Verlander vs. the offense:
Believe it or not, the Yankees have actually had some success against Verlander in his career, which isn’t terribly important, but they’ve also done pretty well against him this season as well. They’ve got 25 hits in 20.1 innings off of him, and they’ve won two of the three games he’s started against them in 2012. In those victories they racked up 16 hits and 10 runs, 7 earned, in 12.1 innings, with four home runs (remember kids, good pitchers never give up the long ball!), and striking out just eight times compared to four walks, all of which came on June 3rd. On the other hand, the last time Verlander faced the Yankees he was downright dominant, holding the Yankees to nine hits, a walk, and two unearned runs while matching a career high with 14 strikeouts in eight innings of work.
It’s tempting to try to find a dozen ways to break down a match up like this, but when you boil it down it’s really pretty simple: the outcome will be decided by how in command of his unbelievable stuff Verlander is, and how able the Yankees’ offense is to square the ball up if he makes a mistake. There’s no sitting on one pitch or trying to execute a precise plan of attack when facing a pitcher like this, it’s very much see ball, hit ball, pray ball goes a long way.
I played this game during the ALDS with some success, so let me say again that I think it’s time for Joe Girardi to shake up his lineup a bit. In addition to getting Brett Gardner in there, somehow, the Yankees’ manager should park Alex Rodriguez back on the bench against Verlander, and should also start Eduardo Nunez at shortstop instead of Jayson Nix. Yes, I know Nunez is a liability in the field, but Nix is hardly the second coming of Ozzie Smith, and Nunez’s speed could be a huge help on the offensive side of things given the spacious outfield at Comerica Park. Run into one ball and put it in the gap, or hit one past Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder and into a corner and you could find yourself with an instant base runner on third base. Plus, if there’s one thing that Verlander doesn’t really do well it’s control the running game, so you might as well double down on speed, all else being equal.
Hughes vs. the Tigers:
Phil Hughes had a tremendous start against the Orioles, striking out eight batters over 6.2 innings in what ultimately would prove to be a losing effort, but now he needs to turn in an even bigger performance in a much more challenging circumstance tonight. Hughes has some mixed results against Detroit this season, turning in his best effort in a complete game, four hit effort on June 3rd, but also failing to last five innings in his last start against them during the Yankees last trip to Detroit. He should have a full bullpen to work with behind him, but to avoid those middle relievers Hughes needs to turn in six quality innings of work. Hopefully he can get the supporting cast out enough to work around Cabrera and Fielder, the two guys you’d really look at as threats to the homer prone Hughes.
On the road again, thank Jobu:
Usually you want to play at home during the postseason, but I have to think the Yankees, especially the hitters, have to be happy to get out of what became a very tense environment at Yankee Stadium over the past five games. And call me crazy, but I think that, in a way, the offense may actually stand to play better under the circumstances. I remember telling a friend back in 2008 that the Cubs had no chance to win the ALDS after Game One, because they were playing like, well, the Cubs. That is, they were acutely aware of their franchise’s tortured past, and seemed to expect things to go wrong at any minute. That led to everyone playing tight, not wanting to be the one to yutz things up, and of course yutzing everything up as a result.
The Yankees of this year and 2011 seem to have the same problem, but from the opposite angle. They look like they play a little bit tight, afraid to lose even, but because they know that they’re supposed to win. So by extension you get Robinson Cano trying to win the World Series with every swing, Nick Swisher trying to rewrite his October biography at every turn, etc. Now that everyone is writing them off and the situation seems hopeless, I can almost see them having some pressure let off of their shoulders tonight. It might not be enough, or be too little too late, but stranger things have happened, and will happen again. Or maybe I’m just trying to give myself a reason to want to watch the game.