There is a lot of angst being tossed in the general direction of the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) coming from Detroit. The Angels lost behind Dan Haren on Monday, then scratched their two next best starters (Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver) from the remainder of the series with Texas. The Rangers, of course, hold a one game edge on the Tigers for the second seed in the post-season.
With nothing left to play for, I can understand why Anaheim would prefer not to push their pitchers on short rest, but it sure doesn’t help the cause for Tigers fans that might happen to hold a pair of tickets to what would be game five of the ALDS.
The thing is, though, that even as I hold those soon-to-be useless tickets, I can’t help but think that the better fate for Detroit might just be to open in the Bronx.
Of all the potential first-round playoff opponents (New York, Boston, or Tampa), it’s the Yankees I fear the least. That sounds strange considering that they end the regular season with the league’s best record, a Cy Young candidate who will be well rested for Game 1, and two MVP candidates in the lineup.
It isn’t the fact that the Tigers won the season series against New York that makes them the lesser of three evils in my mind, those games were all played back in April. This Tigers team isn’t the same as that one, nor are the Yankees the same club today. No, it’s not so much that I want the Tigers to play the Yankees, it’s that I’m scared to death of the other two clubs.
Both Tampa and Boston have their flaws, no question. The Rays have tremendous pitching and they seem to get just enough offense to win. I don’t think they hit enough to probably win anything significant, but I didn’t think the Giants could last year, either. Strong pitching will beat good hitting more often than not and no one in this year’s American League field has a better staff than Tampa. I’m not just talking about four starters, either, their bullpen has been elite all year long as well.
While the Rays have been playing well, they’re only 16-10 in September so it’s not like they’ve gone on a 2009 Twins-like run to catch Boston or anything. The Red Sox haven’t won consecutive game since August and have done more to help Tampa’s chances than the Rays have.
You’d assume that a team playing so poorly, as Boston is, would be the one everybody would want to play, but no one in baseball has more pure talent than the Red Sox. If they find a way to sneak into the post-season, after blowing a nine game lead in the final month, the pressure will be completely off of them. Nothing is more dangerous than an ultra-talented team with no pressure. They’d be playing with house money.
Yes, the pitching staff is a mess for the Sox right now, but guys like Josh Beckett and Jon Lester didn’t suddenly forget how to pitch. Both of these guys were among the best in the league all year long. Give them a clean slate, a 0-0 record with no talk about a collapse and I think you’ll see a much different Red Sox team come Friday, should they get that far.
The Yankees have a deep lineup and one great pitcher in the rotation. They’ll follow CC Sabathia with guys like Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett (who’s been pretty good of late), and Freddy Garcia. Line up that rotation against Detroit’s and the Tigers could have the edge in each game. The Yankees have a great late inning relief corps with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, but the Tigers haven’t lost a game when leading after eight all year, so I’ll call it a wash.
When you look at the Yankee lineup and the bandbox they play in, it’s easy to get worried. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, oh and that Alex Rodriguez guy; all of them are outstanding hitters. But you know what? The Tigers can hit a little bit, too.
And unlike the Rays and the Red Sox, the Yankees have been sitting back and resting in preparation for the playoffs. No matter how seasoned a team is, it’s not always easy to flip that switch back on once you’ve taken your foot off the gas.
While the Yankees have had nothing at all to play for over the past week, the Tigers have been able to get their rotation in order and even get a few guys some rest, but have done so while maintaining a winning edge. As much as the front office might downplay the importance of home field, the players would certainly prefer to stay in Motown this weekend and they’ve been playing hard to make sure it happens.
The way the Tigers have played over the past six weeks or so shows that they can beat any of their potential playoff opponents; this isn’t a ceremonial post-season berth given like a handout to the “winner” of a division full of losers. The Tigers showed their teeth down the stretch and established themselves as a legitimate contender for a World Series title.
The path of least resistance en route to that title may very well begin in New York.