Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's Here!! My Tigers/Yankees ALDS Preview

Well, it's here.

The Tigers' first postseason game since October 12, 1987 -- a mere 18 years, 11 months, and 356 days ago -- will be played tonight in the Bronx. It's the first time the Tigers and the Yankees have met in any game played beyond the regular season. It's a best-of-five affair, and the last time the Tigers were involved in one of those, they swept the Royals in the 1984 ALCS. But guess who got some redemption last weekend?

So, without further ado, here's my breakdown of this ALDS:

CATCHER: There are few players today, let alone catchers, who come through in big time games and situations like Pudge Rodriguez. He's almost impossible to steal bases against, and his relatively pedestrian power and RBI numbers aren't indicative of his success rate in the late innings. The Yankees' Jorge Posada isn't as strong defensively, but the Tigers aren't much of a running team. Posada's 93 RBI in the #8 spot in the lineup is yet another indication of the Yankees' prowess. Edge: Tigers.

FIRST BASE: An interesting matchup, because neither Sean Casey or Gary Sheffield were playing first base for their respective clubs when the season began. In fact, neither was their team's first baseman until July 31. That's when the Tigers traded for Casey. Sheffield is moving to first base after coming back from an injury. Casey was an RBI machine in his first couple weeks as a Tiger, then cooled off dramatically. Sheffield is still one of the game's best power hitters. Obviously, Casey holds the edge defensively, but overall I say Edge: Yankees.

SECOND BASE: I don't think anyone anticipated how much the Tigers would miss Placido Polanco when he went down with a shoulder injury in late August, except maybe for manager Jim Leyland. His bat handling skills and defense were huge holes that the team was never able to fill adequately. His being difficult to strikeout will come in handy against the Yankees' power pitchers. Robinson Cano challenged for the AL batting crown, and he hits #9. I give the Edge: Tigers only because of how much Polanco obviously means to his team, versus Cano.

THIRD BASE: A year ago, a Brandon Inge/Alex Rodriguez comparison would have been ridiculously tilted in A-Rod's favor. But Inge has willed himself into being one of the ten best third basemen in baseball, as far as I'm concerned. He'll still make the occasional wild throw, but his range and athleticism are immense at the hot corner. He clubbed 27 homeruns. But Rodriguez, despite an awful late summer slump, is still A-Rod. Edge: Yankees.

SHORTSTOP: Oh, the talent here. Carlos Guillen, pound-for-pound, might be the Tigers' MVP this season. He was incredibly consistent, and despite some hiccups defensively, he delivered time and again for the Tigers both on offense and defense. He's one of the Tigers who can deliver a homerun when needed. Derek Jeter had another great year, batting .343. There's no telling where the Yankees would be without him. At the risk of copping out, I call this matchup EVEN.

OUTFIELD: Defensively, the Tigers' trio of Craig Monroe, Curtis Granderson, and Magglio Ordonez are average. None of them has a rocket arm, and Ordonez's range seems to be not much more than Al Kaline's -- and #6 is 71 years old. Monroe had that game against Texas where he threw out three runners, but none of the Tigers outfielders strike fear in you. Granderson's range is decent. The Yankees' Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Bobby Abreu aren't much better, frankly. Damon's arm is a limp noodle. Abreu can throw a little bit. Offensively, the Yankees' outfield is stronger overall. Edge: Yankees.

DESIGNATED HITTER: In Game 1, at least, it'll be Marcus Thames vs. Jason Giambi. Thames has incredible power; he's the strongest man I've seen in Detroit since Cecil Fielder. But his RBI total (60) was unimpressive for someone who hit 26 HR. Strikes out too much, as do almost all of his teammates. Giambi cracked 37 HR and is still menacing at the plate. He's turned into a fine leader, too. Edge: Yankees.

STARTING PITCHING: The Tigers led the majors in team ERA virtually all season, and you don't do that as a fluke. It all starts with, fittingly, the starters. Game 1 starter Nate Robertson's 13-13 record is a joke; he pitched far better than that. Kenny Rogers silenced his critics who said he would fade in the second half. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman can alternately look dominating and enigmatic -- sometimes within the same inning. Chien-Ming Wang always gives the Tigers fits, and although Mike Mussina might not be the Mussina of old, he's still pretty damn good. Randy Johnson has lost something, but the October stage might fire him up. Jaret Wright is average. Edge: Tigers.

BULLPEN: Joel Zumaya gives Leyland an incredible postseason weapon: someone who can get you a strikeout, or two, when you badly need it. Fernando Rodney was inconsistent, especially with his control, but he still has a nasty changeup. LH Jamie Walker can be an "X" factor against the Yankees' impressive lefty bats. Closer Todd Jones isn't prototypical because he's not a strikeout guy, but he gets the job done by keeping the ball down. Old Tigers Kyle Farnsworth (RH) and Mike Myers (LH) are keys to the Yankees' pen as setup men, but the crown jewel is Mariano Rivera, one of the best closers in baseball history. I'm calling this EVEN, because Rivera's edge over Jones is neutralized by the Tigers' edge with setup men.

BENCH: Unfortunately, the Tigers' one strength here, catcher Vance Wilson, is neutralized because, how much will he play in the postseason? Infielder Omar Infante is a fine backup, and he's got a bit of a stick. The Tigers are carrying three extra infielders in this series, and just one outfielder, Alexis Gomez (although Thames can play outfield, of course). Yankees veteran Bernie Williams is reduced to a backup, but he still can play. Miguel Cairo and Andy Phillips are the extra infielders, and Phillips could start on other teams. A possible "X" factor is outfielder Melky Cabrera, who had 50 RBI. Sal Fasano (.143) is the backup catcher. EDGE: Yankees.

MANAGERS: A VERY interesting matchup. Jim Leyland has won a World Series, and appeared in several NLCS with the Pirates. He's old school and his October experience should do wonders for his mostly postseason-lacking roster. Joe Torre is the best manager in baseball, mainly because he's the best man on the planet to manage in New York. The Yankees, though, haven't won the whole enchilada since 2000, which is a drought in the Bronx. I hate to do it, but I give a slight EDGE to the Yankees.

OVERALL: On first glance, this appears to be a rout in the making, if only because of the Yankees' lineup and playoff experience, combined with the awful way the Tigers finished the season. But if the Tigers' pitching can perform like it did for most of the season, that gives them a shot in any game. Whomever hits better with RISP and two outs will win. The Tigers didn't do much of that in the last 50 games, when they went 19-31. Yankees in four games.


Blogger Ozz said...

I'm approaching the series with the attitude that I'm still going to root like hell for them, but I'm going to take it all in stride. I'm not expecting anything at all from the Tigers (because we're watching the Tigers that finished 19-31, not the Tigers that started 76-36).

They've already let me down by not sealing the deal on the division title, so what's the worst that can happen? Maybe they've got enough going for them that the adage "anything can happen in the postseason" could still hold true.

1:31 AM  

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