Athlon previews the ALCS showdown between the Tigers and Yankees.
On Sept. 17, the Tigers lost a make-up game to the White Sox that dropped Detroit three games behind Chicago in the American League Central and not even in the wild card discussion. The Tigers finished 11-5 and flipped the standings ending the season with a three-game lead over Chicago. During that time, the Tigers’ starting pitching found a groove. The Yankees, on the other hand, took over first place on June 11 and built a 10-game lead by mid-July before hanging on over Baltimore down the stretch.
The Yankees won six of 10 meetings during the regular season. CC Sabathia struck out 20 in 21.1 innings and allowed 20 hits in his three starts agains the Tigers this season. Sabathia will face Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander in Game 3 and again in Game 7 if the series goes down to the wire. Both pitched complete games in their respective Game 5s in the Division Series.
Keys for Detroit
The Tigers’ offense begins and ends with the two big guys in the middle, triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and his protection Prince Fielder. But the Tigers will live and die with starting pitching. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez combined to go 12-4 with a 2.21 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in September. That level of performance continued in the playoffs. Detroit starters held Oakland hitters to a .176 average in their five-game series. They had 41 strikeouts but allowed just 21 hits and 10 walks. Setup man Joaquin Benoit, and especially Jose Valverde, were horrible in the ALDS. That can’t help Jim Leyland’s confidence in his bullpen, which was so good last season. That will put added pressure on the starters to go deeper in games.
Keys for New York
The Yankees must get their bats going. They hit just .211 in the five games with Baltimore. Manager Joe Girardi was able to push all the right buttons, but the lineup can’t rely on clutch swings off the bench to carry the team through a seven-game series. Girardi, who was dealing with the death of his father, was masterful in the Division Series. Whether it was pinch-hitting twice for Alex Rodriguez with the game on the line or benching his aging star for Game 5, Girardi earned his money with tough decisions. But only Derek Jeter (.364) and Mark Teixeira (.353) hit better than .217 off Baltimore pitching. A-Rod wasn’t the only hitter struggling.
Tigers to Watch
Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister will each get two starts if the series goes six games. Fister won his only start against New York this season, but Sanchez was hit hard, lasting just three innings with seven earned runs in his start. First baseman Fielder didn’t have a good series against Oakland stats-wise, but looking a little deeper into his at-bats reveals that he was hitting the ball well. He was robbed of at least four hits with good defensive plays and backed up Oakland outfielders to the track on more than one occasion. If his line drives begin to find holes, he’ll be tough for New York hurlers to deal with.
Yankees to Watch
Lefthander Clay Rapada will have some opportunities to neutralize Fielder. But he could be used to get more than just lefties out. Players on the Tigers roster are 1-13 off Rapada with the only hit by Quintin Berry. Rodriguez and his fragile psyche will certainly grab media attention whether he is in the lineup and no matter where he is in the batting order. But A-Rod isn’t the only Yankee struggling. Second baseman Robinson Cano, who was so good down the stretch, is just 2-for-22.
Detroit in 5
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)