By the end of this weekend, the Yankees will have a far better sense of their potential ALDS opponent. For three games, the Tigers and Twins face off in Minnesota, and while these two opponents still have four games left in Detroit, if the Tigers grab this series, the Twins will face long postseason odds indeed.
If the Yanks draw the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs, it will mark the second time in four seasons that these two teams face of in the Division Series. In 2006, a post-season marred by Joe Torre’s decision to hit A-Rod eighth in the order, the Tigers downed the Yanks three games to one. That season marked Justin Verlander’s first full year in the Bigs, and in his one ALDS start, he was decent. He gave up three runs in 5.1 innings but allowed 11 baserunners. The Yankees couldn’t capitalize on his shaky outing.
Since then, Verlander has matured into one of the AL’s top pitchers, and this year is his big breakout season. He is 16-8 with a 3.34 ERA. He leads the AL with 239 and his 10.2 K/9 IP rate is tops among Junior Circuit pitchers. Opponents are hitting just .240/.295/.373 off of him.
Today, The Times’ Ben Shpigel profiles the hard-throwing right-hander. Verlander, writes Shpigel, throws hard. He throws hard in the first inning and can still hit 99 and 100 on the gun in the 7th and 8th. With his off-speed arsenal, Verlander has emerged as a true artist on the mound, and the Yankees are well aware of his presence. Writes Shpigel:
The Yankees, presuming they finish with the best record in the A.L., can opt for a division series schedule featuring an extra day off, allowing them to use only three fully rested starters. Sabathia would be in line to pitch in Games 1 and 4, but, then again, so would Verlander. In two starts against the Yankees this season — both opposite Sabathia — Verlander has held them to two runs in 14 innings. In his July 18 start at Yankee Stadium, Verlander did not allow any of the Yankees’ seven left-handed hitters to pull a fly ball until the sixth inning.
“He knows that our season revolves around how well he pitches,” reliever Bobby Seay said. “He’s taken that to heart every time out.”
While the Twins have Scott Baker fronting their rotation, Justin Verlander is why I’m rooting for Minnesota this weekend. The dominance of Verlander and the threat of him will make Detroit very tough to beat in a five-game set, and his performances this year against the Yanks have shown, the league’s top offense is pretty powerless against a pitcher of his caliber.
There is one way to counter the Verlander effect: In the past, I’ve advocated for shaking up the rotation. Save CC Sabathia for Game 2 when the match up more heavily favors the Yankees. He could still pitch a potential game 5, and if the Yanks manage to win a Verlander start without CC on the mound, all the better. If they lose, they will have wasted their ace.
But CC ain’t exactly chopped liver. After all, CC Sabathia, our ace, has out-pitched Verlander since the All Star Break. Verlander is 6-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 90 Ks in 12 starts spanning 87.2 innings while Sabathia is 9-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 83 Ks in 12 starts spanning 85 innings. If the final score is 3.29-2.75, the Yankees win.
The Yankees lost to the Tigers in 2006 when they had to put their season into the hands of Jaret Wright. This year, the Yanks’ rotation, while featuring some question marks, is better than the pitchers backing up Verlander. All the speed in the world on a Justin Verlander fastball can’t change that fact.