After 162 games, the regular season is over and now it is time for the postseason as the New York Yankees head into the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees have claimed their 17th American League East crown as they are set to host the American League Central Champion Tigers in a best of five series starting Friday night in the Bronx.
The Yankees finished the 2011 season with a win-loss record of 97-65, which was good enough for the best record in the American League. The Tigers finished with a 95-67 record behind an outstanding season from ace-pitcher Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA).
Game one of the series will feature a pitching match up of two of the top pitchers in all of baseball, in Verlander and CC Sabathia. Verlander is in the talks of being considered for not only the American League Cy Young, but also the MVP award. The importance of Verlander in the Detroit rotation has been astronomical this year, as he has recorded 24 wins in 34 starts. Verlander has made two starts this year against the Yankees, both ending up in a Yankees wins. He gave up three runs in each of those outings, lasting six innings in each (both early in the season-one the season opener on March 31 in New York). According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Verlander has made 11 career starts against New York with an ERA about 4.00. The Yankees need Sabathia to have a strong counterpunch for everything Verlander does. In his own right, Sabathia has had a strong season falling just short of back-to-back 20-win seasons. In two starts against Detroit this season, Sabathia has allowed six earned runs in thirteen innings of work (including a head-to-head win over Verlander in the season opener). The Yankees will be counting heavily on Sabathia, as he will more than likely see two starts in this series, the second in game four on three-days rest.
The rotations behind both Sabathia and Verlander drop significantly from their aces to the rest of the starters. The Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland has made it public he will not use Verlander on short rest, but when push comes to shove, that opinion may change. As for games two, three and four, the Tigers are slated to pitch Doug Fister (11-13, 2.83 ERA), Max Scherzer (15-9, 4.43 ERA) and Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.75 ERA). When Fister was acquired from Seattle he immediately grabbed the number two spot in the Detroit rotation going 8-1 in his 11 starts. Fister faced the Yankees once while in Seattle throwing seven innings allowing three runs. Scherzer won both his starts against the Yankees, one eight-inning shutout and another six run, five-inning start. Porcello had a quality seven-inning two-run outing against the Yankees in May. The Tigers need the young rotation not to fall to big moment pressure in the playoffs and may need to throw Verlander more than once.
The Yankees will turn to Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA) to follow in games two and three. Manager Joe Girardi has announced that AJ Burnett will be available out of the bullpen for game three if needed. Nova has performed better than expected in his rookie campaign, even with a short stint to the minors due to a numbers game in the rotation. He hasn’t lost a decision since June 3 against the Angels, a streak of 16 starts. He has yet to face the Tigers this year, so he may hold an advantage over the Detroit lineup as he gets his first postseason start at home. Garcia has also been a pleasant surprise to the Yankee fans as he has given solid starts each time he takes the ball. His last start (six shutout innings) against the Red Sox gave him a stream of confidence as he returns to the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series with the White Sox in 2005. Garcia lost his one start against the Tigers in 2011 giving up four runs in seven innings. Sabathia will go in game four more than likely so Nova and Garcia will be expected to perform at a high level, and if they struggle, the bullpen will need to come up big.
Anchored by all-time great Mariano Rivera, and his untouchable postseason stats (42 saves and a 0.71 ERA), the Yankees bullpen will be expanded with the inclusion of Burnett. The setup bridge to get to Rivera has been solidified with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. The Tigers counter the Yankees bullpen with their own closer, Jose Valverde who converted all of his 49 save opportunities this season. The backend of the Detroit bullpen is solid as well with Joaquin Benoit and Daniel Schlereth. Whichever team’s offense gets an early lead will have a big advantage closing out the game with their strong bullpens.
The offenses are both littered with all-stars and top players all over the field. The Tigers come in with all-star first baseman, and American League Batting Champion, Miguel Cabrera leading their offense. Designated hitter Victor Martinez, catcher Alex Avila and outfielders Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young round out the Tigers line up. Cabrera ended the year with a .344 average to go with his 30 home runs and 105 RBI. Martinez and Avila serve as Cabrera’s protection in the lineup and former Yankees prospect, Jackson provides speed and excitement. The Tigers offense ranked third in baseball in team average, eleventh in home runs, fourth in runs scored but finished dead last with only 49 stolen bases on the season.
To counter, the Yankees ranked fourth in baseball in stolen bases with 147 swipes. They also finished seventh in team average, first in home runs and second in runs scored. This came behind MVP-like seasons from outfielder Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, who finished first and second in the American League RBI race. Granderson finished the season with 41 home runs and 119 RBI while Cano had an average of .302 and 28 home runs and 118 RBI. The offense is deep with Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada. The line up has depth, power, speed and flexibility and will provide the Yankees pitchers with more than enough run support to be effective in the series.
The schedule for the first three games have been announced as 8:37 pm starts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the first two games will take place in the Bronx, then the teams will head to Detroit for game three, and four if it is necessary.
The pitching in game one will be the headline story going into the game, but the tone of the series will be determined by which offense can be more productive and consistent. The Yankees offense is too deep for the middle of the Tigers’ rotation, especially if they don’t get a chance to use Verlander a second time.
I think the Yankees win game one in a tight, low scoring affair, possibly heading to extras as neither Sabathia nor Verlander factor into the decision. A win in game two and a 2-0 series lead will put the Yankees in the driver seat heading to Detroit. Game three will see a Tigers win as they get to Garcia early and Burnett will give the Yankees a chance but the hole will be too deep. The Yankees come back to Sabathia in game four as the Tigers, behind Leyland are stubborn and refuse to pitch Verlander in their elimination game. This comes back to haunt the Tigers, as Sabathia throws a gem to send the Yanks to the American League Championship Series as they beat the Tigers, 3-1 in the ALDS.
Enjoy the games and root, root, root for the YANKEES!!
NYYUniverse.com Staff Writer
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