American League Championship Series Preview and Prediction
Last weekend, I predicted a New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers American League Championship Series and after a week of tough, gritty baseball games, I was correct. Before I break down the ALCS, I must give credit to where credit is due. The Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics were not supposed to have had the type of seasons either of them had. They were both tough nosed, clutch and a lot of fun to watch. Each team was able to grind out a Game 5, and unfortunately for the A’s and O’s, neither team could match the Ace pitchers Justin Verlander or C.C. Sabathia. Kudos to both Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin for managing their clubs to the brink of the ALCS. The Yankees and Tigers can breathe a sigh of relief for a few hours today, but then get back at it tonight. In last year’s ALDS, these teams played each other evenly, however the Tigers ousted the Yankees in Game 5 in the Bronx, ending the Bomber season prematurely. The two teams also matched up in the 2006 ALDS, which was won by Detroit in 4 games, a series remembered by Joe Torre’s decision to bat A-Rod 8th (not too much has changed). The Yankees have revenge on their minds and this is how I see the ALCS breaking down…
Yankees Lineup: Theoretically, the Yankees will have a lineup consisting of Jeter, Ichiro, Cano, Teixeria, Rodriguez, Ibanez, Swisher, Granderson, and Martin. This lineup would consist of 3 future hall of famers and 9 players who have made All-Star games in their career. However, the big wild card in this lineup is A-Rod. After his Game 5 benching, it is unclear as to how much playing time he will receive in the next round. Eric Chavez batted over .500 against Detroit this year, and the fact that all the Tigers pitchers are right handed might lead Girardi to keep Rodriguez riding the pine. Everyone except Derek Jeter and Raul Ibanez struggled against the Orioles, especially Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson prior to his Game 5 homer. I expect the Yankees to come out of their slump and start hitting like they are capable of. As far as I’m concerned, it is mostly up to Robinson Cano to pick his game up, because he is the one player capable of matching the fire power that Miguel Cabrera brings to the Tigers. This is a veteran team, lead by Derek Jeter and they will look at the Orioles series victory as a narrow escape which can lead to a chance for bigger things to happen with the bats.
Detroit Tigers Lineup: The Tigers lineup as I mentioned in the ALDS preview is very top heavy. Miguael Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson and to a lesser extent Delmon Young carry the rest of the bats for Detroit. Quinton Berry, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks and Alex Avila are all good ball players who do the little things necessary to set up their studs. Peralta specifically has always done well against the Yankees, dating back to when he was a member of the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers are not as deep as the Yankees from 1 through 9, but the power Cabrera and Fielder can bring will definitely overwhelm the Yankees if they don’t hit better than they did against Baltimore. Even though Cabrera had the best season any of us have seen in a long time, it is Fielder’s power shooting toward the Yankee Stadium short porch that scares me the most.
Edge: Yankees (by a narrow margin)
Yankees Starting Rotation: The Yankees starting rotation of CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes pitched unbelievable in the ALDS. Sabathia is currently on an 8 game winning streak and looks as good as any pitcher in the bigs. In tonight’s Game 1, the Yankees will throw Pettitte who will be looking for his 20th postseason win in a career filled with big games. Kuroda and Hughes will fall in line, after both threw great games against the Orioles on consecutive nights. The Yankees have a rotation with incredible playoff experience, something that the Tigers did not see in their previous matchup with the Athletics.
Tigers Starting Rotation: Enough can’t be said about how good Justin Verlander is. Last year’s MVP grabbed hold of his team during Game 5 in Oakland and lead them to the Bronx. He’s an incredible weapon to have in a playoff series. Thankfully for the Yankees, the fact that he threw Game 5 against Oakland means they probably won’t face him until Game 4, meaning they will take their shots at Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer before the see the Tigers Ace. Last year, both Fister and Scherzer did great jobs against the Yankees in the playoffs. Fister is a sinker baller, and fits the profile of the type of pitcher who always gives the Yanks a hard time. Although the Yankees faced a lesser experienced rotation against the Orioles, they had a hard time generating any offense, which leads me to believe their struggles could very well continue against a better Tigers rotation.
Edge: Detroit Tigers (by a narrow margin)
Yankees Bullpen: If Mariano Rivera was in this version of the Yankee bullpen, some might say it is the best they’ve had in years. Rafael Soriano has done an incredible job filling in for Mo this year, which he carried into the Baltimore series. David Robertson was unbelievable in the Oriole series as well, pitching flawless baseball in tight extra inning games. In fact, everyone that Joe Girardi called on against the Orioles did their job to the best of their ability. Boone Logan looked great against lefties and I’m sure he’s already visualizing any future at-bats against Prince. David Phelps, Joba Chamberlain and the veteran Derek Lowe round out a bullpen that has done a fantastic job all year long filling in for their injured closer.
Tigers Bullpen: Jose Valverde is the most annoying pitcher on the planet. He dances, celebrates and frustrates his opponents, especially the Yankees in recent years. We saw Valverde experience a bit of a hick-up against the Oakland A’s, as he surrendered 3 runs to Oakland in the 9th inning of Game 4 to force a Game 5 and therefore lose Justin Verlander for Game 1 tonight. The Tigers will set-up Valverde up with hard throwing Joaquin Benoit, the young and arrogant Al Alburquerque, ex-Yankee Phil Coke, veteran pitcher Octavio Dotel and demoted starter Rick Porcello. The Tigers bullpen isn’t nearly as spectacular as the pen the Yankees just defeated in Baltimore, though a lot of these pitchers, especially Valverde, Benoit and Porcello have given the Yankees problems in the past.
Prediction for the Series: This will be a close series, similar to last year in which each team will be limited offensively. If the Yankees bats heat up a little bit, they will win fairly easily. If they hit like they did against Baltimore, the Tigers will win fairly easily. I expect something sort of in between. The Yankees are too good offensively to hit as they did in the ALDS as an entire team. I don’t think they will instantly be a team that catches fire, but they will certainly improve. The Tigers have scrappy players who will set up Cabrera and Fielder, who will certainly inflict some levels of damage in this series. Against almost every team in the league, Justin Verlander has the clear advantage, though the Yankees countering more of CC Sabathia closes the gap immensely. These games will be close and will come down to late inning heroics and solid bullpen play. In 2009, the Yankees had to jump over the Angels to capture their 27th World Series Championship, an Angel team who had beaten them in previous playoffs regularly. This time around, the Yankees need to get past another opponent in Detroit who has been a thrown as their side for some time now. It will be a close series but the Yankees will prevail in 7 games in front of the Bronx faithful. Yankees in 7.