In a five-game series, it’s impossible to overlook a pitcher like Justin Verlander. He’s the most daunting task facing the Yankees in the opening round of the playoffs, and the Yankees will see him right from the start in a rematch of opening day: Verlander against CC Sabathia.
The Yankees went 4-3 against the Tigers this season, but these two teams haven’t met since May 5 when Nick Swisher was the No. 2 hitter, Curtis Granderson was batting fifth and A.J. Burnett gave up three hits through seven innings. Things have changed, so here are five things to know about the Yankees first-round opponent.
The Tigers’ rotation is all right
Literally. The entire Detroit rotation is right-handed. That means the Yankees will have some decisions to make at designated hitter, and Jesus Montero might be a nothing more than a pinch hitter this series. Jorge Posada, despite his many offensive shortcomings this season, has hit pretty well against righties. He has a .269/.348/.466 slash line against them, and that’s not drastically different from his career numbers.
An all-right-handed rotation means Montero and Andrew Jones might make their only impact against left-handed relievers Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth. Jones has one career at-bat against each of them, and Montero has never faced them, but both Coke and Schlereth have been significantly worse against righties than lefties. If an all-right-handed rotation does leave Montero on the bench, that might alleviate some of the desire to carry Austin Romine. Not having Montero in the lineup means he can fill that backup role off the bench.
They have their own version of Dave Robertson
Don’t get me wrong, I think Robertson had a better season, but Tigers rookie Al Alburquerque was tremendous. He actually had more strikeouts per nine innings than Robertson — more walks per nine innings as well — and opponents hit just .142 against him, which is lower than Robertson’s opponents’ batting average. Alburquerque is a dominant piece of a Tigers bullpen that actually compares favorably to the Yankees.
Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and Alburquerque give the Tigers their very own version of Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano and Robertson. It’s a dominant group. In the late innings, there’s no much difference between these two teams. Both can roll out a series of one-inning relievers to keep a score right where it is. Scoring early will be important.
Don’t forget about Doug Fister
Stuck with Seattle’s horrible offense, Fister opened this season 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA. The Tigers saw an opportunity, made a trade, and Fister went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 11 games for Detroit. He’s stepped into the second spot in the rotation, and based on the way he’s pitched since he deadline, he gives the Tigers a legitimate No. 2 behind Justin Verlander.
The back of the Tigers rotation has Yankee-like questions about Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello — talented but not always reliable third and fourth starters — but Fister has given them the no-doubt-about-it No. 2, and that could be a tough thing in a five-game series. Not only do the Yankees have to face the certain Cy Young winner twice, they have to face Fister at least once, and he’s been terrific for two months.
Magglio Ordonez is not who you think he is
Yes, it’s the same guy who finished second in the MVP face four years ago, but Ordonez has become a shell of his former self. He was the Tigers No. 3 hitter on Opening Day, but Ordonez finished the season hitting just .255 with a .303 on-base percentage and five home runs. He had just 32 RBI, which is only two more than Eduardo Nunez and one less than Andruw Jones. Ordonez was still a very productive hitter last year. He’s just disappeared this season.
With Ordonez struggling, the Tigers don’t always play him, but rookie Andy Dirks hasn’t been lighting the world on fire with his .251/.296/.406 slash line, and both Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly are nice utility players rather than feared corner outfielders. Trading for Delmon Young provided an outfield spark for a while, but his numbers have slipped.
The lineup doesn’t stop at Victor Martinez
Austin Jackson strikes out a lot for a leadoff hitter, and the Tigers have been mixing and matching in the No. 2 spot, and Young is spotty as a No. 3 hitter. But the Tigers do have Miguel Cabrera. Detroit’s cleanup hitter might be the best hitter in the American League other than Jose Bautista, and if the Yankees chose to pitch around him, they’ll face Victor Martinez, who’s obviously dangerous with his 40 doubles and 102 RBI. But don’t take your eyes off the next two guys.
Alex Avila has been outstanding this season. He’s easily the American League’s top offensive catcher, and his .295/.389/.506 slash line stands out when you’re looking for bottom-of-the-ballot MVP candidates. At 24 years old, he’s raked this season, and he’s been at his best since the all-star break. The Tigers seventh hitter has been shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and he’s been a nice addition since coming over from Cleveland last season. His .824 OPS is higher than every Yankees regular except Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. And that’s coming out of the seventh spot.
Associated Press photos