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ALCS Preview: Tigers vs. Yankees

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Tigers and Yankees have in store for us in the American League Championship Series.

The Teams

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees

The Matchups

Game 1 Saturday in New York: Doug Fister vs. Andy Pettitte
Game 2 Sunday in New York: Anibal Sanchez vs. Hiroki Kuroda
Game 3 Tuesday in Detroit: Phil Hughes vs. Justin Verlander
Game 4 Wednesday in Detroit: CC Sabathia vs. Max Scherzer
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Detroit
Game 6 (if necessary) next Saturday in New York
Game 7 (if necessary) next Sunday in New York

Analysis: The Tigers already have their rotation mapped out for the entire series, but there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty for the Yankees. Will Hiroki Kuroda go on short rest in Game 2 or will we see David Phelps? If it’s Phelps, you have to like the Tigers’ chances of leaving New York with at least one win.

Saturday update: Kuroda was named the starter for Game 2, Hughes for Game 3 and Sabathia for Game 4.

Because he was needed in Game 5 of the ALDS yesterday, CC Sabathia would have to go on short rest in Game 3 in order to match up against Justin Verlander. This would set them up to duel again in a potential Game 7. That would be pretty fun. It’s interesting that the Tigers are prepared to give two starts to Anibal Sanchez in the series as opposed to one for Max Scherzer. Sanchez has been solid for nearly two months now, so that’s no slight on him, but perhaps Jim Leyland decided to give Scherzer’s shoulder some extra recovery time.

The Storylines

  • The Yankees took the season series 6-4 while outscoring the Tigers 58-48.
  • The Yankees won’t have C.C. Sabathia in Game 1, but Andy Pettitte is a pretty good alternative. After all, the 40-year-old left-hander has started more postseason games than anyone. He allowed three runs over seven innings in a loss to the Orioles in Game 2 of the ALDS on Monday.
  • What will almost certainly command the most attention is the continuing saga of Alex Rodriguez. How much will he play? Joe Girardi opted to use Eric Chavez against Jason Hammel yesterday because of his numbers against right-handed pitching. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ projected rotation is full of right-handed starters. My guess is that A-Rod will start Game 1 tonight, but he could continue to sit in certain matchups.
  • Justin Verlander had a 5.57 ERA in eight career postseason starts before dominating the Athletics to the tune of a 0.56 ERA and 22 strikeouts over 16 innings during the ALDS. Is this finally his time to shine on the big stage?
  • If the Yankees get two starts out of CC Sabathia during this series, one of them will have to be on short rest. They can either use him on regular rest in Game 4, setting him up for a start on three days’ rest in a potential Game 7 or have him go on short rest in Game 3 and regular rest in a potential Game 7.
  • Will the Yankees offense show up? They managed to outlast the Orioles in the ALDS despite hitting just .211 as a team while scoring 16 runs in five games. Derek Jeter had more hits (eight) than Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano combined (six). It’s unrealistic to think that everyone will get hot at the same time, but this lineup is too talented to be this bad. Right?
  • Likewise, the Tigers held off the surprising Athletics in the ALDS without a ton of help from their big bats. Austin Jackson was 5-for-20 (.250) with seven strikeouts while Miguel Cabrera went 5-for-20 (.250) with two doubles and an RBI and Prince Fielder went 4-for-21 (.190) with one home run and two RBI. Their lineup isn’t nearly as deep or scary as the Yankees, so they need contributions from this important trio in order to advance.
  • Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit combined to give up five runs over 4 2/3 innings against the Athletics. Meanwhile, the Yankees bullpen held the Orioles to just one run over 11 1/3 innings for the entire series. The Tigers’ bullpen was a concern even before the ALDS, so you have to give the Yankees the edge in the late innings.

Prediction

You have to like that the Yankees have the home-field advantage, especially considering the Tigers were not a very good road team during the regular season, but I’m just not a fan of how New York’s rotation lines up for this series. Meanwhile, the Tigers will be well-rested. They are also the younger team and seemingly healthier, too. Jose Valverde might make this pick look silly if he proves to be an adventure in the late innings, but I think they will take it.

TIGERS WIN THE SERIES 4-3

Report: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.