The Yankees haven’t made this easy on themselves, but just like at the end of the regular season, they’ve checked another goal off the list.
Back in the American League Championship Series with home-field advantage, the Yankees are still trying to get hot at the right time. Their pitching was terrific in the division series, but their offense was stunningly absent, and the Tigers — with their strong rotation and powerful lineup — seem to present a greater challenge than the upstart Orioles.
There are still questions to be answered as the Yankees try to take their final steps back to the World Series.
What’s the Yankees rotation?
Amazing that we don’t know this right now, but the unusual schedule — with no off day between the division series and the ALCS — leaves significant uncertainty in the rotation. Andy Pettitte will pitch Game 1, but the Yankees have a tough choice for Game 2. Hiroki Kuroda on short rest? The rookie David Phelps? Derek Lowe’s first start in pinstripes? Activating Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia? Beyond that, should CC Sabathia pitch Game 3 on short rest? Should Phil Hughes or Pettitte start Game 5? The Tigers have settled on their rotation — Fister, Sanchez, Verlander, Scherzer — but the Yankees is very much up in the air.
How often will Alex Rodriguez play?
One thing to notice about that Tigers rotation: All four starters are right-handed. Last night, Rodriguez was benched against a right-handed starter, and Joe Girardi was quick to point out that Eric Chavez is part of the reason the Yankees got to this point too. It’s hard to imagine that Rodriguez would be a bench player through the entire ALCS, but there’s certainly no guarantee that he’ll start every game either. Furthermore, do the Yankees need both Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez if they don’t need Nunez to DH against lefties?
When will the offense come to life?
Impossible to say right now. Three runs last night certainly wasn’t enough to say the slumping lineup is out of the woods, and the Tigers’ staff pitched well in their division series against Oakland. The Yankees pitchers carried this team past Baltimore, but the Tigers offense is dangerous with Austin Jackson at the top and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle. The Yankees are going to need to score in this series, and that means guys like Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher turning things around. Doug Fister has given the Yankees trouble in the past, so things won’t be easy in the opener.
Is this when Rafael Soriano will tested?
Soriano did his part in the division series, but he still hasn’t had his Mariano Rivera moment in postseason. It seems inevitable that the Yankees will have to protect a one- or two-run lead in ninth inning of one of these games. Soriano handled those situations brilliantly in the regular season, but this is the time of year when Rivera seemed to bring the most comfort. Soriano needs to live up to that standard. It’s worth noting that, on the other side, Tigers closer Jose Valverde isn’t exactly a pillar of stability.
Will Austin Jackson haunt the Yankees?
Last October, Granderson was coming off his breakout, MVP-candidate season and Jackson was coming off a disappointing second year in the big leagues. This time around, Granderson has become a frustrating all-or-nothing hitter and Jackson has become of the elite leadoff hitters in the league. These two were traded for another three years ago, and the comparisons are inevitable. If Granderson struggles again, and Jackson is a difference maker, the what-if questions are going to be deafening.
Can the Yankees avenge last year’s playoff loss?
Hard to forget last year’s division series. The Yankees never found any consistency and lost three close games, including a 3-2 loss in Game 5 that ended their season. It was these very same Tigers that beat them. “We get to get our revenge,” Russell Martin said. “I’m excited for that.” They certainly have the opportunity. Continuing an on-going theme this season, the key is for the Yankees to actually take advantage.
Associated Press photos