The Athletics and Orioles couldn’t prevent the Tigers and Yankees from meeting in the postseason for the second straight year. Detroit eliminated New York in the ALDS last year, needing five games to advance.
Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia were needed in the decisive game of the first round, keeping them from the mound in Game 1 of the ALCS. Jim Leyland and Joe Girardi will start with Doug Fister and Andy Pettitte, leaving the aces to pitch in the middle and perhaps again at the end of the series.
Both teams enjoyed tremendous pitching performances and below-average offensive production in the first round, a trend that at least seems unlikely to extend much further into October. The Yankees had a 1.76 ERA against the Orioles, only slightly better than the 2.06 ERA posted by the Tigers against the A’s. The teams combined for 92 strikeouts in less than 95 innings.
New York averaged nearly five runs per contest in the regular season, while Detroit posted 4.5 runs over 162 games. Much better than the less than 3.5 runs they scored in the division series.
Looking for a reason why? Take a look at these stat lines from the ALDS:
Robinson Cano, NYY: .091/.130/.182, 4 RBI, 3 Ks
Nick Swisher, NYY: .111/.190/.111, 1 RBI, 5 Ks
Alex Rodriguez, NYY: .125/.222./.125, 9Ks
Curtis Granderson, NYY: .158/.200/.316, 1 HR, 9 Ks
Prince Fielder, DET: .190/.227/.333, 1 HR, 2 Ks
Miguel Cabrera, DET: .250/.318/.350, 1 RBI
They advanced in spite of those numbers because of superb pitching and surprising contributions from unlikely heroes. Raul Ibanez went 4-for-9 with two home runs and three RBI and a walk. Austin Jackson delivered three RBI and some timely hitting.
It would be safe to assume that neither team can sustain their current level of pitching, especially if we see the offenses wake up with a trip to the World Series up for grabs. I don’t mean to overstate the importance of one aspect of the game, but the Yankees looked so bad at the plate for most of the Baltimore series that things could go one of two ways.
They’ll either continue to struggle at the plate and the Tigers will cruise into the Fall Classic or the bats will come alive, at varying times and often on the same night, and Detroit will find it difficult to keep up with what, on paper, is a superior offense. The Yankees hit 82 more home runs than the Tigers in the regular season, but as we saw in the division series you can live and die by the long ball.
New York has hit just four home runs in five playoff games after averaging 1.51 bombs in the regular season.
Another interesting angle is that Sabathia and Verlander won’t face off head-to-head unless seven games are needed. New York won’t start Sabathia until Game 4, while Verlander will take the mound for Detroit in Game 3. Verlander would then be ready to start Game 7 on regular rest, while CC would likely go on short rest. Verlander and Sabathia accounted for four of their team’s six wins in the ALDS. If one accounts for another pair of wins in the ALCS, odds are high that his team will represent the American League against San Francisco or St. Louis.
New York’s pitching staff will have to handle the one-two combination of Cabrera and Fielder, while also keeping the supporting cast from entering themselves into October lore. That is easier said than done. On the other hand, Detroit will look to keep the Yankees off balance as the Orioles did so effectively.
Rodriguez will continue to receive the attention that comes along with a nine-figure contract and nine strikeouts in less than four full games. While he is hitting sixth in Game 1, it seems unlikely that he’ll start every game. Of course, that could change if he strings together a few hits on Saturday night. Ibanez is a better option at DH, but Eric Chavez isn’t a much better call at third base. He is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the postseason.
If nothing else, Rodriguez has helped some of his teammates with his lack of production. It wasn’t until TBS used several graphics on Friday night (with A-Rod out of the lineup) that Cano, Swisher and Granderson were highlighted for their ugly at-bats.
The trio was a combined 7-for-59 with 17 strikeouts in five games. Cano and Swisher combined to strike out eight times, no small feat as they are two of the hardest hitters to strike out in the AL.
The Tigers can win this series playing the way they did against the Athletics: getting strong performances from their starters, middling production from their lineup and timely hitting. The Yankees, however, can’t advance without a resurgence from their batting order, especially the heart of the order.
For that reason, I’m taking the Tigers in six games. I do believe that Cano will break out of his slumber, but you can’t expect Ibanez to be as effective in spot duty and have to anticipate a regression from Derek Jeter, who hit .364 despite striking out eight times against Baltimore.
A year after falling to the Rangers in the ALCS, the Tigers will play in the World Series and a year after being sent home by Detroit, New York will face the same feat once again.