The Detroit Tigers can pitch. The New York Yankees can’t hit anymore. This seems like a nice little formula to help advance the Tigers to their 2nd World Series appearance in the last 7 seasons.
The series now shifts to the anticipatory confines of Comerica Park. Tigers fans will be ready to pounce on every Yankee strikeout, mistake, etc. But, as we know, this is baseball, and anything can happen. New York could suddenly regain their vaunted swagger, start bashing homers like they know how, and push this series into overdrive.
It would have to be a sudden turn of events for the Yankees to rip away the momentum from the Tigers, and in particular, their lights-out pitching staff. It has been 22.1 innings since the Tigers’ starting rotation has surrendered a run. This is the longest such postseason streak since the A’s did it for 29 consecutive innings way back in 1974.
The last run against came in Game 4 at Oakland courtesy of a Prince Fielder error. The last earned run came in Game 3 when Anibal Sanchez gave up a solo shot to Seth Smith in the 5th inning. In all, the Tigers’ starters have allowed just 5 earned runs in 48 innings of work.
Yankees fans are understandably at wit’s end. When 5 of your regulars combine to go 17-133 with 6 extra-base hits up until now in the playoffs for a lousy .128 batting average, it’s nearly impossible to win. But that’s exactly what Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin have done. Ouch. And now they continue to play without Derek Jeter, a scenario that netted them 0 runs of offense on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have had a few players suddenly step up their game in the playoffs. Jhonny Peralta has turned in three dynamic defensive plays in the ALCS thus far and is hitting .385 to boot. Phil Coke has produced his two best back-to-back days as a Tiger in a season in which he has been getting pounded by opposing hitters. Ahhh the difference throwing strikes can make.
Coke became just the 2nd Tiger in team history to record a 2+ innings pitched save. Willie Hernandez did it twice in 1984. His stellar effort on Sunday sealed the 8th shutout in club playoff history.
Another key is that Austin Jackson, the triggerman, is 5 for his last 16 and has come up with some big hits over the past 3 games. Say it with me now: as Austin Jackson goes, so go the Tigers.
And now the bright lights will shine in Detroit with the game’s brightest star, Justin Verlander, taking the ball in Game 3 and hoping to stake the Tigers to a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead.
Game 3 features Verlander against Phil Hughes. Both have had success against their Tuesday opponent already in 2012. Verlander is 1-1 in three starts against the Yankees with a 3.10 ERA. He has struck out 22 in 20.1 innings of work but did allow 25 hits, including 4 homers, and 5 walks.
Hughes is 1-1 in two starts against the Tigers this year with a 3.38 ERA and 11 K’s in 13.1 innings. Detroit has gotten to him for 12 hits (2 homers) and 3 walks.
Justin Verlander was at his very best against the A’s in the ALDS as he gave up just 1 lonely run covering 16 innings of 22-strikeout domination. He will more than likely need just a little help from his friends in order to give the Tigers a Game 3 victory.
Game 4 will be the highest profile pitching matchup of the series as Max Scherzer will oppose CC Sabathia. Sabathia has given up just 3 earned runs in his first 2 postseason starts, covering 17.2 innings. He has struck out 16 and walked only 3. He is locked in.
Scherzer has been trying to get his feet back under him after his deltoid/ankle issues. He hasn’t gone deep in either of his last 2 starts but didn’t allow an earned run in his ALDS turn against Oakland.
Sabathia is 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA in three 2012 starts v. the Tigers. He has punched out 20 Tigers in those 21.2 innings. Detroit has managed 20 hits (2 homers) and 5 walks against the big fella. Historically, he has not been a player that has intimidated the Tiger bats. He may be pitching for his team’s playoff existence on Wednesday, so expect his best effort.
Scherzer made just 1 start against the wearers of pinstripes this season and it was an ugly one. He gave up 7 hits and a startling 7 walks in just 4.2 innings. Somehow he only allowed 3 earned runs. But this is a different Max than he was back in that late April start. He poured on 231 K’s in just 187.2 innings over the course of the year.
Scherzer will be looking to make a statement against Sabathia in this one. Even with that I believe this is the game the Tigers are most likely to lose in this series.
Game 5 will be a rematch of Game 1 when Doug Fister and Andy Pettitte locked up in a pitcher’s duel. Fister fended off a lot of trouble in that one, and despite Jose Valverde’s poorest efforts, the Tigers were able to win in 12 innings.
Pettitte is a bulldog of the highest order and will not let the Yankees go down easily, especially if it’s an elimination game. The Tigers will expect a more controlled Fister on Thursday afternoon in what promises to be another heated battle.
My expectation is that the Tigers, at worst, will come out of the 3-game home stand up 3 games to 2. The more likely occurrence is that they finish off the series before having to re-board a plane for New York.
But like I said, in October, anything is possible. Regardless, go ahead and pick up those World Series tickets just in case.