Yankees answer the questions, just as Tigers did, and now they meet in ALCS

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
It's hasn't been the smoothest of seasons for the Yankees, but they're in the ALCS nonetheless. (US Presswire)

NEW YORK -- The Yankees are too old. The Tigers can't play defense.

The Yankees can't score without home runs. The Tigers can't score unless Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder is up.

The Yankees rotation is questionable after CC Sabathia. The Tigers bullpen is a problem, and that includes closer Jose Valverde.

Yankees fans boo Alex Rodriguez. Tigers fans complain about Jim Leyland.

All summer, and all week, we've picked at everything these two teams can't do. Isn't it time to acknowledge what they can?

One of them is headed to the World Series representing the American League. Either of them is easily good enough to win it all.

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A night after the Tigers outlasted the scrappy A's with the help of a great pitching performance by Justin Verlander, the Yankees outlasted the pesky Orioles with the help of a great pitching performance by CC Sabathia.

Sabathia was outstanding in a four-hit complete-game 3-1 win over the Orioles in Friday night's Game 5, and now the ALCS begins at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.

The Orioles and A's were great stories this year, but the Yankees and Tigers are better teams. The Orioles and A's were fun because they were new; the Yankees and Tigers have been through this before.

The Yankees are in the ALCS for the third time in four years. The one they missed was last year, when the Tigers beat them in five games in the first round.

The Tigers are back in the ALCS for a second straight year, and for the third time in Leyland's seven seasons (funny that some fans don't seem to think that's enough).

"It starts with the managers," said Derek Lowe, a Michigan native but now a Yankee reliever. "Look at Leyland. Look at [Joe] Girardi. You're talking about guys who understand this time of year."

It hasn't been a smooth ride for either team all season. It wasn't an easy ride through the Division Series, either.

The Yankees didn't clinch the American League East until the final night of the regular season. They couldn't shake the Orioles easily in this series, either, needing 12 innings for their win in Game 3, losing Game 4 in 13 innings and then holding on for a tight win in Friday night's Game 5.

The Tigers were expected by many to run away with the American League Central, but they didn't wrap it up until the final series of the season. They won the first two games of their Division Series with the A's, then lost the next two before winning Game 5 on Thursday.

The Yankees won six of their 10 games with the Tigers this year, four of the seven in Detroit and two of three in the lone series at Yankee Stadium. But the Tigers beat the Yankees in Division Series in both 2006 and 2011, winning twice at Yankee Stadium last year.

For both the Yankees and the Tigers, it was at least as much a sense of relief as a sense of accomplishment when they won the division and the Division Series. After all, with the payrolls and expectations they both carry, aren't they supposed to win?

The Yankees' celebration Friday was tame, in part because their season is only a success if there are bigger celebrations later, and in part because they knew they had to play the very next day.

Not that they were complaining about the unusual playoff schedule. In fact, some Yankee players said they don't mind heading to the ALCS without an off day because it comes closer to simulating the regular-season schedule that major-league players are so accustomed to.

The Yankees weren't bemoaning their failure to close out the Orioles before the series got to a fifth game. Instead, they were crediting an Orioles team that stuck with them all season.

"I don't think people outside this clubhouse understand how hard Baltimore has been for us," Lowe said.

It was hard, but the Yankees had Sabathia to make the difference in Game 5.

Sabathia allowed the Orioles just one hit over the first seven innings, but the Orioles scored a run and had the bases loaded with one out in the eighth. Sabathia struck out Nate McLouth and got J.J. Hardy to ground out to preserve the lead.

That lead came via a fifth-inning single from Raul Ibanez, on a night when he made it into Girardi's lineup and the struggling A-Rod didn't. Girardi did stick with the struggling Curtis Granderson, who rewarded him with two hits, including a seventh-inning home run.

Because the Yankees needed five games to get past the Orioles, Sabathia won't be available until at least Game 3 of the ALCS, and almost certainly will be limited to two starts in the series.

But the same will hold true for Verlander, because the Tigers needed five games to finish off the A's.

The rest of the Yankees rotation has pitched well against the Orioles. The rest of the Tigers rotation pitched well against the A's.

The first round was exciting, more exciting than either the Yankees or Tigers wanted it to be. The next round could be even better.

It begins Saturday night.

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