October 13, 2012
ALCS Preview: Tigers and Yankees
After all that funny business, the American League ultimately settled into a scenario quite easily predicted all along: the Tigers against the Yankees in the ALCS. Not that there aren’t still surprises, even with the A’s and Orioles eliminated. The Tigers, for instance, aren’t the 1,000-run Tigers, but a club built on starting pitching good enough to win even when the offense is scoring only three runs per game. And the Yankees are, by choice, fielding an A-Rod-less team in the most crucial moments. There will be plenty of narratives in this series: The inevitability of Justin Verlander; the Triple Crown winner trying to punctuate the end of his season; the Yankees’ first postseason without Mariano Rivera; slumping veteran stars on the Yankees; the many overachieving adjectives about Derek Jeter; and, as always, Alex Rodriguez. They’re fine narratives, even if they’re not the ones we underdog-lovers were rooting for.
Detroit’s offense was mostly tamed by Oakland’s pitching staff, which struck out 39 Tigers, walked seven, and allowed two home runs in 44 innings. The lineup’s perfectly balanced lefty-righty march had sliiiightly more success against Oakland’s bullpen, but this is a collection that thins out quickly after the fourth hitter. Detroit needs to get an outlandish contribution from their two big bats, a model that worked well during the season before Cabrera and Fielder hit just .220/.273/.341 against Oakland. Typically, we talk about Yankee Stadium as a haven for left-handed power, but Cabrera’s opposite-field punch might play just as well there, where he has hit seven home runs (and slugged .872) in 56 career plate appearances. Four of those home runs have gone the other way. Late-blooming Andy Dirks has emerged as the announcer’s favorite underdog in this lineup, but he’s not all fluff: his .302 TAv would be the second-best in the Yankees’ lineup, and he has played himself into an everyday role thanks to a minimal platoon split. You’ll hear good things about late-blooming Quintin Berry, too, but the June surprise hit .220/.284/.305 in his last 200 plate appearances of the regular season. Austin Jackson helped the Tigers post the AL’s second-best OBP out of the leadoff spot, though he, like the big-boned benefactors batting behind him, posted a sub-.300 figure in the ALDS.
The Yankees’ offense is so good that Joe Girardi can even consider benching Alex Rodriguez; is there another team in baseball that could boast this luxury, 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts or not? Martin is the only member of the lineup with a line below the league average, and even he was above that standard in the second half. Neither Ichiro nor Jeter is still a jackrabbit at the top of the lineup, but Jeter’s OBP this season nearly matches Jackson’s if you include their ALDS performances. Teixeira’s balky calf was strong enough to steal a base against Matt Wieters in Game Five. When a right-hander starts, the Yankees can put Eric Chavez (.908 OPS against them) and Raul Ibanez (.812) in the lineup for a seven-lefty lineup. Pair that with the Yankees’ ballpark and you can understand how the team slugged .461 against righties this year, which, for comparison’s sake, is about what Nelson Cruz and Adrian Gonzalez slugged this year. The Tigers will throw four right-handed starters, and only one lefty-specialist reliever. Prepare for ironic “Too many homers!” tweets.