(Sports Network) - The New York Yankees continue their quest towards a 28th
World Series title on Saturday when they open the American League Championship
Series against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
New York needed all 162 games to hold off the Baltimore Orioles and win the
American League East, so it would stand to reason that their Division Series
matchup with them would go the full five games.
Unlike last season, though, when New York lost a decisive fifth game at home
to Detroit, the Yankees took care of business on Friday and advanced behind a
terrific complete-game effort from CC Sabathia in a 3-1 win. Curtis Granderson
homered in the victory, while Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez each knocked in a
run for the Yankees, who are back in the ALCS for the 15th time overall and
the third time in the last four years.
"It felt good," said Sabathia, who allowed four hits and struck out nine in
the crucial win. "It felt good early in the game. I got some swing early, kept
the pitch count down, was able to go deep into the game and ended up getting a
chance to finish. It just feels good.
"Since I have been here, I think I've learned to keep my emotions under wraps
and been able to go out there and perform well. I think in 2007, my emotions
got the best of me, definitely in the playoffs, and I didn't have a good run.
But the older I have gotten, the better I have got, I think."
New York, of course, is powered by its star-studded lineup that belted a major
league-best 245 home runs in the regular season, but it was that same offense
that failed it for the most part against the Orioles, hitting a mere .211 in
Things got so bad that manager Joe Girardi pinch hit for three-time AL MVP
Alex Rodriguez in Games 3 and 4 and benched him in favor of Eric Chavez in the
crucial fifth game.
But, Rodriguez (2-for-16) wasn't the only one struggling, as Robinson Cano (2-
for-22), Granderson (3-for-19) and Nick Swisher (2-for-18) all failed to come
through in key situations. Granderson also struck out nine times, but had two
hits in Friday's win.
The big question going forward is what Rodriguez's role will be. Is he now a
platoon player? If that's the case, he may not see much action in the ALCS, as
the Tigers will likely throw all right-handed starters the Yankees' way.
As much trouble as he's had in the postseason, though, Rodriguez is a .313
hitter with seven home runs and 18 RBI in 26 ALCS games.
One player who could figure heavily in this series will be the lefty swinging
Ibanez, who pinch hit for Rodriguez and became a hero in the Bronx with his 2
HR performance in Game 3 versus the Orioles.
In addition to Ibanez, one of the other few bright spots offensively was
captain Derek Jeter, who had eight hits in the series. Jeter, of course, led
the majors this season with 216 hits.
Sabathia was terrific in Game 5, but he won't be available until later in the
series. Depending on what happens in the first two games, Sabathia could go on
short rest in Game 3, but will likely be used in Game 4 and pitch on three
days' rest if needed in a potential seventh game.
So with Sabathia unavailable, Girardi will hand the ball to 40-year-old lefty
Andy Pettitte in Game 1 against the Tigers. Pettitte came out of retirement
and was pitching well up until a line drive broke his leg back on June 27.
Pettitte returned in September and gave up just three runs in three starts and
ended the year 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA. He also got a loss in his lone ALDS start,
but pitched well, surrendering three runs and seven hits in seven innings.
The playoffs are where Pettitte shines, though, as he owns a major league
record 19 postseason wins. However, he's just 10-9 lifetime against the Tigers
with a 3.66 ERA in 23 starts.
Who gets the start in Game 2 is still up in the air. Japanese righty Hiroki
Kuroda could go on short rest, or Girardi may rely on rookie David Phelps, who
pitched in relief in Game 4 against the O's and was dealt the loss.
Rafael Soriano gave the Yankees everything they could have hoped for in the
wake of Mariano Rivera's season-ending ACL injury in May. Soriano saved 42
games and pitched to a 2.26 ERA, but has nowhere near the air of invincibility
as Rivera, especially come playoff time, where the all-time saves leader was
close to automatic.
Righty David Robertson serves as the main bridge to Soriano, while Boone Logan
is called upon to get lefties out. Right-hander Joba Chamberlain's status for
this series is up in the air after he was hit in the elbow by a broken bat in
the Game 4 loss to the Orioles.
Like New York, Detroit needed all five games to advance past the Oakland
Athletics in its Division Series matchup and did so in dominating fashion, as
reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander struck out 11 and
tossed a four-hit shutout in the Tigers' 6-0 Game 5 win.
Verlander (2-0) fanned 11, scattered four hits and walked one for Detroit,
which will appear in the franchise's sixth ALCS and third in the last seven
"I don't have anybody better than him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "And
if they get to him that much, we'll probably be in trouble. I'm not taking him
out, I can assure you of that, because I don't have anybody better to bring
The one knock on Verlander has been his inability to get it done in the
postseason. He entered these playoffs with a 3-3 mark and a 5.57 ERA over
eight starts, but won both of his starts against the A's, surrendering just
one run over 16 frames.
Including the postseason, the 29-year-old has won his last six starts and has
posted a minuscule 0.64 ERA during the span.
"We had our backs against the wall all year and we're playing our best
baseball now when it matters," Verlander said.
With the ALCS starting on Saturday, the Tigers may only have the great
Verlander for two starts in the next round and he probably won't pitch until
Tuesday's Game 3. He'd also be available in a potential seventh game on short
Leyland will turn to right-handers Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez in the first
two games with righty Max Scherzer getting the call in Game 4.
Offensively, the Tigers are powered by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and
first baseman Prince Fielder, but neither contributed much in the ALDS.
With a batting average of .330 along with 44 home runs and 139 RBI, Cabrera
led the American League in all three categories and finished tops in both
leagues in homers and RBI. It's the 14th time in major league history that a
player has accomplished the feat.
The 29-year-old Cabrera set career highs in homers and RBI and had the second-
best batting average of his career, trailing his .344 mark from the 2011
However, he only drove in one run and hit .250 against the A's, but could get
himself right in this series, as he is a career .356 in 40 games against the
Yankees with 15 HRs and 37 RBI.
Cabrera isn't the only masher in the Tigers' lineup. He moved over to third
base this year to accommodate Fielder, a free agent addition who enjoyed his
first year in Motown by hitting .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBI.
Like Cabrera, though, Fielder struggled against the A's and managed just a
.190 average (4-for-21) in the five-game set.
Even with those two, the Tigers still hit 82 less home runs than the Yankees
Closer Jose Valverde has been nowhere as good as he was last year, and could
be running out of steam. Valverde was a perfect 52-for-52 in save
opportunities last season, but blew six games this year, including Wednesday's
Game 4 against Oakland.
Valverde's supporting cast is basically the same as last year with righty
Joaquin Benoit being Valverde's main setup guy, along with lefty Phil Coke and
righty Al Alburquerque. The new addition is playoff tested veteran righty
Detroit was picked by almost everyone at the start of the season to repeat as
AL Central champions. In the end the Tigers proved those predictions right,
but it was far from easy for Leyland's crew, despite the amazing heroics
The Tigers, who own the worst record of any the postseason teams at 88-74,
underachieved for the first half of the season and spent most of the second
half trying to catch the Chicago White Sox, which they finally did on Sept.
In addition to last season's ALDS, the Tigers also beat the Yankees in the
first round in 2006. New York, though, took six of the 10 regular season
Prediction: YANKEES in SEVEN
The Sports Network