The quest for the 28th World Championship in New York Yankees history continues tonight at the Stadium with Andy Pettitte on the hill. The Yankees reached the American League Championship Series by virtue of a hard-fought battle with their new AL East nemesis, the Baltimore Orioles in five games. The Bombers did it with pitching; excellent pitching actually from the top down, and barely enough runs to advance. They’ll need to step it up a notch with the bats if they hope to get by the Detroit Tigers, who ousted the Yankees in the 2011 ALDS. What other factors will play a part in the series? Read on after the break.
The Tigers are of course led by Justin Verlander and a better starting staff than the Orioles possess. This is cause for concern as the Yankees struggled mightily at the plate for much of the ALDS. The Yanks will have to figure out how to make the most of each opportunity as it comes. Where the starting pitching is one of the strengths of the Tigers, the bullpen is somewhat sketchy. Their late inning relievers have been inconsistent this season and that bodes well for the Yankees who tend to jump on such circumstances.
It will be up to the Yankee starters to maintain their stride and keep a potent Tigers offense off the board. That will be no easy task with American League Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and power-hitting first baseman Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup. Former Yankee Austin Jackson is a very good table setter and guys like Andy Dirks, Delmon Young and Omar Infante could cause the Yankees trouble at each end of the lineup.
The Yankees won the regular season series taking 6 out of 10 games from the Tigers. The Yanks won 4-of-7 in Detroit (one 2-of-3 game series and the other a split of four games) and 2-of-3 in New York. The Yankees outscored the Tigers 58-48 in those games.
The Yankees will need to take advantage of starting out at home in this series as they’ll have to face Verlander in Game 3 in Detroit. No one is sure if Sabathia will work on three days rest to go against Verlander or if he’ll be held back for Game 4 and work on three days rest in a possible Game 7 which would be against Verlander (himself on full rest).
A lot of that has to do with where the series stands come Game 3. If the Yankees head to Detroit down 0-2, there is little doubt Sabathia pitches in Game 3. With a 2-0 lead the Yanks would likely stay on turn and go with Phil Hughes with hopes of cracking through against Verlander. At 1-1, Girardi could opt to do the same or try to match his ace against the reigning MVP and AL Cy Young winner.
The Tigers are rested, but had to travel once they found out where they were heading. While the Yankees didn’t have a late night and slept in their own beds so there may be a slight advantage there heading into today’s game.
The Yankees made one roster move for the ALCS, removing Eduardo Nunez and replacing him with relief pitcher Cody Eppley. With Detroit’s right-handed dominant staff there was no need for two utility infielders who hit from the right side, and the Yankees obviously prefer Jayson Nix‘s work in the field over Nunez.
Turning to the Game 1, the Yankees have solid numbers against right-handed Doug Fister in his career (.298/.331/.512). See the table below for potential matchups.
On its face it looks like the Yankees may have a shot to break out of their offensive slump. However, Fister faced the Yankees once in 2012, getting a no-decision in a 6 1/3 inning two-run effort. Fister has pitched well overall over his last seven games (including the playoffs) with a 2.74 ERA, though there was a lack of consistency. He looked great in some starts and less than average in others. Fister was 4-7 with a 3.67 ERA away from Detroit in 2012.
Andy Pettitte did not face the Tigers in his return season so the numbers below go back to 2010 and further beyond. There is not an awful lot of history, but you may be surprised at who has great numbers against Pettitte and who doesn’t.
Look at Delmon Young’s softball numbers! If you were to be told his stats versus Pettitte, what would you guess Cabrera’s to be in just a few less at-bats? It just goes to show you that assumptions cannot be made. The fact that none of these players compiled these numbers in recent memory, more or less makes them less than trustworthy. Pettitte was spectacular in seven home starts this season going 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA.
Game 1 is a big one in any seven-game series. In my opinion falling behind 1-0 lead puts instant pressure on the team down. If it is the home team, they don’t want to go away down 0-2 and if it is the away team they feel like they have only one more chance to try and swing home field advantage their way.
The keys for tonight are very much the same for the series; get some of the slumping Yankees (A-Rod, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) to find their stroke and hope that if they do it doesn’t come at the expense of someone like Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira who had strong ALDS performances. Should the Yankees figure out how to balance good pitching with some solid hitting, they have a chance to redeem themselves against the Tigers and reach the World Series. My call — Yankees in 6.