Thursday in the Bronx is a sudden-death, winner take all showdown between the Yankees and Tigers; one of the more exciting events in all of sports. The atmosphere should be electric so the Yankees will feed off their crowd, but if they want a rematch with the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, three things are crucial to their success:
1. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira… and Nick Swisher.
After Game 2 I wrote that A-Rod and Teixeira are key to the Yankees winning this series because Robinson Cano would continue to be pitched around unless they provide some protection. Nothing has changed. Add in Swisher, and the Yankees’ 4-5-6 positions in the lineup were dreadful through three games. Entering Game 4, they were hitting a combined .094 (3-for-32) with only one home run.
Things seemed to turn around last night; A-Rod had a great at bat in the 5th inning that ended in an important sacrifice-fly to make the score 4-1. Alex later collected his first two hits of the series in the 8th inning, when Teixeira also helped end his slump with a swinging-bunt single down the third-base line. Even though he didn’t hit the ball hard, a hit like that can make you relax and go a long way to breaking a slump. Swisher gained confidence as well with an 8th inning single (which marked the first time in the series the Yankees’ 4-5-6 hitters all reached base consecutively).
The Yankees should be able to get to Fister if the middle of the order is producing with good at bats, making it tougher on him to go deep in the game.
2. The Bullpens.
Detroit knows that Game 5 will essentially be a 6 inning game. If Nova and Fister cancel each other out, the Yankees should win the game. The Yankees’ pen has been their strength all season and tremendous in this series. Excluding Nova because his relief appearance was technically a start in Game 1, and Ayala because he has absolutely no shot at pitching in Game 5, the Yankees bullpen has thrown 9 innings with 12 strike outs, one hit, and one run. The Tigers’ pen on the other hand has been horrible. Alburquerque—someone Detroit counted on all season to set-up Valverde—has looked lost even if his manager has not exactly put him in the best situations to succeed. Leyland will probably be hesitant to pitch left-handers Phil Coke because he really struggled in Game 4, and Daniel Schlereth because the Yankees are much better versus left-handers than right (A-Rod, Teixeira, and Swisher’s consecutive hits in the 8th inning yesterday came off a left-hander). And despite Valverde still being perfect on the season, he has allowed 6 base runners in 2 innings pitched this series. The Yankees’ number one priority should be to get Fister’s pitch-count up, hopefully chasing him from the game sooner rather than later.
3. Get the lead.
There are few pitchers who perform better with the lead than Ivan Nova, but Doug Fister is one of them. Nova has had great run support this season and he knows how to pitch with the lead. When Nova is in cruise control he is throwing the ball down in the strike zone, getting a lot of ground balls. It is difficult to score multiple runs against a sinker-baller who is on his game because it takes consecutive hits to score runs (since extra base hits are harder to come by). The same can be said of Doug Fister. Both of these sinker-ballers are better with the lead, so forcing the opposing team to come from behind and hit with runners on base will be critical.
NYYUniverse.com Staff Writer
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