Thanks to the fact that both clubs clinched a playoff spot early, both were able to align their rotations for the ALDS. Probable starters for all five games have been announced:
Tuesday, Oct. 4 in Detroit: Rick Porcello (five days rest) vs. C.C. Sabathia (three days rest)
Thursday, Oct. 6 in New York: Justin Verlander (five days rest) vs. Ivan Nova (four days rest)
In game one, Justin Verlander will toe the rubber for the Tigers at Yankee Stadium opposite C.C. Sabathia. For a while, both of these pitchers were considered contenders for this year’s AL Cy Young award. Verlander eventually pulled far ahead and now stands a chance to win the award by a unanimous vote. Still, Sabathia is, without a doubt, among the top-three pitchers in the AL, if he’s not the second-best. Verlander has pitched one game in New York this year; he threw a quality start, three earned runs over six innings, on opening day at Yankee Stadium, allowing three hits, walking four, and striking out eight. He’s made a total of three starts at the Yankees’ new ballpark but has failed to win any. Conversely, Sabathia has had great success in 47 starts at his home ballpark, posting a 26-7 record with an ERA of 3.08. What’s interesting to me, when looking at Sabathia, is the fact that he hasn’t pitched since September 20th. Will he be rusty after nine days off? In his career, Sabathia has made 41 starts on six or more days rest, and in that situation, his ERA is 4.04. Compare that to 3.42 on five days rest and 3.54 on four days. Verlander, on the other hand, having pitched last Saturday, should be fresh and sharp; he finished 10-0 with a 2.29 ERA this year in 12 starts on five days rest. Current Yankees are hitting just .236 against Verlander; just two players, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are hitting .300 or better off him in more than eight at bats. Current Tigers are hitting .244 against Sabathia, including Miguel Cabrera who is 9-for-16 (.563) off him.
Though Verlander is having an incredible season and looks unbeatable nearly every time out, it’s hard to discard Sabathia just by that merit. It’s going to be close Friday night, but if the Tigers win, they’ll hold a decisive advantage in the series. This, because their rotation following their ace is much deeper than that of New York. The Yankees, using a three-man rotation for the division series, will pitch Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia in games two and three before potentially having to return to Sabathia on three days rest in game four. The Tigers, in those games, will counter with Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello, saving Verlander to pitch in a potential winner-take-all game five.
It will be essential for both pitching staffs to keep the ball down to avoid watching fly balls sore over the short fences in the Yankee Stadium outfield, so the fact that Fister is a ground ball pitcher is critical. It gives Fister a decided advantage over Nova, who has had some limited struggles in his career pitching at home; Nova has a career 4.19 ERA at Yankee Stadium, compared to a 3.51 when he’s pitching on the road. Fister has been hit fairly hard by current Yankees players; they have a .308 batting average against him. Current Tigers are hitting .273 off Nova, but as they’ve recorded just 11 at bats, the sample size is too limited to mean much of anything.
With Fister, in my opinion, projecting to come out on top in game two, game one becomes even more critical, especially for the Yankees. If Detroit comes home to Freddy Garcia with a 2-0 series lead, they would have to pull a Red Sox-esque collapse to fail to advance to the ALCS.
Garcia has been reliable this year for the Yankees, but he won’t exactly inspire immense confidence starting game three on the road, even though most of his numbers are better than those of his opponent, Scherzer. Both could have extremely good games on any given day, and on the same day, both could also fall completely flat. Just as Fister will benefit from the ballpark he’s scheduled to pitch in, Scherzer will get a tremendous boost starting at Comerica. In 18 home starts this year, Scherzer posted an 8-4 record with a 3.80 ERA that looks tremendous compared to his 5.23 ERA in 15 road starts. Like Verlander, he has not been defeated all year when pitching on an extra day rest, as he will be in game three; he’s put up an impressive 7-0 record with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. Garcia relies on deception for success, as his fastball averages somewhere in the mid-80s. According to Baseball-Reference, the Tigers, especially their key string of three-four-five-six batters from Miguel Cabera to Jhonny Peralta, hit exceptionally well against finesse pitchers. Current Tigers are hitting .261 against Garcia, and Cabrera has teed off on him, hitting .391 with three of his nine hits leaving the ballpark. Scherzer, meanwhile, has held current Yankees to an astounding .202 batting average, with only three players breaking .300.
If everything goes right for the Tigers, they could finish off the Yankees by game three on Monday night. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Yankees are capable of whimpering away in such fashion, especially with home field advantage; they’ll likely take at least one of the first three games. If they do, they’ll turn to Sabathia once again. Meanwhile, our Tigers will place their trust in Rick Porcello to take on the Yankees’ ace.
Porcello will be pitching at home, where he’s posted an alarming 5.64 ERA for the year. He’s had an up-and-down season full of inconsistency and extended winning and losing streaks, but he seems to be coming around as of late. In his last seven starts, the Tigers went 6-1 and Porcello posted a 3.50 ERA. If he can extend this recent success into the postseason, the Tigers will be hard to top. Porcello is young, but he pitched well in the 163rd game between the Tigers and Minnesota Twins in 2009, so he knows what it’s like to pitch in a big game. Current Yankees are hitting .259 off Porcello; his biggest threat will be Robinson Cano, who is 5-for-11 (.455) lifetime against him.
I have full confidence that the Tigers’ rotation will carry them at least through the first round, but if that’s not enough, their bullpen isn’t too shabby either and will give them a chance to win. Detroit is 71-5 when leading after six innings, and they haven’t lost yet in 77 games when leading after seven frames. The Yankees’ bullpen is good as well; they’re 81-11 when leading after six and 87-8 when leading after seven. Both clubs have dominant closers in Mariano Rivera and Jose Valverde. Joaquin Benoit and David Robertson are both fantastic as 8th-inning men. If Al Alburquerque is healthy and able to pitch to his full potential, the Tigers bullpen will have the edge.
My prediction: Detroit Tigers top the New York Yankees in four games.
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Topics: ALDS Preview, C.C. Sabathia, David Robertson, Detroit Tigers, Doug Fister, Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Joaquin Benoit, Jose Valverde, Justin Verlander, Mariano Rivera, Max Scherzer, New York Yankees, Pitching Matchups, Rick Porcello