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

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.