If you were told that the New York Yankees rotation allowed a total of 6 runs and the team 10 in the first three games of the American League Championship Series, would you have guess they would be down three games to zero? I certainly would not have. I’m not suggesting they would have won all of the games or even two since the Tigers pitchers have been lights out, but it is easy to envision the Yankees with at least one win. Unfortunately that is not the case and the Yankees have their backs against the wall in an elimination game tonight.
There isn’t one pitcher on the Yankees that I would rather have in this spot other than CC Sabathia. He has been excellent in his last several starts and was brilliant in the ALDS clincher against the Baltimore Orioles. There is no guarantee he can keep it going, but the Tigers are having almost as hard a time scoring runs (at least against the rotation) as the Yankees against everyone they see on the mound.
The task of finding their stroke is not going to get any easier with Detroit’s Max Scherzer on the mound. The 28-year-old righty had the breakout season many Tigers fans have been waiting for in 2012. He went 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA and a ridiculous 231 strikeouts in only 187.2 innings. He made one start in the ALDS, getting a no-decision in 5.1 innings of work in which he allowed one unearned on three hits and one walk, with eight strikeouts. Scherzer ended the season with inflammation in his pitching shoulder limiting him to just 16.1 innings in four starts over the last month. This may be a spot of vulnerability with Scherzer’s game. It may not.
Scherzer has faced the Yankees four times, going 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA. The good news is he has a 1.479 WHIP during that time. The lone loss came in his only start against New York this season in which he allowed three runs on seven hits in just 4 2/3 innings at Yankee Stadium. That said, he has extremely good numbers against the Yankees as a group (.177/.266/.282). In 14 home starts this season Scherzer went 7-3 with a 3.51 ERA.
Alex Rodriguez (1-for-12) and Nick Swisher (2-for-10) who both sat yesterday, have poor numbers against Scherzer, so it remains a possibility that they sit again. Eric Chavez who is hitless in 16 AB in the postseason is 2-for-2 against Scherzer and Brett Gardner is 0-for-9. It all depends on what Girardi feels in his gut and what he sees on paper. The lineup seems like a guessing game at this point with so many players having poor performances at the plate.
In order to have a remote chance of getting back to Yankee Stadium, Sabathia will obviously have to be completely on top of his game tonight. In a much larger sample than Scherzer, Sabathia has performed OK against the Tigers as a whole (.266/.332/.459). Miguel Cabrera has hit Sabathia pretty hard (much like anyone else in the league) to the tune of .357/.474/.643 with 2 homers and 12 RBI in 38 plate appearances. Gerald Laird also has very good stats against the big lefty (10-for-24, 1 HR, 1.125 OPS). Despite those splits, CC went 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA against the Tigers this season in three starts. He won two of those games at Comerica Park with a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 IP. He’ll likely have to be better than that tonight, but the fact that he has been lights out for over a month now bodes well for the Yankees.
The Bombers do have another thing going for them and that is that Scherzer more than most likely will not pitch past the seventh inning because of the shoulder issues. With a 3-0 lead the Tigers do not need to push him hard. I’m not suggesting they’ll concede the game, Jim Leyland doesn’t concede anything, but I am saying they will be smart with him knowing they’ll need him in the next series should they in fact advance. Getting into the Tigers bullpen is a key from here on out. Phil Coke has been a nice story, but can he continue to defy his 1.65 regular season WHIP? We know Jose Valverde is a basketcase right now and Joaquin Benoit has been inconsistent in the postseason as well.
What’s more, the Robinson Cano ended his hitless streak, with an opposite field line drive off a lefty, showing he has not forgotten HOW to hit. Maybe that simple swing gets him going. It is possible that benching Swisher works if he is inserted today, where it did not with Rodriguez. It is entirely possible that A-Rod gets one last opportunity to show he has something left in the tank and delivers.
Look, the task in front of the Yankees is extremely daunting. Far too many circumstances have to line up for them to easily make it back to the Bronx, let alone win this series. But, far too many instances of failure have beset the Yankees offense this postseason and something has to give. Why can’t tonight be the night? It is possible it will turn around as quickly as it began. It starts with Sabathia and will end with the hitters. If the Yankees can find some balance between their pitching and offense it is still possible they can make some noise in this postseason.