Posted on: October 6, 2011 7:54 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 7:57 pm

Justin Verlander definitely unavailable Thursday

By Matt Snyder

Tigers manager Jim Leyland was pretty firm in his stance Wednesday that ace Justin Verlander was not going to pitch in Game 5. He meant it, because Verlander threw a 57-pitch bullpen session -- as are customary between starts for major-leaguers in the rotation -- Thursday afternoon. There's no way Verlander would be asked to dial it up back up under any circumstances, so he's done for the ALDS. If the Tigers lose, he won't pitch again until 2012, as this is an elimination game.

Knowing what we know, this is pretty confusing.

New York-Detroit ALDS
Verlander was able to throw 57 pitches in the bullpen. Even if he wasn't completely throwing 100 percent, he surely could have managed 25 or so pitches at 100 percent in the game, right? And if he doesn't throw his bullpen session during the day, that doesn't mean you have to pitch him during the game. It's just a bit mind-boggling to completely take the option off the table by having him go ahead with his session instead of waiting and seeing if he could be used.

What if starting pitcher Doug Fister melts down and is forced to leave after two innings? Max Scherzer will likely take over, but he's not the best pitcher in the AL. Verlander is.

The Tigers' season will be over if they lose Game 5. It seems like they'd be ready to do whatever it takes to avoid such a scenario. We're not talking about endangering a player's future here. We're talking about a pitcher who threw 57 meaningless pitches in the afternoon instead of being ready to throw a few meaningful pitches during Game 5 of the ALDS. No one is saying the Tigers should schedule Verlander to throw, say, the sixth and seventh innings. I'm simply saying they should have at least left open the option of him contributing around 25 pitches. The Yankees are leaving the option of CC Sabathia open. Friday night, the Phillies will have Cliff Lee in the bullpen. It's time to advance to the LCS.

We don't know what's going to happen in the game and the Tigers do have a good bullpen. But if they lose because of one or two bad innings from the pitching staff, Leyland is going to have plenty of questions to answer.

After the game, they call that second-guessing. So consider this a first guess. I just don't get it.

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Posted on: October 6, 2011 7:55 am
Edited on: October 6, 2011 7:07 pm

See-saw ALDS comes down to Game 5

By Matt Snyder

You want to talk about momentum? Go ahead. It's proven incorrect through most the Tigers-Yankees ALDS.

The national narrative has constantly shifted in this series. After Game 1 was suspended, the Yankees had the advantage because Justin Verlander would only get one start. After Game 1 finished, the Yankees had the advantage. After Game 2, the Tigers had the edge as they were going home with a split. After Game 3, the Tigers had the series in the bag, because there was no way A.J. Burnett would pitch well. But he did. And now the Yankees have the advantage, as they head home with the momentum. Right? So goes the narrative.

This Game 5, like the entire series, is a complete toss up. Drawing conclusions based upon what we've seen in the first four games would be folly, because you can throw everything out the window. It's Game 5. Anything can happen. And it's great theater involving pretty opposite cities.

We've got a team that hadn't won a division since 1987 against a team that has won its division 12 times in the past 16 seasons, but it's also blue collar against white collar. It's East Coast against the Midwest. Wall Street against the auto industry.

And it all comes down to one game. Let's size it up.

Game 5: Tigers at Yankees, 8:07 p.m. ET, Yankee Stadium, TBS


Tigers Yankees
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Austin Jackson CF 1 Derek Jeter SS
2 Don Kelly 3B 2 Curtis Granderson CF
3 Delmon Young LF 3 Robinson Cano 2B
4 Miguel Cabrera 1B 4 Alex Rodriguez 3B
5 Victor Martinez DH 5 Mark Teixeira 1B
6 Magglio Ordonez RF 6 Nick Swisher RF
7 Alex Avila C 7 Jorge Posada DH
8 Jhonny Peralta SS 8 Russell Martin C
9 Ramon Santiago 2B 9 Brett Gardner LF
  Doug Fister RHP   Ivan Nova RHP


Nova vs. Tigers: He completely shut the Tigers down in the continuation of Game 1 through six innings, but faltered after that. Still, he now has one postseason outing under his belt and got some confidence out of it. The big stage won't phase him one iota Thursday night. As far as the hitters, we have a very small sample from which to judge. Not one Tigers hitter has more than six plate appearances against Nova. Victor Martinez has reached base four of the six times he's faced Nova. The only other thing that stands out is Nova's faced 38 Tigers batters in his career and has not allowed a single extra-base hit.

Fister vs. Yankees: He actually settled in for a short span in Game 1, but the final line looks ugly because he had a rough last inning and Al Alburquerque gave up a grand slam -- three runs of which were charged to Fister. I know some of the stat crowd would freak out to hear this, but it's possible Fister had some nerves last time out, too. He'd never pitched in the playoffs and he had to take the hill on the biggest stage of all. Now that he has one outing under his belt, it's possible he gets back into a groove. In a small sample, several Yankees hit Fister well, though. Derek Jeter is 5-for-13 (.385). Mark Teixeira is hitting .364 with a 1.273 OPS against Fister. Robinson Cano is 3-for-8 with two doubles. Overall, the Yankees are hitting .310 off Fister, but no player has faced him more than 13 times.

New York-Detroit ALDS
  • The last time the Yankees won a deciding game (meaning a Game 5 in the ALDS or a Game 7 in the ALCS or World Series) was the Aaron Boone home run game. Seriously. In the 2003 ALCS, the Yankees won Game 7. Since then, they've either not needed to go the full series to beat someone, or lost a decisive game. They lost the 2004 ALCS to the Red Sox in seven. They lost the ALDS three games to two to the Angels in 2005. Otherwise they haven't played a series all the way to the final game.
  • This doesn't have anything to do with many of the current players, but it's still interesting: The only other time these two franchises met in the postseason, the Tigers beat the Yankees 3-1 in the 2006 ALDS. 
  • I'll again point out that Teixeira has an abysmal playoff track record. A-Rod gets showered with boos, but Teixeira is hitting .203 with an embarrassing .314 slugging percentage in 30 career postseason games. And his only hit since Game 1 in this series was a dribbler down the third-base line that Wilson Betemit thought would go foul.
  • Brett Gardner is 5-for-13 with a double, three runs scored and five RBI in this series.
  • Alex Avila is 0-for-12 this series after a brilliant regular season.
  • The Yankees have had the same batting order all five games, but the Tigers have had a different lineup in each of the five games.
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Posted on: October 5, 2011 5:53 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 5:59 pm

Sabathia in Game 5 bullpen, Verlander not

By Matt Snyder

After the Yankees won in blowout fashion at Detroit in Game 4 of the ALDS, the series heads back to New York for one final game. The big story of the series has been the use of Cy Young contenders CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. The two started Friday night but play was suspended after the top of the second inning. They then squared off Monday night, with Verlander's Tigers winning. They'll only be on two days' rest Thursday, so there's no way either could start, but what about coming out of the bullpen?

Sabathia is a tentative yes.

"I would think that I would [have Sabathia], but I have to check with him," Girardi said (MLB.com). "I can check with him today, [but] it doesn't matter how he feels today, it matters how he feels [Thursday]. I would expect I would have him."

New York-Detroit ALDS
Verlander, on the other hand, sounds like a firm no.

"I wouldn't do anything foolish," Leyland said (MLB.com). "I try not to do anything foolish with any of my pitchers, let alone an arm like that. You saw what a talent he is. I would say he's definitely done for this series."

Verlander threw 120 pitches Monday, while Sabathia threw 106. It's kind of surprising Leyland won't even consider Verlander for even one inning, as pitchers do throw side sessions between starts. Leyland did say Game 2 starter Max Scherzer would be available, but he's no Verlander. Still, the most important pitchers for Thursday's deciding Game 5 are the starters: Ivan Nova and Doug Fister.

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Posted on: October 5, 2011 12:08 am
Edited on: October 5, 2011 12:52 am

Tigers need Fister to step up now

By Matt Snyder

Like a pendulum, the momentum in this ALDS has swung back and forth, even a few times during the games. Now that the Yankees put the hurt on the Tigers in Game 4, 10-1, the series will conclude Thursday night in Yankee Stadium. And the pressure is back on the Tigers, as Doug Fister takes the hill.

Fister was essential to the Tigers running away with the AL Central down the stretch. He was acquired from the Mariners in late July to minimal fanfare and immediately locked in for Detroit. After the trade, Fister was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 0.84 WHIP and a much higher strikeout rate than he had for Seattle. Of course, he didn't have to face the Yankees during that stretch. In Game 1 of the ALDS, he did. And he faltered.

New York-Detroit ALDS
The outing was odd from the get-go, as Fister started on the hill as a road pitcher, and it was the bottom of the second inning, as it was a continuation of a suspended game. Still, he had time to prepare just as he would for any normal start. The result, in Fister's first career playoff appearance, was seven hits, two walks and six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. He even balked. It was easily the worst outing of his brief Tigers career.

It's possible any nerves that may have affected Fister last time out will be gone, now that he has an outing in Yankee Stadium under his belt. Of course, the pressure won't lessen at all, because this is Game 5 of a five-game series in The Big Apple.

Whatever the problem was in Game 1, it needs to be solved before Thursday, because the Tigers are playing the Yankees in a win-or-go-home game. And the Yankees have the momentum.

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Posted on: October 4, 2011 9:56 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 2:49 am

Huge early play: Granderson's catch

By Matt Snyder

We're a few innings in at this point, but it's hard to shake the fallout of Curtis Granderson's first-inning catch. With the bases loaded, Tigers right fielder Don Kelly hit a rocket to dead center field. Granderson at first came in on the ball before realizing it was going to go over his head. He then made an outstanding leaping catch to end the inning.

Considering Kelly can fly, Granderson didn't land on his feet and that the runners were all moving on contact -- there were two outs -- it most certainly would have been an inside-the-park grand slam if Granderson hadn't made the grab. So it would have been a 4-0 lead for the Tigers in the first inning, with fickle A.J. Burnett on the hill and Comerica Park would have been rocking. Essentially, there's an argument to be made that the series was over if Granderson doesn't make that catch.

Instead, it's 2-1 Yankees after four innings and Burnett hasn't been awful (4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 3 K).

It's far from over, but Granderson's recovery could well be the play that saved the season for the Yankees.

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Posted on: October 4, 2011 3:27 pm

ALDS Game 4: All about A.J.

By Matt Snyder

Yankees at Tigers, 8:37 p.m. ET, Comerica Park, TBS


Tigers Yankees
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Derek Jeter SS 1 Austin Jackson CF
2 Curtis Granderson CF 2 Ramon Santiago 2B
3 Robinson Cano 2B 3 Delmon Young LF
4 Alex Rodriguez 3B 4 Miguel Cabrera 1B
5 Mark Teixeira 1B 5 Victor Martinez DH
6 Nick Swisher RF 6 Don Kelly RF
7 Jorge Posada DH 7 Jhonny Peralta SS
8 Russell Martin C 8 Alex Avila C
9 Brett Gardner LF 9 Wilson Betemit 3B
  A.J. Burnett RHP   Rick Porcello RHP


Burnett vs. Tigers: Command has been an issue the past two seasons for Burnett, that's no secret. He led the majors in wild pitches in 2011 while missing enough spots to allow a hit per inning. His 5.15 ERA is a by-product of that. The Yankees were 16-16 in his starts this season and 81-49 when someone else started, so yeah, the negative press Burnett has gotten is with good reason. In two starts against the Tigers this season, however, Burnett wasn't half bad. He was 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 11 strikeouts in 12 innings. That certainly isn't great, but the Yankees would love six innings of two or three runs from Burnett in Game 4. His career numbers against Detroit are bad, though. In eight career starts against the Tigers, Burnett has a 6.33 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. He's started in Comerica Park four times and it was ugly -- 7.17 ERA, eight walks, five hit-by-pitch and three home runs in 21 1/3 innings. Amazingly, current Tigers don't hit Burnett very well. They are hitting a combined .239 against him. Miguel Cabrera is just 3-for-14 (.214), Victor Martinez is 7-for-27 (.259) and Delmon Young is 3-for-15 (.200).

Porcello vs. Yankees: He faced the Yankees one time this season, going seven innings and getting the win after allowing eight hits and two earned runs. In his career, though, he's 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA and 1.54 WHIP against the Yankees. Also, Porcello has been much worse at home this season than on the road. He's got a 5.64 home ERA, compared to a 4.00 road ERA. In terms of individual matchups, it's an incredibly small sample (no one has faced him more than 12 times), but Nick Swisher (1.017 OPS), Robinson Cano (.455 average) and Jorge Posada (.899 OPS) have handled him very well. On the flip-side, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter are a combined 2-for-28 off Porcello.

New York-Detroit ALDS
  • All we've heard and read Tuesday is that the Yankees' season rests on the feeble shoulders of Burnett. Rightfully so, but don't discount the fact that the Yankees have a very capable offense and manager Joe Girardi is going to have a quick hook with his embattled starter. And Burnett isn't exactly facing Justin Verlander here, as Porcello can be roughed up. I wouldn't want to count on Burnett, either, but this game is by no means a done deal for Detroit. 
  • Booing A-Rod is obviously the popular thing to do, but he's not the only one with playoff issues. Nick Swisher has a career .170 postseason batting average. Mark Teixeira has a career .316 postseason slugging percentage, which is brutal even for a non-power hitter. And Russell Martin is just 1-for-9 this ALDS.
  • In the past two games, Tigers closer Jose Valverde has thrown 53 pitches and allowed four walks, a triple, a home run and two runs. There's no question manager Jim Leyland will use him again Tuesday night if he gets the chance, but the door is wide open for him to blow his first save of 2011.
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Posted on: October 4, 2011 12:33 am
Edited on: October 4, 2011 12:22 pm

Valverde still getting it done, for now

By Matt Snyder

Tigers closer Jose Valverde led the majors with 49 saves this season. He had zero blown saves. If you simply look at those numbers and nothing more, it might seem the Tigers have absolutely nothing to worry about when heading into the ninth inning. From that point of view, they have the best closer in the majors. And it's true he hasn't blown any saves thus far in 2011.

But we're talking about an erratic pitcher in terms of how he pitches on a day-to-day basis and Tigers fans would likely admit as much. He's been on the verge of blowing saves several times and he nearly blew the game each of the Tigers' two wins in the ALDS (note: Game 2 wasn't a save opportunity, but he still almost blew the game).

New York-Detroit, Game 3
Sunday, it took Valverde 34 pitches to end the game. He allowed two hits, two walks and two earned runs. He ended up having to face Robinson Cano, who represented the go-ahead run, to end the game. Cano grounded out. Disaster averted.

Monday, it took Valverde 19 pitches to nail it down. He walked two and one of his first two outs was a warning-track fly out by Russell Martin that would have been in the seats in Yankee Stadium. But it was in Comerica, so he was still safe. With two outs, after walking Brett Gardner, Valverde then faced Derek Jeter with runners on first and second and a one-run lead. And the runner on first was Gardner, one of the fastest men in baseball. Valverde struck Jeter out. Disaster averted again.

So, once again, we're left with the two sides of the argument. On one side, he hasn't blown anything, so Valverde is simply getting the job done. On the other, he's just dodging far too many bullets for even his biggest fans to blindly believe that his success will continue at this rate.

Don't get me wrong. Valverde is definitely a good closer. It's just that he plays with fire far too often, and eventually he's going to get burned. It might be Game 4 of the ALDS, it might be Game 3 of the ALCS or it might just be Game 7 of the World Series. Then again, it might even be sometime next season. Maybe he can eke his way by for nine more Tigers wins, but Valverde cannot continue to put himself in the kind of trouble he has in the past two games and expect to always get out of it. Eventually, it's going to catch up with him. The entire city of Detroit just has to hope the inevitable is delayed until 2012.

More postseason coverage: Postseason schedule | Yankees-Tigers series | 2011 playoffs

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Posted on: October 4, 2011 12:06 am

Leyland's lineup tinkering pays off in Game 3

By Matt Snyder

Ramon Santiago only started the game batting second 16 times for the Tigers this season. He only hit .260 with a .311 on-base percentage, limited power and no stolen bases in the regular season. And here he was, Monday night, slotted second in the Tigers' batting order against big Yankees ace, CC Sabathia.

One of the reasons given by manager Jim Leyland for the move was that Santiago is a good bunter.

In the bottom of the third inning, Santiago came to bat with runners on first and second, no one out, and Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez being the three hitters behind him. Obviously, he was called upon to bunt. He failed on that front. With two strikes, however, Santiago swung away and gathered an RBI single, getting the Tigers on the board and cutting the Yankees lead to 2-1.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Santiago came to bat with a runner on second and the score tied at two. He sent a drive deep to left-center field that nearly left the yard. It resulted in a go-ahead RBI double.

The Tigers never trailed again, even though they did need to break a tie again -- and did, on Delmon Young's eighth-inning home run.

Young's home run was huge, as was Justin Verlander settling in for a dominant stretch in the middle of the game, but Leyland tinkering with the lineup and putting Santiago in the two-hole turned out to be a winning move.

More postseason coverage: Postseason schedule | Yankees-Tigers series2011 playoffs

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com