Tigers-Yankees ALDS Preview
It’s been nearly five months since the Yankees and Tigers concluded their regular season series. Detroit took four of seven meetings from the Bronx Bombers, including the last three in a row at Comerica Park from May 3-5. Though Yankee scouts have doubtlessly been busy sizing up the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the Tigers leading up to the postseason, manager Joe Girardi admits the AL East champs will “have their hands full” with arguably the most complete team representing the junior circuit in the playoffs.
Here are three tactical keys the Yankee skipper may employ during the best-of-5 AL Division Series:
Steal a Game or Two
Small ball may not be the Yankees’ forte, but if there is one clear-cut advantage the Bombers have on the Tigers, it’s their speed. Left fielder Brett Gardner matched Detroit’s major league-low stolen base total with 49 himself, and the Yanks finished with 147 overall — good for third in the AL this year. The Yanks’ .343 on-base percentage — tops among all playoff participants — will only serve them well against the lights-out duo of Justin Verlander and Doug Fister (winners of their last 19 decisions combined). But Girardi must remain aggressive on the base paths and test second-year catcher Alex Avila throughout the series.
Get Me to the ’Pen
CC Sabathia and “The Other Guys” in the Yankees’ less-than-intimidating starting rotation have been backed heroically by the best bullpen in the AL this year (3.12 ERA, 47 saves). Girardi will doubtless have an early hook ready for rookie starter Ivan Nova in Game 2, and even less patience with soft-throwing veteran Freddy Garcia in Game 3. The dynamic tandem of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera will need support from Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade, Luis Ayala and southpaw specialist Boone Logan if the Yanks are to succeed with their “five [innings] and fly” blueprint for success when Sabathia isn’t on the hill.
A Little Too Perfect
Never underestimate the importance of demystifying and debilitating an opponent with a single swing. Rocky Balboa did it to Drago with a lunging left hook in “Rocky IV,” and the Yankees will have their chances against always-animated closer Jose Valverde, who went a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities. The 33-year-old right-hander suffered a loss and recorded two saves in five appearances against the Bombers this year, pitching to a 3.86 ERA — his third-highest against an AL team. If the Yanks land a significant blow against Valverde in either of the first two games in the Bronx, the heat will be on the Tigers’ back-end starters — Rick Porcello and/or Max Scherzer — to deliver back in Motown.