facing will be the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 in Miguel Cabrera (.330 avg, 44 HR, 139 RBI) and his running mate, Prince Fielder (.313 avg, 30 HR, 108 RBI). The Tiger combination in the middle of the lineup will produce hits and runs. Great role players in Austin Jackson, the former Yankee prospect, and Delmon Young, the guy who worked the Pinstripe pitchers last year in the playoffs, surround them in the Tigers line up. Detroit has the ability to pile up the runs before you take notice of it. The goal is to minimize big innings and have the Yankee bats heat up to be able to score with the Tigers.
Saying such seems to be much easier than it is for the Yankee hitters to do it on the field. Outside of a couple Yankee hitters (Derek Jeter and Raul Ibanez) the bats have been ice cold. The obvious name to look at is Alex Rodriguez who has been awful in his last few postseason series. He struck out nine times against the Orioles, was pinch hit for twice in the ninth inning in the series and was benched for the clinching game five. While it is fair to look at A-Rod, we also have to get on Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. While Granderson looked to have regained some of his swing back in game five, including a big insurance home run, both Swisher and Cano are completely off. I have more concern about Swisher because of his past struggles and now the stage only gets bigger. I trust that Cano will break out of his slump and we will see the Cano we are used to seeing. The Yankees won’t reach the World Series if their bats don’t wake up; and it has to be now.
Doing so won’t be so easy as the Tigers pitching staff isn’t one to look past. With Verlander on the self until game three, Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45 ERA) will get the ball tonight and will be followed by Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA) in game two. These two hurlers will challenge the Yankee hitters by attacking the corners of the plate. They will trey to set the table for Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA) to push the Tigers over the top in game three. Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74 ERA) will start game four with his heavy fastball and high strike out volume (231 Ks). We all know that Verlander is the guy that paces the Detroit staff as the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP. The Tigers will need a lot out of their starters, as their bullpen has been shaky all season before turning the ball to the animated Jose Valverde.
The edge in bullpens is clearly on the Yankees side, especially after their strong performance against the Orioles. Having all the Yankee starts pitch deep into games have kept the arms fresh and ready to take on the Tigers. They will try to mix and match against the right-handed Cabrera and the lefty, Fielder. In the Tigers’ pen, the arms have been worked more against the A’s and have let up runs throughout the season. Their lefty ‘specialist’ Phil Coke is a former Yankee who never found his role and was sent packing. When Valverde gets the ball in the ninth for the Tigers he will be fist pumping, skipping and doing every other annoy ritual that he has. Now while all of his superstitions bother me, and a lot of other fans, he is a quality closer as he converted 35 of 40 save opportunities this season and was one for two against the A’s. The one he blew was in game four as Oakland put together an unforgettable inning to rally from behind to win the game.
The ALCS will revert back to the normal seven-game series schedule with the first two games in the Bronx, the next three in Detroit and games six and seven back in New York. This means the showdown between Sabathia and Verlander will be in Detroit in front of the Tigers faithful. The two will lock horns for the second time in game seven, if it becomes necessary-the baseball fan in me is praying for this; the Yankee fan- not so much. If the Yankees only want to face Verlander once, they need to win by game six.
I like how the Yankees pitching has looked recently and like how they match up against the Tigers staff. That won’t matter if the Yankee bats continue to struggle and fail to provide any run support. I would like to have faith that being able to win a series without producing a ton of runs will get them going in the right direction. Confidence plays a major roll in baseball and I think the Yankees have a lot to build on after beating Baltimore.
Prediction: Yankees in six as they win it back in the Bronx and Kuroda clinches his first series in Pinstripes!
Enjoy the series! Let’s Go Yankees!
You can follow me on Twitter @Justin_McElrath for in-game updates and post-game reaction.