Andrew Perna. 30th September, 2011 - 2:55 pm
The Yankees and Tigers opened the 2011 season on March 31 in New York with CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander on the mound. So it is fitting that they will begin the playoffs in the exact same fashion.
Unlike the Rangers and Rays, these two teams lined up their starting rotations in the final few days of the season. We will see Ivan Nova and Doug Fister in Game 2 and then Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer in the third game.
The last time these two teams met in the postseason, back in 2006, the Tigers took the ALDS in four games. More importantly, Detroit won the season series 4-3 over New York this year.
If you take just a quick glance, the Yankees look like the far superior offensive team. They led all of baseball with 222 home runs and scored 5.35 runs per game, second to only the Red Sox. The Tigers hit 169 homers (11th) and scored 4.86 runs per game (fourth).
The difference is not that vast, however, with the Yankees edge in on-base percentage (.343 to .341), slugging (.444 to .434) and OPS (.788 to .773) much less comfortable.
If the Yankees do have a true advantage, it is in terms of depth. Miguel Cabrera may be a slightly better pure hitter than Robinson Cano, but the second baseman has more help around him.
Jim Leyland trots out four very dangerous hitters in Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila. The quartet all had an OBP of .345 or higher and at least 82 RBIs. The issue with Detroit is their lack of speed. Austin Jackson, a former Yankee prospect, led the team with 22 steals. The next highest total on the team is five.
Brett Gardner stole 49 bases for New York, the same total the Tigers had as a team. The Yankees had three other players with more than 15 steals. Joe Girardi has a unit that can rely on the home run, while also playing a bit of small ball on the bases.
The Yankees have five regular contributions with on-base percentages higher than .350, which does not include Cano (.349). New York also had six players with more than 15 home runs (Andruw Jones had 13 and Jorge Posada had 14).
Mark Teixeira has struggled with his non-power numbers, but he lit up Detroit pitching in seven regular-season games. He went 7-for-25 with four home runs, eight RBI and five walks. Posada, the postseason DH, went 7-for-27 with two homers and six RBI.
It is worth noting that Curtis Granderson, an MVP candidate, struggled against his former team this year. He was just 4-for-25 with one extra-base hit (a homer) and five strikeouts in seven games.
The Yankees had a surprisingly reliable and consistent rotation (aside from A.J. Burnett) this season despite their patchwork nature. If you would have put Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova in postseason rotation six months ago, you probably would have cited the apocalypse.
New York had a team ERA of 3.73, a quarter of a run better than the 4.04 ERA of Detroit. Similar to the offensive numbers, the gap between these two teams is smaller than the initial statistics suggest.
The Yankees allowed hitters to post a .322 OBP, a .399 SLG and .721 OPS. The Tigers were right there with an opposing OBP of .321, SLG of .396 and OPS of .717.
Sabathia will start on short rest in a potential Game 4, making the New York trio of starters a combined 0-2 in three starts during the regular season. Nova did not face the Tigers this season and both Sabathia (4.15) and Garcia (5.14) had ERAs much higher than their totals for the year.
Leyland has said that Verlander will not start on short rest in the ALDS, meaning Sabathia will face Rick Porcello in Game 4. Verlander and Scherzer were a combined 2-0 with 12 earned runs allowed in 25 innings against the Yankees in 2011. Doug Fister did not face New York as a member of the Tigers.
Verlander, the clear-cut AL Cy Young and serious MVP contender, was human against the Yankees in his two starts. He lasted six innings in both his appearances, allowing three runs in each. That represents a quality start, but is clearly less than what we have come to expect from Verlander.
He is still the best pitcher in this series (sorry, CC).
The Tigers have been playing extremely well over the last month, while the Yankees rested and gathered themselves over the final few days of the regular season. Granderson has just one hit in his last 20 at-bats to go along with his struggles against Detroit earlier in the year.
The key to this series is Verlander. He will pitch again in a potential Game 5, but the Tigers could really take hold of this short series if the right-hander were to go on short rest in Game 4. Detroit does not know what they will get from the young Porcello and marching him out to the mound against Sabathia would be scary if the Yankees are a win from advancing.
Winning Game 1 would make the remainder of the series a lot easier for the Tigers and Leyland, quite obviously. They would only need to win one of the next three games to ensure a deciding fifth game with their prized righty on the bump again.
Yankees in Five