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October 13, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game One Preview: Yankees vs. Tigers

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tigers and Yankees burned their aces to clinch their Division Series matchups with the Athletics and Orioles, respectively. Hence, they will have to make do with their number-two starters in Game One of the ALCS, which takes place in the Bronx. Here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for the opener:

Tigers (Doug Fister) vs. Yankees (Andy Pettitte) – 8:00 p.m. ET
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Yankees 60.1 percent, Tigers 39.9 percent

Projected Starting Lineups

Tigers vs. Pettitte (L)

Yankees vs. Fister (R)

Austin Jackson, CF (R)

Derek Jeter, SS (R)

Omar Infante, 2B (R)

Ichiro Suzuki, LF (L)

Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)

Robinson Cano, 2B (L)

Prince Fielder, 1B (L)

Mark Teixeira, 1B (S)

Delmon Young, DH (R)

Raul Ibanez, DH (L)

Jhonny Peralta, SS (R)

Alex Rodriguez, 3B (R)

Andy Dirks, LF (L)

Nick Swisher, RF (S)

Avisail Garcia, RF (R)

Curtis Granderson, CF (L)

Gerald Laird, C (R)

Russell Martin, C (R)

The good news for the Tigers is that of the four teams that enjoyed home-field advantage in the Division Series, only one advanced. The bad news: That one club was the Yankees, who took two of three from the Orioles in New York. And with the post-season veteran Pettitte on the mound in the opener, PECOTA expects the Yankees to grab a 1-0 lead.

Detroit did not face the 40-year-old Pettitte during the regular season—or in 2010, or in 2009, for that matter. The last time Pettitte toed the rubber against the Tigers was on April 30, 2008, and the only holdover in Jim Leyland’s lineup is Cabrera, who at the time played first base. Ivan Rodriguez, a future Yankee, hit leadoff. Placido Polanco—this is not a misprint—hit two home runs in one game. Gary Sheffield, a former Yankee, hit third. Granderson entered as a defensive replacement for fellow future Yankee, Marcus Thames. And future Yankee Clay Rapada pitched in relief of Jeremy Bonderman.

How is all of that significant? It means the Tigers will be relying heavily on their advance scouts for information about the 2012 Pettitte—and the data they will get, according to one of Buster Olney’s sources, may be dubious. Pettitte seemed as sharp as ever during the regular season, logging a 2.87 ERA and allowing only four stolen bases over 12 starts, but he did not take on a single American League playoff team, and he proceeded to lose his Game Two duel with Wei-Yin Chen.

Always a finesse pitcher who thrived on command, deception, and movement, Pettitte has barely touched 90 mph with his fastball in recent years. That heater was especially slow at Camden Yards on Monday, sitting at 86-87, a tick below even his regular-season average of 88.3. And that lack of velocity led to trouble generating whiffs, as the Orioles swung-and-missed only once on the 50 combined two-seam and four-seam fastballs Pettitte threw.

Pettitte still held Baltimore to three runs on seven hits in seven innings of work, largely by issuing only one walk and allowing only one extra-base hit. But the Tigers are loaded with right-handed bats capable of tattooing mistakes, and Pettitte’s margin for error is smaller than ever, particularly with New York’s offense struggling to settle into a groove.

One of those aforementioned right-handed threats for Detroit gets the nod in the Matchup of the Game. No, not Jackson or Cabrera—instead, it’s Young, who went 13-for-24 with three doubles and a triple against Pettitte, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. The 27-year-old designated hitter has more recent experience versus the Yankees’ Game One starter than most of his teammates, but the last time they squared off, he was batting cleanup for the Twins in Game Two of the 2010 Division Series.

For what that archaic data is worth, Pettitte has primarily attacked Young with fastballs up and on the inner half of the plate, using his soft stuff sparingly as a change-of-pace. But in the 16 plate appearances tracked by the Matchup Tool, Young is 6-for-11 when the deciding pitch has been a fastball or sinker, including four hits in the last five such at-bats. Since Pettitte’s heater has even less bite than it did two years ago, he might be wise to rely on his curveball and changeup when Young steps into the box tonight.

The Yankees, on the other hand, do have recent experience against Fister, who scattered eight hits in 6 1/3 innings while limiting New York to two runs at Comerica Park on Aug. 9. If you’re looking for a Matchup of the Game on the Yankees side, keep an eye on Ibanez, who smacked a double and a triple in that 4-3 New York win.

Fister pitched Game Two of Detroit’s Division Series with Oakland, and he took advantage of the A’s swing-for-the-fences approach, recording eight strikeouts in seven innings of two-run ball. The 6-foot-8 sinkerballer has served up only one home run in his past five starts, but his ability to keep the ball in the yard will be tested by Yankee Stadium’s short porch and the Bombers’ homer-reliant offense.

On the heels of four, maximum-length Division Series, three of which featured late-inning drama in Game Five, can the League Championship round possibly deliver a worthy encore? We’ll begin to find out the answer to that question tonight. 

Update (5:27 p.m. ET): The Yankees lineup is now updated to reflect the actual one; there was no change in the win probabilities as a result of the new batting order.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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