The Detroit Tigers were one of baseball’s hottest teams down the stretch, running away with the AL Central by 15 games over the second place Indians.
Their reward? A trip to the Bronx to meet the New York Yankees in the divisional round of the MLB playoffs. That’s the same way Detroit’s 2006 playoff run started — the Tigers lost Game 1 in Yankee Stadium, then won three straight to eliminate the Bronx Bombers.
Detroit would prefer to get off to a faster start this time around, with 24-game winner Justin Verlander starting Friday against Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia. Games 1, 2 and 5 will be in New York, with Games 3 and 4 back in the Motor City.
Can the Tigers pull off another postseason upset of the Yankees? Here’s what The Detroit Sports Site staff has to say:
Chris Burke: Tigers in 4
We’re not called “The New York Sports Site” …
That caveat out of the way, the Tigers are not the pick here simply because of this site’s roots. Detroit is playing some of its best baseball at the right time of year — the lineup is rolling, the starting pitching sets up well for a five-game set and the whole team seems confident.
Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in the American League right now. The Yankees know it too, which is why manager Joe Girardi plans to use C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 and then on short rest in Game 4. Girardi has no confidence that his team can beat Verlander twice in this series. Either the Yankees down him in Game 1 and Girardi goes for the knockout punch before J.V.’s turn comes back around in Game 5, or Detroit wins Game 1 and the Yanks pull out all the stops to take the next three.
New York’s lineup is a beast, from top to bottom, paced by Curtis Granderson, who figures to be jacked up to play his former team in the playoffs. But there are any number of Yankees that can put runs on the board.
The good news for Detroit is that’s true in the other dugout, too. The Tigers are stacked in their top seven lineup slots, then can run out HR threats like Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge and Wilson Betemit at 8-9, with sneaky hitter Ramon Santiago pitching in.
This will, as so many series do, come down to pitching. If Verlander and Doug Fister get Detroit off on the right foot in New York, it might not matter what order the Yankees run their starters out there.
Max DeMara: Tigers in 4
The New York Yankees always pack a mystique. However, prior to the 2006 playoffs, I was more worried about them than I am this year. Back then, you looked down the entire roster and literally saw stars. They were set to oppose the Tigers, and it all seemed so overwhelming at the time. This was true particularly within the pitching staff, as the Yankees threw battle-tested and winning veterans like Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson to the hill, which should have been good enough to win two gams against the Tigers.
Even Jaret Wright and Chien Ming Wang had serviceable enough track records to be postseason winners. This year, the Yankee rotation is not as deep and is more unstable. They will pitch C.C. Sabathia in Game 1, a player the Tigers know (and have hit well) from his days with Cleveland. After that, they will turn to a rookie, Ivan Nova, and a crafty veteran the Tigers are also familiar with in Freddy Garcia. That’s not as scary as the Yankees of old, which featured a who’s who of Cooperstown in a short series, with the ability to throw Andy Pettitie, Mussina, Roger Clemens and David Wells at a team.
The Yankees are the Yankees, and it never surprises me when they have October success. I wouldn’t be shocked if they found a way to win this series. Still, this Tigers offense is vastly underrated, and has a good chance to put up serious runs. The pitching could also give the Yankees fits. If they do that and get good starts out of Justin Verlander and Doug Fister early, they should be in good shape to win in four games.
Michael MacVay: Tigers in 5
At the risk of sounding like a homer, I actually believe the Tigers will win the opening series against the Yankees. Even though New York finished with the best record in the AL, the Yankees seem like the least threatening of the playoff options.
Objectively, the Tigers have a better starting rotation than the Yankees. And it is not much of a stretch to say the same about the Rangers and the Rays. Although the Rangers’ starters are showing signs of fatigue, they still are more potent than New York. The Rays arguably have the best rotation of all four clubs, with multiple pitchers that can go deep into the game and win. Given the option, I would rather face Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia.
I can’t say the same about the bats, as the Yanks know how to put runs on the board. The Yankees receive multiple All-Star nods each year because of their name, but they have hitters that would be recognized on any club. Mark Texiera, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are legitimate top players at their positions. Add that to Alex Rodriguez, “The Captain” Derek Jeter, speedy Brett Gardner and Russell Martin, and the Yankees definitely provide a punch.
For me, the key to the opening series and the playoffs rests on players like Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila. We have to take Miggy Cabrera as a given simply because of who he is and what he has done. If the others can play like the All-Stars they were they year, than the Tigers will be a very tough out. Also, the Tigers need to get on top early — or at least before the closing stages of the game. Last I checked, the greatest closer of all time is still a Yankee and will be cuing up “Enter Sandman” if the Yankees have the lead going into the ninth.
Ben Singer: Tigers in 5
Both teams have potent lineups, but October often comes down to pitching. The Tigers have two of the best in Doug Fister and Justin Verlander (in that order). However, the Yankees will be featuring three pitchers with ERAs under 4.00, while the Tigers will be featuring up to two pitchers with ERAs above 4.40.
Verlander has been living off his reputation he earned in June since mid-July. The wheels are coming off. He actually gives up hits now. He’s still better than C.C. Sabathia, but JV is more used to pitching in the big, wide Comerica Park than he is in Yankee Stadium where people like Curtis Granderson can suddenly just about double their power. I am expecting a split in New York as Fister continues his JV-from-June impression.
No one is happier that the Tigers lost home field than Max Scherzer who will get to pitch Game 3 in Detroit rather than on the road. Scherzer is good enough to win Game 3 against Freddy Garcia in his home park. Also, I can’t contemplate going into Game 4 down 1-2, because I don’t want a world where the not-starting-Verlander-on-short-rest debate actually matters. However, Sabathia on short rest versus Rick Porcello probably does not end in Tiger victory.
That puts it all on Game 5 where a fully rested Verlander, angry after his Game 1 loss, will be facing Ivan Something-or-other with less rest. Obviously, JV will pitch a 1-hitter (solo shot to Granderson) for the win, as the Tigers dance all over Yankee Stadium.
I will be shocked if the series does not unfold exactly as I have stated.