Since I never doubted the ALDS results (ha!), I had been thinking a lot about potential ALCS match ups. It would seem that the obvious choice would have been to root for a series against the Baltimore Orioles. After all, the Orioles do not have the experience, star-power, or staff ace of the New York Yankees. Perhaps more importantly, the Tigers would have home-field advantage versus the Orioles, something they have not had in a playoff series (or game 163) since the 2006 World Series. Yet, as the Baltimore Orioles threatened to score in the bottom of the 8thin the game 5 versus the Yankees, I found myself hoping Sabathia would shut them down.
In both 2006 and 2011, I feared the Yankees and believed we would not have a chance in either series. This season, I feel the Tigers match up even better against the Yankees than they did in those seasons. The obvious advantage comes with starting pitching (although I do hate the idea of potentially facing four left handed starters). The Yankees offense looks old, beat up, and unconfident. Not exactly how a manager wants to go into a series against Verlander, Fister, and Scherzer.
Another advantage for the Tigers is, ironically, the lack of a homefield advantage. The 2-3-2 format in the ALCS arguably favors the road team. In this case, if the Tigers can split the first two games, they will head to Detroit with Verlander, Scherzer, and Fister pitching games 3, 4, and 5, respectively. The chance of winning at least 2 out of 3 with that pitching rotation is very good. The Tigers would then head back to New York one win away from the World Series.
One fear I have is Anibal Sanchez having to pitch two games instead of Max Scherzer. Sanchez has pitched well lately, but he will have to pitch in homer happy Yankee Stadium against a line-up with 6 or 7 left handed home run hitters…..twice.
The Tigers offense needs to get going as well. The six runs scored in game five were a little deceiving. Austin Jackson was the only Tiger to come up with solid run scoring hits in the game. The Tigers only mustered two solo home runs in the five games against Oakland, and Miguel Cabrera’s only RBI came on a hit-by-pitch. Cabrera and Fielder will need to come with some big hits and big home runs to put away the Yankees.
The bullpen will need to step up as well. They have relief pitchers with the “stuff” to get big outs in this series. Look for Phil Coke and Drew Smyly to come in needing to get big outs versus the Yankees left-handers. I envision Rick Porcello getting called upon to induce a double play with his sinker, and Al Alburquerque entering the game late for a threat ending strikeout. If these relievers can succeed in those types of situation, the Tigers chances of winning increase greatly.
Last season, against the Rangers, we saw how difficult it can be to come back from a 2-0 deficit. If the Tigers are able to take one of the first two games, I really like their chances for getting back to the World Series. And if they do get there, I hope they face the San Fransisco Giants. The St. Louis Cardinals scare me a lot more than 1:30 am bedtimes.
Finally, Tiger fans, did you expect this three weeks ago? Two months ago? If you say yes, I don’t believe you. A return trip to the ALCS, no matter how it turns out, is a remarkable feat. Enjoy it, drink a good beer or two, slap hands with friends, catch a nap at work, and, most importantly…turn the TV off when Valverde comes in.