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2011 ALDS Preview

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees

by Keith Glab,
September 30, 2011

Two months ago, the Detroit Tigers were a running joke.  At six games over .500, the Tigers figured to get beaten down in the postseason should they hang on to win the AL Central.  After going 38-16 in the final two months of the season, Detroit has become the chic pick to represent the American League in the World Series.

Somewhere along the way, it's been lost that the New York Yankees have averaged over 98 wins per season over the past three years and don't get the chance to beat up on weak AL Central teams the way that the Tigers do.  The Yankees need to be considered the favorites to win the American League Championship, not the Tigers.

Pitching Probables
Game Yankees Tigers
1@NYY C.C. Sabathia
(19-8 3.00)
Justin Verlander
(24-5 2.40)
2@NYY Ivan Nova
(16-4 3.70)
Doug Fister
(11-13 2.83)
3@Det Freddy Garcia
(12-8 3.62)
Max Scherzer
(15-9 4.43)
4@Det C.C. Sabathia
(19-8 3.00)
Rick Porcello
(14-9 4.75)
5@NYY Ivan Nova
(16-4 3.70)
Justin Verlander
(24-5 2.40)

Records - Tigers 95-67, Yankees 97-65
Runs Scored
- Tigers 787 (4th), Yankees 867 (2nd)
Runs Allowed - Tigers 711 (8th), Yankees 657 (3rd)
Head-to-Head - Tigers 4-3

The Yankees

Going into the season, I thought the Yankees would be a .500 ballclub due to thin starting pitching.  As it turned out, their pitching has been solid.  Their rotation ranks 14th in baseball with a 4.03 ERA, but their 3.12 bullpen ERA ranks 4th and has bailed the starters out.  New pitching coach Larry Rothschild should be commended for getting Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to party like it's 2005 and being the first Yankees pitching coach in decades to gat a young Yankees starter to overachieve (Ivan Nova).

Manager Joe Girardi appears to be unaware that Nova is overachieving, however, as he is electing to pitch C.C. Sabathia on three days' rest for Game four in order to pitch Nova twice in the series.  This is a huge mistake.  Nova may have a sexy win-loss record, but Colon's strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly twice that of Nova's.  Sabathia may have a history of performing well on short rest, but it is tempting fate to continue to test him for no tangible benefit.

Fortunately for Yankees fans, the rest of the team is good enough to overcome this managerial blunder.  Mariano Rivera and David Robertson form the best 1-2 bullpen punch in baseball.  The only weakness in a bullpen that figures to be bolstered even more by the presence of A.J. Burnett is that Boone Logan serves as their lone left-handed presence.  This won't matter against the Tigers, however, as Jim Leyland features a right-handed dominant roster.  This explains Detroit's .620 winning  percentage versus southpaws and .571 winning percentage against right-handers.

What can you say about their offense?  It has scored over 850 runs for the third consecutive year and the 10th time in 11 years.  They led baseball in both walks and homers, as usual, plus ranked fourth with 147 stolen bases.  There is no easy out in their lineup and even their bench features some potent bats.  Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez lead the charge, but the depth around them is what makes this such a potent offense.

Defensively, the Yankees have Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson holding them back, costing the team a combined 33 runs on defense.  But the team is at -17 defensive runs because of Brett Gardner's 22 defensive runs saved.  His glove will also come up big in Comerica Park's spacious outfield and Russell Martin should ensure that the Tigers, who had an MLB-low 49 steals this year, play station-to-station baseball.

The Tigers

The Tigers can field an adequate defensive team if they so choose, but it costs them on offense.  Austin Jackson, Ramon Santiago, and Don Kelly are the only plus-defenders on the team, but none of them swing a decent bat.  Wilson Betemit, Ryan Raburn, and Delmon Young swing nice bats, but hurt the team defensively.  Magglio Ordonez, Andy Dirks, and Brandon Inge are on the Division Series roster despite not being particularly good on either side of the ball.


Because of this need to mix-and-match, manager Jim Leyland has 14 position players on his postseason roster.  Those are led by the core of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and Jhonny Peralta.  As good as those four have been, they don't quite match up with what the Yankees put out there on a daily basis due to the lack of support from the other 10 position players on the roster.

Eleven pitchers is plenty for a five-game series, particularly since unanimous-Cy Young-to-be Justin Verlander averages over seven innings per start.  If Doug Fister (8-1 1.79 with Det)  is to be believed, the Tigers have a serviceable rotation behind him.  Max Scherzer is solid at Comerica (8-4 3.80) though Rick Porcello isn't (5-5 5.64), and you can't blame Leyland for not using Porcello in Game 2 just based on his home/road splits, as he's just not a very good pitcher overall.

The bullpen is a strength of the Tigers, even though their 25th-ranked relief ERA doesn't inspire.  The acquisition of Fister has allowed Phil Coke to move back to the bullpen, where he has excelled due to left-handed batters hitting .215 and slugging .295 against him this year.  He and fellow southpaw Daniel Schlereth will need to get some key outs against the likes of Granderson and Robinson Cano late in games.  The real dominance comes with right-handers Jose Valverde, Al Albuquerque, and Joaquin Benoit.  Valverde's perfect 49 saves this year is mighty impressive, but I don't think there's even one Tigers fan out there deluded enough to say that they'd rather have him than Rivera in this series.

The Matchup

OK, Sabathia vs. Verlander.  This is what you want to know about, right? Frankly, I would give Sabathia the edge.  He's actually got a better FIP and xFIP than Verlander, he's been an elite level pitcher for longer, and has far more big game experience.  The Yankees will have a better team behind him in every start, whereas the Tigers essentially need to choose between a good lineup and a good defense for Verlander.

But apparently, Joe Girardi lacks that confidence.  He's pitching Sabathia on short rest in Game 4, which avoids having him face the Tiger ace twice.  While Sabathia on three days of rest should be enough to handle Poor Rick Porcello, so should Bartolo colon have been.  There's no such thing as a guarantee in baseball, but Verlander over Nova in Game 5 is about as close to a guarantee as it gets.

I don't think it gets to Game 5 because the Yankees are simply a better team.  Either way, Sabathia on short rest is still a mistake.  If the Yankees win the series in four games, they probably can't pitch C.C. until Game 3 of the ALCS.  If they don't win in four games, they don't even get to play in the ALCS.

Prediction: Yankees in Four

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at

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