The Yankees are breathing a sigh of relief after taking the fifth game of the ALDS from the Orioles. They don’t have any time to relax, though: game one of the ALCS is tomorrow vs. the Tigers. Detroit, like the rest of the MLB teams moving on, won their game five matchup. Justin Verlander led the way last night tossing a complete game shutout.
In the regular season, the Tigers finished 88-74, which was short of their high expectations. Regardless, they won the central much in thanks to a weak division and a Chicago White Sox team that faded down the stretch.
The Yankees have faced the Tigers twice in recent years, and lost both times: 2006 ALDS and last season’s ALDS. Obviously, these are independent events and mean nothing to this upcoming series, but it just an interesting historical note. Now for the team preview:
The Offense/Position Players
You can’t start discussing the Tigers offense without talking about Miguel Cabrera right off the bat. The potential 2012 MVP won the triple crown, batting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. He led the league in wOBA (.417), and was tied for first in wRC+ with Mike Trout (166). Scary numbers. The lone negative for Cabrera? His defense at third base: -10 UZR.
With the addition of Prince Fielder last winter, there’s no sigh of relief after Cabrera hits. Fielder gets on base at a .412 clip, just a bit better than Cabrera (.393). Plus, 30 home runs, 108 RBIs, and a solid .313 batting average all adds up to a beastly 153 wRC+. Fielder is better vs. righties (171 wRC+), but it’s not like you can match up against him with a lefty (122 wRC+). Prince is also a poor fielder, but not as bad as Cabrera, finishing with a -2.1 UZR.
There are two more guys in their lineup with a wRC+ above 130: Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks. Jackson, of course, was part of the deal that brought Curtis Granderson to New York. He’s turned into a really nice player for Detroit, with a .300/.377/.479 slash line, while playing good defense (4.1 UZR). The lefty Dirks is more of a weapon vs. righties (140 wRC+), but can hit southpaws above average (109 wRC+).
Next in line is catcher Alex Avila, whose wRC+ dropped from 140 to 104 this season. The guy gets on base though: 14.1% BB rate. After Avila, everyone else is below average in terms of wRC+.
Avisail Garcia, the young 21 year old outfielder may be seen against lefties. His overall wRC+ is below average, but he does have a slightly above average mark vs. southpaws: 107. Delmon Young was the same way in 2012: 125 vs. lefties, 73 against righties.
Although shortstop Jhonny Peralta has proven to be a pretty bad hitter (86 wRC+), he’s posted two consecutive good defensive seasons at his position: back-to-back years of 9.9 UZR. His double play partner at second base, Omar Infante, was acquired from Miami midseason. Like Peralta, Infante can’t hit (92 wRC+), but players good defense (9.0 UZR).
Lastly, Brennan Boesch regressed big time in 2012, finishing with a 77 wRC+. It’s not like the left hand hitting outfielder is at least mashing righties, either: 79 wRC+.
I would expect game one to go to Doug Fister, who last pitched Sunday’s game two. In all likelihood, he’d be facing Andy Pettitte. Fister would be going on six days rest. From there, Anibal Sanchez could pitch game two on full rest against whoever the Yankees decide to use as a fifth starter, since they’ll be playing five games in five days. I would anticipate that game to go to David Phelps. Game three goes to ace Justin Verlander on full rest, likely against Hiroki Kuroda. Game four is Max Scherzer’s, which will likely be CC Sabathia’s first game. Joe Girardi could opt to go CC on short rest for game three, which allows him to use CC again in game seven on full rest if necessary. Games five and six would go to Sanchez and Fister, who would face off again vs. Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Game seven: Sabathia vs. Verlander.
Verlander is obviously Detroit’s best pitcher – no explanation needed if you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention to baseball in the past few years. Scherzer had an excellent 2012 as well though, making for a solid 1-2 punch. Max fans a ton of batters (11.08 K/9), which could be a nightmare for Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson. With his solid control (2.88 BB/9), he posted a good 3.74 ERA, but an even better 3.23 xFIP and 2.99 SIERA. Third in line is Doug Fister: 3.45 ERA, 3.39 xFIP, 3.43 SIERA in 161.2 innings. Anibal Sanchez makes this one of the deepest postseason rotations: 3.86 ERA, 3.60 xFIP, 3.64 SIERA.
Considering the Yankees’ need to use five pitchers, Detroit undoubtedly has a huge advantage in the rotation.
While not a bad bullpen, this is where it gets a little dicey for Detroit. Their closer, Jose Valverde, blew five saves in 40 chances this regular season, and his blown save in game four of the ALDS may have cost them the series if not for Verlander. Valverde’s K/9 is way down this season compared to his career mark: 6.26 vs 9.91. His ERA is OK (3.78), but his 5.01 xFIP and 4.42 SIERA tells more of the story.
Their main set-up man is Joaquin Benoit, who’s pretty nasty: 10.65 K/9, and a 3.68 ERA backed up by a 3.29 xFIP and 2.66 SIERA. Other key bullpen members: Octavio Dotel, Bryan Villareal, and Phil Coke. Dotel and Villareal both have a K/9 above 9, while Coke comes in at 8.5. Coke, another piece in the Granderosn deal, is Leyland’s go to guy vs. lefties; he holds them to a .256 batting average and .298 wOBA.
I have a feeling this series is going to take all seven games to decide. I think the Yankees will probably split the first two at home, then lose game three in Detroit vs. Verlander. I feel good about Sabathia evening it up in game four, with Pettitte following it up with a good performance in game five. I suppose the Yankees could win game six to end it (Phil Hughes vs. Anibal Sanchez), but gut is telling me the Tigers will force a game seven at the stadium. Sabathia and Verlander is essentially a tossup in game seven, so I’m just going to give the Yanks the nod since they’re at home.
Look, there’s no doubt the Yankees offense was an embarassment for the majority of the series against Baltimore. They have to be due for a correction sooner than later, right? I would expect them to perform a bit better against Detroit, even though Tiger pitching is superior to Baltimore.
Lastly, I think the Detroit bullpen could be a big factor in this series. Valverde had a shaky 2012 and has already blown one save this postseason, so it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in a tight game this series.
Setting my prediction in stone: Yanks in 7.
UPDATE (10/13, 4:26 PM)
In a somewhat surprising decision, the Yankees announced that Hiroki Kuroda will pitch game two on short rest. What this essentially means is that the Yankees don’t want to trust the rookie Phelps, and are willing to roll the dice on Kuroda without normal rest.
They also announced Hughes for game three, and CC for game four. However, If the Yankees are down 2-0, I wouldn’t be stunned if they bump up CC to game three on short rest. Lastly, if this one goes seven, you know CC will be ready.
Andy still pitches games one and five, while Kuroda now two and six. It’s notable that Kuroda pitches both games at home, where he has remarkably better numbers. That’s the same reason he pitched game three instead of two in the ALDS.
One other roster note: Eduardo Nunez is off the roster in favor of Cody Eppley. Detroit’s only lefty is out of the bullpen (Coke), so he probably wouldn’t see much time, if any. He would have been the second pinch runner behind Gardner.
This news doesn’t alter my prediction: I’m still sticking with Yankees in seven.