|Can the Tigers ride Verlander's arm to a victory over the Yankees? (US Presswire)|
If the opening rounds of the AL playoffs were billed as David vs. Goliath matchups in terms of payroll, this American League Championship Series is a battle of the titans. The Yankees sport, shockingly, the top payroll in baseball. The Tigers checked in at fifth overall this season after stunning the baseball world in inking Prince Fielder this past winter.
And here we are. Another Tigers vs. Yankees postseason matchup. The Tigers took the Yankees down last October, just as they did in 2006. Third time's a charm for the Yankees, or will the Tigers soon be able to say they own the Yankees in October? We'll find out in roughly a week. What I do know is it's looking like a classic series.
Note: Please keep in mind that the game is about so much more than position-by-position rankings, so if you go through and add up who gets more "edge points," that doesn't necessarily translate to me predicting a victory for that "winning" team. Baseball is about each team being the sum of its parts and much more.
All three catchers mentioned here are good receivers and have an excellent rapport with their respective pitchings staffs. That's the most important thing. None has had great seasons in terms of offense, but Martin's power stroke gives him a slight advantage here.
First base: Prince Fielder vs. Mark Teixeira
Teixeira had a decent series of getting on base against the Orioles, but he lacked power. In the regular season, he hit for good power but his batting average and on-base percentage left a little to be desired. Fielder has more power and crushes Teixeira in the rate stats. It may be a significant edge offensively, but Teixeira's defensive prowess keeps the overall needle at moderate.
Infante's not a bad player, but Cano is one of the top 10 players in baseball, a bad ALDS notwithstanding. No contest here.
Neither is going to light the world on fire defensively, so we'll look at offense. Peralta had a good series against the A's, but that's only five games and he had a pretty bad regular season at the plate. Jeter, meanwhile, had a big bounce-back regular season and kept things going in the playoffs. The Captain is the pick.
With the Tigers having four right-handed starters who throw hard, it's going to be interesting to see how many times A-Rod gets the start. Regardless, it's all Miggy here in blowout fashion. Confession: For about a split second I thought about putting this "even" and talking about how great a career A-Rod has had as a justification (basically, some serious trolling), but I figured Tigers fans have had enough arguing about Cabrera, due to the AL MVP "debate." So I spared you guys. You're welcome. (Seriously, though, I wouldn't have actually done that).
Berry has real good speed and Dirks is an underrated hitter. His OBP (.370) is a decent amount higher than Ichiro's .340 clip as a Yankee in the regular season. I like Dirks over Ichiro here and Ichiro over Berry, so let's call it even.
Granderson has significantly more home run power (43 to 16 in the regular season, though Yankee Stadium vs. Comerica Park helps Granderson a bit). Jackson is better at batting average, getting on base, finding the gaps, running the bases and playing defense. Basically, as Granderson gets older he's heading toward being one-dimensional while Jackson is growing into a five-tool player. This will be a significant edge to Detroit in a year or two.
As I said above, Dirks is an underrated stick. Garcia is a good on-base guy with very little power, and that's a problem at a corner outfield spot. Swisher is coming off a rough ALDS -- like many of his offensive teammates, actually -- but he hit .272/.364/.473 with 36 doubles and 24 homers in the regular season. I'll take him.
Ibanez crushes righties and has already cemented his place in postseason lore as a "True Yankee" after that two-homer Game 3. He rarely hits left-handers, though, so let's curb our enthusiasm a bit. That being said, Delmon Young's on-base percentage wasn't even .300 in the regular season and he had a bad ALDS. I can't imagine any pitcher fears him, even though he has decent pop.
First things first, the Yankees have a tough decision for Games 2 and 3. Kuroda could start Game 2, but he'd be on short rest. So if they don't want to do that, they're left with David Phelps. Then Kuroda would probably be ready for Game 3, but Sabathia would be rested enough to go by then. As for CC on short rest? He's been dominant in four career regular-season starts on three-day's rest: 3-1, 1.01 ERA, 26 2/3 innings, 26 K, 6 BB, 1 CG. He also made two postseason starts on short rest, one in the 2009 ALCS and one in the 2009 World Series. ALCS start vs. Angels: 8 innings, 1 R, 5 H. World Series start vs. Phillies: 6 2/3 innings, 7 H, 3 R. The Yankees won both of those games.
Still, Verlander is more of an ace than Sabathia -- which says more about how good Verlander is than anything bad about Sabathia -- and the Tigers' 2-4 starters are superior to the Yankees when considering the Yankees' Game 2 issue, especially with the big second halves from Fister and Scherzer. Don't forget that the Tigers' rotation is more than just Verlander. They got a good start in all five ALDS games.
The Yankees bullpen was very good against the Orioles in the ALDS while Valverde and Benoit were awful for the Tigers in the ALDS. The Yankees bullpen has the rate-stat advantage in regular-season play (3.43 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and a slightly higher strikeout rate to 3.79 ERA and 1.32 WHIP for the Tigers). If the Yankees had Mariano Rivera, it would be a significant edge, but they don't. And even if Soriano makes Yankees fans nervous, Valverde gives Tigers fans a coronary.
Aside from Austin Jackson, the Tigers leave a lot to be desired in terms of range. You can preach and preach about fielding percentage, but the fact of the matter is that you can't make an error if you can't get to a ball. The Yankees aren't great defensively, but it's not a glaring weakness like it is for Detroit.
As I mentioned in the intro, this has the makings of a classic. So let's get nuts and do this (no guts, no glory): It goes the distance and we get a tasty CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander matchup in Game 7. Speaking of going the distance, Verlander does so in Game 7 and begins to seriously leave his imprint on Tigers' postseason history as he beefs up his Hall of Fame resume. The Tigers win Game 7, 1-0, in a legendary pitchers' duel we'll be telling our grandkids about. While the Yankees may have the advantage on a few more spots above, Detroit will ride starting pitching and power hitting to the AL championship.