The New York Yankees find themselves in the worst case scenario down 2-0 in the American League Championship Series to the Detroit Tigers with Game 3 set to be played in Comerica Park with the reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on the mound. It is seemingly an impossible task on many levels.
First and foremost, the Yankees have displayed an inexplicable inability to hit since the first game of the postseason. The numbers are astounding for the team that ranked second in all of baseball in runs scored during the regular season. They are now seven games into the playoffs and the team’s triple slash is abominable — .205/.277/.326. It’s somewhat of a miracle that they were able to make it to the ALCS considering the anemic offensive display.
Next, the Yankees are showing an uncanny inability to change their approach. They are chasing bad pitches and have completely lost their patience at the plate. This isn’t to say they aren’t trying, but they’re pressing too hard now and have forgotten the benefits of working counts. It’s not going to get easier today as Verlander is a strike machine. They may have to figure out a way to be aggressive and patient at the same time if that makes any sense.
Third, they have Phil Hughes on the mound. Hughes had a good 2012 season, but it wasn’t spectacular and he’s not close to Verlander’s status as a pitcher.
Further, the Yankees arrived in Detroit minus their captain Derek Jeter, the heart and soul of the team and its most consistent member of the offense down the stretch and in the postseason. Can the Yankees pull off an upset today and in the series without their captain?
The immediate circumstances don’t get better as Verlander’s numbers in this postseason are definitely mind-numbing. He’s held opponents to a .130 batting average over two starts in which he set an ALDS record with 22 strikeouts in 16 innings allowing just one run. To make matters worse for the Yankees, Verlander was 9-2 with a 1.65 ERA at home this season.
Most pundits have written the team off completely, suggesting the Yankees will lose this game and then tomorrow’s to be sent home ending the 2012 season. The chances that the Yankees can figure out a way to win this game are minimal at best, right? Difficult maybe, but not impossible.
While there is no denying that Verlander is one of the top pitchers in the game, his video game numbers are not exactly existent against the Yankees in this career. He owns a 5-4 record with a 3.74 ERA against the Bombers in 13 starts. He was 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA in three starts against the Yanks this season. He had a 14-strikeout, two-run (zero earned) performance on August 6 which was wedged between two mediocre starts. His lone start against the Yankees at Comerica was a 6.1-inning five-run (three earned) effort in which he gave up nine hits including two home runs, walked four and lost the game to…Phil Hughes.
Hughes also owns a 5-4 record against the Tigers with an ERA of 4.22 in ten starts. He faced the Tigers twice this season, both times in Detroit, going 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA. The start in which he beat Verlander was among his best of the season. He went the distance allowing one run on four hits and three walks while striking out eight batters. The other start was a forgetful 4.1 IP outing in which he allowed four earned runs on eight hits.
None of this information about the pitching matchups is Earth shattering and tell us that the Yankees have a definite shot of winning this game. Conventional wisdom and logic says that it will be a major uphill climb. But, there is a glimmer of hope. Maybe facing the arguably the best pitcher in the game is exactly what the Yankees need — to focus their efforts on having quality at-bats because otherwise they know that Verlander can ring them up time and again.
There is a chance they can get the performance of a lifetime out of Hughes; the Tigers are not exactly tearing the cover off the ball in their seven games in the postseason either — .258/.299/.351. Maybe one or two of the slumping Yankees find their stroke at the right time and touch Verlander for a few runs to get into a bullpen that is suspect. Finally, there is a chance that the Yankees catch a couple breaks along the way to balance out some that have gone against them in this series.
Things can turn on a dime in a seven-game series; ask the Cincinnati Reds who just lost three straight at home after taking a 2-0 series lead in a best of five against the San Francisco Giants. It won’t be as easy as turning on a switch and everything will change for the Yankees offense.
But, maybe the day off allowed the Yankees to clear their heads of their dismal offensive display and leaving the chorus of boos back in New York will work in their favor. It’s up to them to fight today at the plate and on the mound. Do they have it in them? We’ll see beginning at 8:00 p.m. tonight.