The New York Yankees finished up the regular season at 95-67, a record eight games better than the one their ALCS opponent, the Detroit Tigers, were able to manage. The most decorated franchise in baseball history spent much of the year mostly assured of a playoff spot of some sort even if the Orioles threatened to take the AL East, while the Tigers fought tooth and nail to eclipse the White Sox in the season’s final week. Both contestants in this season’s ALCS certainly had different paths to reaching their ultimate destination, but despite their better season and more assured road to success, the Yankees have plenty to be worried about when it comes to their jungle cat-themed opponent.
The most worrisome aspect of the series for the Yankees certainly has to be the uphill climb they’ll have when it comes to starting pitching match-ups. While CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda certainly make a formidable front-of-the-rotation tandem, neither of them can boast the shut-down potential that Detroit ace Justin Verlander has. Verlander surely has to be considered the front-runner for the mantle of “best pitcher in baseball,” and he gives his team a definitive edge in pretty much any game he starts regardless of opponent.
It’s not just Verlander, though, as the Tigers simply have a rotation well suited for October baseball. Doug Fister has developed into an especially solid starter, and his brand of control-oriented pitching will put the aging New York lineup on the spot when it comes to swinging the bat more proficiently. Beyond Fister, Max Scherzer had the highest strikeout rate in the game in 2012, and if healthy he represents the kind of guy who it’s not hard to imagine blanking any offense if his stuff is at its peak. Even after those three starters, mid-season acquisition Anibal Sanchez has settled into his new uniform well and stands as one of the better starters in the league even if he never crosses the star threshold.
The backend of the Yankee rotation is a lot less dependable. Andy Pettitte is past 40, and while he pitched nicely in his 12 starts, he labored through his game one start in this series and allowed enough baserunners to cause concern. Phil Hughes has matured into a very good starter to have around, but he tends to give up plenty of hits, and plenty of those hits have been knocked over the wall. That’s an even bigger problem when you’re facing a lineup that has Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in it.
Speaking of lineups, the Yankees trumped the Tigers in most every category during the regular season. In fact, New York’s senior-laden lineup still had enough gas in the tank to finish first in MLB in slugging percentage, second in OBP, and second in runs scored. It’s not like the Tigers were far back, though, as the addition of Fielder helped the team finish seventh in slugging, third in OBP, and 11th in runs scored. Detroit has the firepower to match a Yankees team currently struggling to find its bearings. Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson have floundered plenty, the former even witnessing his bat being removed from his hands in key situations. And how many of us really expect the Raul Ibanez lightning to keep striking?
Despite all of the negative hype that seems to follow the Yankees around like some sort of reverse-bias doom cloud, the baseball team they field is an excellent one, and they’ll be hard to beat for any team remaining in the postseason. While the Tigers are still deservedly underdogs, it’s still easy to see ways in which a team with their makeup will have a real chance at victory in this series. Two Verlander starts certainly don’t hurt matters.