Friday, September 30, 2011
Yankees vs. Tigers ALDS Preview
Seems like just yesterday I was writing about Yankees and CC Sabathia's opening day against The Tigers and Justin Verlander. Here we are 5 months, 162 games, and countless Milwaukee's Bests and utz pretzel sticks later and we've come full circle. CC vs. Bottle's pick for MVP tonight at Yankee Stadium. Tomorrow is officially the beginning of October, but the first baseball playoff game always means September's done and it's time to get serious.
Although this is a rematch of the 06 ALDS, not too much remains the same from that forgettable (for the Yankees) series. Gary Sheffield still hung out in right field, MVP candidate Curtis Granderson played was in the other uniform, Chien Ming-Wang was still considered an ace (picking up the Yanks only win of the series) and Justin Verlander was but a fresh faced albeit very good rookie. What the series is probably best remembered for in New York is Joe Torre's odd decision to bat the struggling A-Rod 8th in the elimination game 4. To be fair to Joe, A-Rod played about as bad as a baseball player could in that series (this was before his great 09 run erased all of this from our memories) and he probably deserved a demotion but that was probably not the time or place to sit your MVP. Anyway, these days Hater J's least favorite human being is an afterthought as he's barely played over the last few months. Any production out of him should be considered a bonus by the Yanks.
The big story this series will be the big, bad, scary Justin Verlander who has dominated the league this year, leading the AL in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, ERA, winning percentage, WHIP, hits per 9 innings, national anthems sung, and bags of peanuts sold. Every outing is a possible no-hitter and/or complete game. He's kind of a throwback to an era when pitchers were expected to go 8 every start before Girardi's clip boards and La Russa's over-managing. The prevailing theory around NY and the rest of baseball was you want to avoid Detroit at all costs so you don't have to see Verlander twice in a 5 game series. He's this year's version of Cliff Lee. But, despite the gaudy numbers against everyone else, the Yanks should be able to take a little bit of comfort in the fact that they were 2-0 against Verlander this season and in both outings, he couldn't make it out of the 6th inning, something that isn't so bad for most mere mortal pitchers, but is practically unheard of in his case. If the Bombers can keep that same pressure on him during this series, they should be in good shape. And if Sabathia can recapture some of his midseason form (when he was almost as dominant as Verlander) then it could be a short series. CC seemed to struggle on extended rest this season as the Yankees experimented with a 6 man rotation in search of solid corps. But now that everything's settled, AJ Burnett is thankfully relegated to the bullpen where he can do minimal damage and Freddy Garcia is being thrown out there in game 3, CC should be back in his comfort zone. The pitching rotation has been the big question mark all season and it will be interesting to see how the Yankee's rookie sensation (Nova) and resurrected veteran (Garcia) perform in the spotlight.
As far as the offenses stack up, the Yankees have an advantage with their two MVP candidates (Granderson and Cano) leading the way. Mark Teixiera needs to improve his postseason offensive play, which thus far outside of one memorable home run against the Twins in 09 has been very dissapointing. As I mentioned before, A-Rod has gone from the focus to a bit of an unknown for this playoffs, and who knows, that might actually work in his and the Yankees benefit. Even with his monster 09 numbers, A-Rod has seemed to be affected by the attention and pressure in years past. Now that some of the burden has been shifted to other players, maybe number 13 can relax and let his talent speak for itself. As for the Tigers, they're led by a rejuvenated PTU keeping it real hero (we won't take complete credit for his resurgence) Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers have a somewhat overlooked potent offense. I say this since the spectacular play of Verlander can overshadow the rest of the team. But beware, Yankee fans, the Tigers are not a one man team. In fact, as Hater J pointed out, they were 4th in runs scored so we should expect some high scoring games over the next week and a half. I give the Yankees an edge here, though, as they have the more experienced and talented lineup.
All in all, these teams are more evenly matched than some media outlets and fans are portraying them. The Yankees cruise to a division title was really more a by product of Boston's crappyness then anything they did, so fans shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security and smugness (something I'll sadly admit Yankee fans do better than anyone else). Hell, if Boston had played a little over .500 ball in September we might not even be talking about this today and would instead be posting about Octoberfest or something. That being said, I expect a closely contested series with the Yankees getting to Verlander tonight and then doing enough in the next 4 games to win in 5 at home next Friday.
Note: I'll be at the game tonight and will attempt to capture some magic moments in pictures for PTU. Let's go Yanks!