ALDS Preview: Yankees – Tigers
By: Mike Asti
The New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will highlight a first round series many believe has “the real ALCS” written all over it. This is the exact spot both of these franchises expected to be going into the 2011 season. New York due to their unreasonable championship or bust mentality, Detroit solely based on their experience and talent. This always gives them a shot in the AL Central. However, it was not an easy road to October for either club.
The 27-time world champion Evil Empire has endured key injuries, two huge career milestones, and the usual drama before eventually winning the AL East. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the two longest tenured players, went from Yankee greats to baseball immortals. Jeter became the first Yankee to surpass 3,000 hits, a landmark that could place him on the pine stripe Mount Rushmore. Rivera is now the all-time regular season saves leader and crushes any argument who is the best at his craft ever. Those were the two premiere moments, but this season was not all peaches and cream. Jorge Posada has seen the writing on the wall and has not exactly been thrilled about his future. ARod failed to reach the 30 homer 100 RBI mark that once was a lock for the power hitting third baseman. His injuries were the main reason. With Rodriguez no longer the most feared bat in the order, former Tiger, Curtis Granderson erupted and embarked on a season long renaissance. The home run slug fest between Grandy and Teixiera kept this team hanging around.
CC Sabathia brought his normal Cy Young caliber season to the table. Fortunately for him, he did not have to throw the staff on his back this year. AJ Burnett turned back the clock at times and two former studs returned to old form. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon pitched as if it was 2005 without hesitation. New York is going into the playoffs with a deeper rotation then they have had since 2009.
On to Detroit, the Tigers were forced to move past the Miguel Cabrera’s alcoholism and domestic violence issues, as well as, try to find some supporting cast help for their ace. The first of those questions was answered, the other not so much. Luckily for Detroit Cabrera was not only not a problem, he put together an MVP season capped off by winning the batting title with a .344 clip. His power numbers did drop to 30 and 105 but that is certainly alright when you hit almost .350. The lineup was not carried by Miguel though. Victor Martinez developed into the perfect Robin for Cabera’s Batman. Anytime someone hits .330 and is far off the batting lead on the team you know the offense is solid.
Despite winning thanks to the bats, this team also owns a pitcher that may very well be the league MVP. Justin Verlander was just coming into his own when this franchise was last in the World Series. Now a days he has morphed into a complete and total beast. Verlander notched 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA, and 250 strikeouts. He was a no-hitter waiting to happen every night, this even occurred once. If there is any pitcher who can throw a club on his back it is Verlander. The Tigers should worship the ground this man walks on, taking JV out of the equation this staff is below average at best. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello won 15 and 14 games respectively but certainly not in dominating fashion. Brad Penny and Burnett may have switched bodies because as one excelled the other reverted back to his old mediocre tricks.
Offense – Tigers
While New York is not often outmatched in terms of hitting, this Tiger squad is a well oiled machine offensively. We all know Cabrera and Martinez will be feared but this lineup goes much deeper then just a dynamic duo. Jhonny Peralta threw up .299 and 21 homers. That’s bad at all for a former a guy who hadn’t hit 20+ bombs since 2008. Alex Avila allowed Martinez to remain the full-time DH. Avila emerged as an All-Star and future of the franchise out of what seems as nowhere. His feel good story truly rounded out the lineup. The only concern for Detroit they rely fully on their pop. Detroit is the typical AL team, get on and wait for the three run long ball. Stealing a base is something be desired beyond Austin Jackson.
If the Yankees were fully healthy I would give it to them here but they just are not. Jeter is still declining and his Mr. Clutch title and career resume won’t help him this fall. Alex Rodriguez could turn it on but it is more likely he may be in Spring Training mood for awhile. Granderson and Teixiera are the guys that will need to carry the load. If I want two men from this series to be my best assets, it’s Cabrera and VMart not the two Yanks. No, I didn’t forget about Robinson Cano, probably New York’s best player the last 3 or 4 years. Cano’s numbers at 2B may land him in the Hall of Fame someday. While this is true he he has been feast or famine in the playoffs. Recently hitting over .340 in the ALCS against Texas, on a more regular basis Cano has rocked a sub .200 average in post-season series. I wouldn’t think he is going to do it alone now.
Pitching – Yankees
I know, I know I just spent a paragraph praising Verlander. He is awesome but you can not give an edge just for him. This guy may very well pull a Cliff Lee and win every start but that should not have to happen for a team to win. Outside of Scherzer and Porcello, who are no locks, the rest eh.. That’s all I can say about Doug Fisher. In terms of the Bronx Bombers. They can always rake but when New York wins titles it’s because of Whitey Ford just as much as Mickey Mantle. CC might still not be in shape but his belly and all are filthy. With Burnett and Ivan Nova actually give New York a full staff. Phil Hughes has battled injuries yet has the stuff that makes him appear as an All-Star waiting to happen. If all goes as planned the Yanks could send out 5 legit starters. That’s something Detroit can only dream of right now.
Bullpen – Yankees
When your closer has literally every record imaginable, throws one devastating pitch, and still acts as if he’s 25 there is no reason to not be confident come the 9th. Rafael Soriano and David Robertson combined for a paved bridge all the way to Mo. For Detroit, Jose Valverde brings 49 saves and Joaquin Benoit has 29 holds. Sorry guys you’re are great but you can not bet against Rivera and company.
Defense – Tigers
Avila’s emergence is one of the biggest reason for this advantage going to Detroit. He can actually play the catcher position. Martinez previously earned the title of best hitting catcher. That moniker was for his hitting and nothing else. Cabrera never gets the credit he deserves for his glove at first base and Austin Jackson is a web gem waiting to happen. As for New York, Jose Montero is the obvious future as the Yankee backstop. His bat doesn’t even really matter. The main issue lies with the old legs of Jeter and ARod. Their range has greatly diminished. The only argument that can be had here is Teixiera is mistake free and acts as a hockey goalie at the bag.
The Pick – Tigers
The advantages would lead it to be a Yankee series win. That’s not enough for the baseball Gods. I’ve got a gut feeling New York will be filled with errors, strikeouts, and reason for finger pointing and the chips will fall properly for Detroit. The key: I’m banking heavily on Verlander defeating CC in game one too. Tigers win in 5.