The playoff matchups are at last finalized and set in stone after Wednesday’s breathtaking regular season finale. The Yankees (97-65) will face the formidable Detroit Tigers (95-67) in the ALDS.
There is no overwhelming edge in the offensive matchup for this series. New York and Detroit boast two of the most imposing offenses in the majors. The Yankees scored 867 runs this season, second only to the recently eliminated Red Sox. Their homer-happy lineup also belted a major league-leading 222 long balls, twelve more than the second-place Texas Rangers.
Detroit’s offense is equally dangerous, ranking fourth in the majors in runs scored (787) and third in batting average (.277). On top of that, superstar Miguel Cabrera sits in the middle of their lineup. Cabrera, a .317 career hitter, hit .344 this season with 30 home runs, 105 RBI’s, 111 runs and a league-leading .448 on-base percentage.
This matchup of heavy-hitting division winners also features two of the best starting pitchers in the American League. In Game 1, and 4 if necessary, C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander will face-off in a true heavyweight pitching duel.
Verlander, the runaway favorite for the Cy Young Award, is coming off the most successful season of his career and one of the most extraordinary pitching seasons of this millennium. Verlander compiled an astounding 24-5 record with a 2.40 ERA and an MLB-leading 250 strikeouts. His 24 victories are the most since Randy Johnson also went 24-5 in 2002.
Sabathia is also coming off one of the most impressive seasons of his career. C.C. amassed a 19-8 record, 230 strikeouts, and a 3.00 ERA, his lowest as a Yankee. After Verlander and C.C., both starting rotations take a dip and become somewhat questionable and suspect. Yankee manager Joe Girardi has announced that rookie Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) will pitch Game 2 and 34-year old Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA) will throw in Game 3.
In the bullpen, behind Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, the Yankees possess one of the most consistent and effective group of relievers in baseball. Detroit’s Jose Valverde, however, was likely the most efficient closer this season. Valverde closed 49 games without blowing a single save. Mariano, on the other hand, closed 44 while blowing five.
Despite this, Valverde has nowhere near the playoff experience or success Rivera has had. As a result, the Yankees still possess a prominent closer and bullpen edge in this series.
In this close and compelling matchup, the Yankees will look to exact revenge on the Detroit Tigers and manager Jim Leyland after being upset by them in the 2006 ALDS. The quest for championship number 28 begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium with C.C. and Verlander locking horns.