As the season comes closer to the end and the Yankees’ magic number is down to 12 it is time to start looking at possible playoff opponents.
Let’s start with the Detroit Tigers as they are currently the most likely to face the Yankees in the first round. That is as long as the Red Sox and not the Texas Rangers win the wildcard and the Tigers and not the Twins win the AL Central division. But for the purposes of this article, let’s assume that because each team has at least a five game lead, that they will will win their respective races.
Like I’ve already said, the Tigers are in first place in the AL Central, which is the worst division in the American League. Without one very strong team to take the division, the Tigers have managed to stay out in front of the Twins, currently dealing with the loss of first baseman Justin Morneau, the White Sox, who have fallen apart and traded off many veterans, and the Indians, who basically gave up on their season a long time ago.
Leading the Tigers this season has been their pitching staff that has been Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson, who is having quite the breakout season. Verlander is 16-8 with a 3.34 ERA this season including a 1-1 record with a 1.29 ERA in two starts against the Yankees. Jackson is 12-6 with a 3.22 ERA including a 0-1 record and a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Yankees.
Obviously, it would be no joy ride in the Bronx if the Yankees had to face off against these two. After that it does get much easier though. Jarrod Washburn was expected to be their third starter since they acquired him from the Seattle Mariners at the deadline this year. But he’s recently gone down with knee issues. As of right now there is no word on whether or not he’s going to be able to make a start in the playoffs, but with a shaky knee the Tigers might not want him to.
Rick Porcello would be their forth, or third starter if Washburn is down, and he’s having a strong rookie season, but he’s been inconsistent at times and he was bombed the only time he faced the Yankees this season, six runs in 3.2 innings. Nate Robertson could be the dark-horse here, he hasn’t had a good season and only recently has be been starting games for Detroit. He has been decent in his recent, but brief, starts (1.98 ERA in three starts).
The Tigers haven’t exactly had a lock-down bullpen this season. Joel Zumaya has been injured for most of this season and closer Fernando Rodney hasn’t been in danger of being considered one of the top closers in baseball lately. His ERA this season is a pedestrian 3.94 and over the past 30 days it has been even worse at 4.50. Brandon Lyon, 2.91 ERA, has been their best reliever this season, despite the fact that he blew a save just last week against Toronto.
With a few injuries and no real standouts in the bullpen, the Tigers haven’t done terribly for themselves. The Yankees might be looking to wear down Detroit’s starters, but while their bullpen hasn’t been great, it hasn’t been terrible either. Without a lock-down closer, Detroit is going to have a constant late inning fear though.
The Tiger’s offense doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of pitchers around the American League. Ranked ninth in the AL with 663 runs scored, they score just 4.604 runs per game. First baseman Miguel Cabrera has lead the team, but other than that there has been a lot of disappointment starting with Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson.
Ordonez has kept his average and on base percentage at a respectable level, but at .405 his slugging percentage has taken a huge drop. He is at risk of having his worst season, at least power-wise, of his career. Granderson has his own problems as well including a rather sizable drop in batting average and slugging percentage. One look at his stats and it is easy to realize why they’re having problems. With no spark at the top of this lineup, they’re lost.
Defensively this is a decent team. Their combined UZR/150 of 5.7 is forth in baseball and third in the American League. Putting that up against the Yankees’ -3.7 UZR/150, sixth worst in all of baseball, gives the Tigers a clear edge here. The Tigers, whose infield defense is especially strong (thanks Placido Polanco and Brandon Inge), won’t be giving the Yankees many extra outs so if the Yankees start giving up their own the Tigers could gain a nice advantage.
Outlook: At first glance it looks like the Yankees match up well against the Tigers, but it isn’t that easy. The Tigers are strongest defensively and at the front end of their rotation. So if they play frugal defense and get some strong pitching, the Yankees strongest suit, their offense, could be shutdown along with their World Series hopes.
The Yankees are going to need CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett to match the Tiger’s top two guys and hope that their backend guys, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain, can outpitch the weak links of Detroit’s rotation.