What they’ve done against each other:
The two teams played ten games against each other this season, with the Yankees winning the series 6-4. What’s more, two of those Tigers victories came in games started by Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, including the game that got Garcia bounced from the rotation in favor of David Phelps at the end of April, while the Yankees won two games in which Justin Verlander started. That’s a pretty lopsided performance, if you ask me, but of course none of it counts over the next week.
The Tigers had an above average offense, posting a wRC+ of 105 over the season. That was good for a tie with the Rangers for the third best mark in the American League, but dig a little deeper and you get a different picture of the Detroit offense. To be precise, it’s an offense with three very good hitters, one excellent platoon hitter, and then a combination of more or less average to very bad hitters. Obviously the big thunder comes from triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera (166 wRC+) and Fielder (153 wRC+), with Austin Jackson (135 wRC+) setting the table for them. After that, it gets pretty dodgy. Andy Dirks is great against right handed pitchers, owning a .336/.375/.515 slash line against them, while being limited to just 83 plate appearances against southpaws. Catcher Alex Avila is their only other above average regular, with a 104 wRC+, while Jhonny Peralta (86 wRC+), Omar Infante (78 wRC+), Delmon Young (89 wRC+), Brennan Boesch (77 wRC+), Ramon Santiago (53 wRC+), and Quintin Berry (89 wRC+) give you a pretty good indication of why this team under performed preseason expectations so drastically. The problem should be exaggerated int he context of a postseason series as well, as the Yankees should be able to deploy their best relievers as aggressively as they like against those three stars, and hope that it won’t take as much to get the rest of the Detroit lineup out.
The Yankees’ offense? Well, let’s not talk about that. They scored three runs in regulation yesterday, and that felt like a break through. They could obviously go off at any time, however, and the Tigers’ right handed heavy staff could provide a good match up for them.
At the moment, this is the strength of both teams on paper. The Yankees got excellent outings in each of their games with Baltimore, and the Tigers also have four starters who can keep them in the game on any night. Thanks to being unable to close out the A’s in less than five games, the Tigers won’t use Justin Verlander until Game Three, and then again until Game Seven. That means that the Yankees will have a chance to win the series in six games without having to face Verlander more than once, but that’s easier said than done, obviously. Detroit will also hold back their second best pitcher, strikeout maven Max Scherzer, until Game Four, meaning that the Yankees will play six games while facing Detroit’s best pitcher only twice, combined. Unfortunately for them, Doug Fister (3.42 FIP) and Anibal Sanchez (3.68 FIP) are no slouches themselves. This should definitely be a very entertaining match up as far as the teams’ respective starters are concerned. Of course, no discussion of Detroit’s pitching would be complete without mentioning their atrocious infield defense, so as long as the Yankees can put the ball in play they should find plenty of chances to score.
The Yankees really got hosed by Bud Selig’s brilliant plan to ham-fist the second wild card into the already existing postseason schedule. Not only did they have to play the first two games of the ALDS on the road, but since that series went the distance, they now don’t get an off day between the ALDS and ALCS, which presents a real dilemma for their starting rotation. To wit: the Yankees will have to choose between starting C.C. Sabathia in Game Four on normal rest, or pushing him up to Game Three to face Verlander with three days of rest. More starkly, they must either have David Phelps make a spot start in Game Two of the ALCS!, or bring Hiroki Kuroda back on short rest to avoid having to use their fifth starter. Detroit might have forced themselves to push Verlander back, but they’ll at least have a close facsimile of the four man rotation they would like to use without being forced to use anyone on short rest.
This is where the Yankees have a big advantage in the series. Their bullpen was absolutely fantastic against the Orioles, allowing just one run over four games in which they participated, and that run came off of Phelps in the 13th inning of Game Four. Detroit, meanwhile, is kind of a mess, with both closer Jose Valverde and set up man Joaquin Benoit being something of a liability right now. Valverde blew a two run lead in the ninth inning of Game Four in Oakland and allows quite a few too many baserunnrs, while Benoit turned into a home run machine this year, allowing a whopping 1.77 HR/9. He still strikes out a ton of batters, but to say he’s been hittable would be an understatement. Octavio Dotel is probably their most dependable reliever, and Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque do add some depth to the unit.
What do you do with A-Rod?:
Finally, a question that could present a real challenge for Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi. Girardi opted to sit Alex Rodriguez in Game Five against Baltimore yesterday after A-Rod showed himself to be wholly over-matched by right handed pitchers in the series, and now they’ve drawn an ALCS opponent who will throw almost nothing but righties at the Yankees, both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. In fact you could pretty easily argue that Alex, not Eduardo Nunez, should have been removed from the roster altogether. Will Girardi be willing to relegate A-Rod to the bench for the whole series and make Eric Chavez the starting third baseman, or will A-Rod be back in the lineup until the season is once again on the line. Chavez didn’t exactly do anything to lay a claim to the spot yesterday, so my guess is that we’ll see A-Rod back there tonight, but if he continues to be dominated by same side pitchers there will be a quickly growing chorus of naysayers wondering when Girardi will yank him again.