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The playoff matchups are finally settled after a night that capped off the regular 2011 season in dramatic fashion. Out of all the Major League teams that earned their shot at playing in October, the Yankees drew the toughest opponent as they start their journey towards another World Series title. Yankee fans should be cautious of how much they celebrate the implosion of the Red Sox because Justin Verlander and company will be dealign some baseball karma in the American League Division Series.
Game one is a must-win if the Yankees plan to play baseball past the ALDS. With Verlander taking the mound, it is pivotal that New York steals a game from this year’s clear Cy Young winner. Virtually unhittable this season, Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown with a 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA, and 250 strikeouts. Throw in Doug Fister in the number 2 spot with a 7-0 record and a 0.65 ERA in his last 8 starts, and you have the best one-two punch in this year’s playoffs. Add to this the uncertainty behind CC Sabathia for the Yankees and the Tigers have the clear edge when it comes to pitching rotation unless…
Sabathia has already proved he can put the Yankees on his back and carry them through the playoffs, but Verlander makes that a taller task than it was in the past. Ivan Nova is the X-factor in this year’s Yankee rotation. Can the rookie keep his composure and continue to pitch like he has all season or will inexperience do him in under the pressure of postseason play? Nova has stayed calm throughout his successful 16-win season, but in the playoffs the pressure doubles and everything changes.
Both offenses stack up as two of the best in the Major Leagues. In the middle of both their respective lineups, these two juggernauts have talent that can easily put up some crooked numbers on the scorecard, no matter who is on the mound that day. Miguel Cabrera will lead the Tigers with the proven ability to both hit for average and drive the ball out of the park as well as any hitter in the playoffs. Yankee pitchers won’t even be able to naturalize Cabrera’s bat by pitching around him because the red-hot Victor Martinez will provide great protection from the five hole. Meanwhile, the Yankees come in with two of the top three home run hitters in the American League in Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Add a scorching Robinson Cano and the intangible spark of Derek Jeter in October and you have the best offense that could possibly challenge the likes of Verlander and Fister.
With 42 post season saves, Mariano Rivera will be giving the Tigers something closer to 24 outs to work with rather than 27 if the Yankees have a lead late in the game. No matter how old he is, he hasn’t given anyone a reason to bet against him come the ninth inning. Jose Valverde comes into the playoffs without a single blown save, but he sure has made a couple opportunities interesting. Does this mean he is due to finally blow one or is he really just that good? His raw stuff isn’t as impressive as his perfect converted save record, so look out for a dicey ninth inning after a dominating first eight by Verlander or Fister. The Yankees have the advantage here, with more depth and a closer that has dominated October baseball for his entire career.
Home field advantage would be crucial in this series because of how the Yankee offense has performed at home. However, Verlander will likely pitch both his games at Yankee stadium, nullifying the advantage.
The Yankees would have matched up a lot better against the Rangers in a five-game series. Pitching wins championships and that is what the Tigers bring to this series. Verlander may not pull off the AL MVP for being a starting pitcher, but watch for him to earn the ALDS MVP with dominating wins to start off and finish the series while the Tigers steal one more win in Detroit and….