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With October looming closer and closer, the American league playoff picture has yet to be set in stone. The AL West is still up for grabs and the Yankees and Red Sox are battling for home field advantage. Exactly how the playoff matchups will shape-up is anyone’s guess, but the flawed format of the MLB playoffs has already guaranteed one thing; the Detroit Tigers will be the toughest ALDS opponent even if they aren’t the best all-around team in the American League.
With Justin Verlander pitching twice in such a short series, the playoffs will transform the Tigers into the biggest threat to the two teams most deserving of playing in the championship series; the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
In baseball, success is measured by a team’s ability to consistently win games throughout a 162-game season. Strong run production, pitching, and defense need to come together on a consistent basis for a team to emerge as championship quality. Pitching-wise, this requires a five-man rotation that gives their team a chance to win day after day. However, the current format of the ALDS changes the dimensions by which baseball measures success. Given the rest days, a team with a dominant ace has a significant advantage over a more well-rounded team with a better front-to-back pitching rotation. The playoff format shouldn’t make the Detroit Tigers the juggernaut they will become in the ALDS.
The Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff ranks 22nd in ERA, 21st in WHIP, and 20th in BAA (batting average against). Front to back, their pitchers lack the consistency that makes a team worthy of a World Series title. Besides Verlander, the Tigers rotation is plagued by high ERAs and poor strikeout to walk ratios. But Verlander negates that completely in a five-game playoff series with two rest days. Having to face a pitcher as dominant as Verlander twice in such a short series is the reason the Yankees should hope they don’t see Detroit in October, even if it means coming in as the Wildcard.
Along with their mediocre pitching rankings, the Detroit Tigers boast an offense that ranks among the top in the MLB. Replace those regular season pitching rankings with Verlander’s stats twice through a rotation and you have a completely different Detroit Tigers than the team reflected by their regular season play. Doug Fister, 27, has pitched exceptionally well down the stretch and may be the number two guy that would make the Tigers an absolute nightmare for their ALDS opponent. With a 46:9 K:BB over 65 innings since the All-Star break, Fister brings some scary stats to the mound as a follow up to the most dominant pitcher in the league.
So what does this mean for the New York Yankees? Verlander vs. any other American League pitcher is a matchup that favors the Tigers. With CC Sabathia anchoring the Yankee rotation, the matchup favors the Tigers every time the aces go head to head. After Sabathia, the Yankees have nothing but question marks in their rotation, which means the Tigers match up even better against the Yankees than the Rangers or Angels would. This should not be the case. Both AL West teams have a better five-man pitching rotation than the Tigers, but both teams lack the dominant ace that turns a five-game series around.
This shouldn’t be the case. A single pitcher shouldn’t be able to influence a playoff series to the extent the division series format allows them to. The ALDS needs to be a seven game series with less rest days so that teams are forced to use their entire rotation or risk sending their ace onto the mound on short rest. Success in baseball requires an entire team and this should continue throughout the playoffs.
A lot can change in a month of baseball but as of right now, the Yankees better hope their road to 28 world titles does not run through Detroit.