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

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.