Previewing the ALDS

Jay and I were each assigned previews of the Yankees-Tigers series yesterday, the results of which are now up.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Jay picks the Tigers to win in five games for the obvious reason:

Why the Tigers Will Win
Led by AL Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander, who won the league's pitching Triple Crown by leading in wins (24), ERA(2.40) and strikeouts (250) as well as innings (251), the Tigers' rotation stacks up surprisingly well. Weighted according to an historically-based workload distribution, their run prevention abilities as measured by a combination of ERA, Fair Run Average, and Fielding Independent Pitching rate as the AL slate's best by a whisker, while the Yankees are a distant third. Verlander gets all the attention, but Doug Fister pitched like a frontline starter down the stretch, posting a 1.79 ERA and an unreal 57/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 starts and a relief appearance after being acquired from Seattle at the July 31 trade deadline.

At SI.com, I pick the Yankees in four, listing Ivan Nova among the keys to the series:

Verlander and Fister will still start three times in this best-of-five series, which is good news for the Tigers, who were 18-3 in games started by those two since the latter's acquisition. In two of those starts, including a potential double-elimination Game 5 against Verlander, the Yankees will counter with Ivan Nova, a rookie who was farmed out to Triple-A in July. That's a heady assignment for a rookie, not that he hasn't earned it. Nova went 8-0 with a 3.18 ERA in 11 starts after returning to the Yankees rotation, and really shouldn't have been demoted in the first place (though one could argue that he returned with greater purpose and effectiveness). However, even over those last 11 starts, Nova's peripherals have been underwhelming (5.7 K/9, 2.35 K/BB). If the Tigers' formula for winning this series is taking the three games started by their top two starters, the Yankees' formula for winning the series just might require winning one of Nova's two starts against the Tigers' big two, and if the Tigers take Game 1 behind Verlander, there's no other way for the Yankees to win the series.

Jay and I both discuss the strength of the bullpens, the contrasts in the offenses, Alex Rodriguez's health, and the impact of CC Sabathia starting on three day's rest. Jay also looks at Jorge Posada and the pitching matchups in the first three games:

Game One Matchup: Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia
Hands down, this is the opening round's best pitching matchup; clinching early granted both teams the luxury of lining up their rotations. While the Yankees can send no less than six lefty hitters against Verlander—Curtis Granderson,Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, switch-hitters Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and switch-turned-lefty Jorge Posada—the Tigers' ace limited such hitters to a .174/.233/.271 showing in 2011, for an OPS 113 points below what he did against righties. Furthermore, both Teixeira and Swisher struggled against righties, to the point that the former was just dropped from third to fifth in the batting order. By contrast, the Tigers have just one lefty (Alex Avila) and one switch-hitter (Victor Martinez) in their lineup, largely neutralizing Sabathia's ability to stifle lefties (.207/.253/.301 compared to .273/.324/.384 against righties).

Meanwhile, I have a separate preview of today's ALDS Games 1:

The regular season began for these two teams with this same pitching matchup on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium back on March 31. New York won that game, but Verlander and Sabathia pitched to a draw, both allowing three runs in six innings, so the game was decided by the runs the Yankees scored off Phil Coke, Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth. That's the catch with a great pitching matchup like this one: If the two aces cancel each other out, the game will be decided with vastly inferior pitchers on the mound. Both teams have three dominant end-game relievers in Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde for the Tigers and Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera for the Yankees, but those trios could negate each other as well, making the outcome more likely to be decided by the likes of lefties Deoitr's Coke, Perry and Schlereth or New York's Boone Logan, Luis Ayala and Cory Wade.

Talking things over last night, Jay and I seem to agree that, because of the pitching matchups, there are only three likely outcomes to this series. If it's over in three games or goes the full five, it's because the Tigers won, taking the first two games behind Verlander and Fister and either finishing the sweep against Freddy Garcia or coming back to win behind Verlander again in Game 5. If it's over in four, it's because the Yankees took one of the first two, won Garcia's start, and clinched with CC Sabathia facing the Tigers' fourth starter (likely Morristown, NJ native Rick Porcello) in Game 4.

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