ALCS Game Four Thread: Yankees @ Tigers

Well, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan so far. The pitching staff owns a 2.25 ERA in eight playoff game,s but the Yankees only have three wins because they’ve just stopped hitting. Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson … you name it and they’ve stopped hitting. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Raul Ibanez, this team would have been dead in the water a week ago.

I don’t expect the Yankees to mount a historic comeback from a three games to none deficit in the ALCS, but I’m very open to being surprised. I just hope they avoid a sweep tonight and make the Tigers sweat a little bit. Put a little scare into Detroit that forces them to maybe ride their pitchers a little harder than they’d like, maybe even force them to travel and play another game in Yankee Stadium. That would be sweet. Let’s just worry about this one and enjoy what will likely be CC Sabathia‘s final start of the year. Here are your starting lineups…

New York Yankees
LF Ichiro Suzuki
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
Russell Martin
CF Brett Gardner
SS Eduardo Nunez

LHP CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38)

Detroit Tigers
CF Austin Jackson
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Delmon Young
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Andy Dirks
RR Avisail Garcia
C  Gerald Laird

RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74)

It’s surprisingly warm in Detroit, but there is the threat of rain and we might see a weather delay. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Ticket Update: If you’re optimistic and want to catch a future game in this series, either in New York or Detroit, make sure you check out RAB Tickets for some last minute deals.

Update (7:55pm): The game will officially start in a delay due to incoming bad weather. No word on a start time yet.

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ALCS Pitching Preview: Max Scherzer

The season is officially on the line tonight, as the Yankees are one loss away from an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Tigers in the ALCS. CC Sabathia will be on the mound on regular rest and that’s exactly who the Bombers want out there, but pitching hasn’t been the problem. The hitting has been, and tonight the batters will see hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 28, went to the Tigers in the trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and he’s shaken off concerns about his durability by throwing at least 185 innings in each of the last three seasons. He’s got a little A.J. Burnett in him in the sense that he’s enigmatic and is more hittable than his stuff indicates he should be, but Scherzer is still pretty good. He just happens to be the fourth best starting pitcher in his own rotation.

2012 Performance vs. Yankees

Date Tm Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str
Apr 29 DET @ NYY L,2-6 L(1-3) 4.2 7 3 3 7 4 1 0 7.77 28 119 62
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/17/2012.

Just the one ugly start back in April, that’s it. Andruw Jones went 2-for-2 with a homer and a walk off the bench in that game, that’s how long ago it was. Those seven walks are a career-high for Scherzer, who struggled big time in April before pitching very well the rest of the season. Despite only the one meeting this year, both sides are certainly familiar with each other though after the ALDS last season and various regular season matchups (four total, to be exact) since the trade that brought Scherzer to the AL.

Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)

Scherzer is a three-pitch pitcher who acts like two two-pitch pitchers. Right-handers get the fastball and slider while lefties get the fastball and changeup. That’s pretty much it, he’s very straight forward. The fastball usually sits comfortably in the mid-90s, but Scherzer has been battling some shoulder fatigue lately and he’s been sitting the low-90s more often than not. We really don’t know how much that will help the hitters if it continues tonight, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing for the Yankees.

Performance & Results

TBF wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% FB% LD% HR/FB%
vs. RHB 351 0.258 2.52 34.8% 4.0% 37.9% 44.2% 18.0% 13.2%
vs. LHB 436 0.360 3.93 25.0% 10.6% 35.4% 39.4% 25.5% 10.2%

Unlike Justin Verlander yesterday, Scherzer has a significant platoon split. The guy eats up right-handers but has his struggled against left-handers because he doesn’t strike them out nearly as often and will walk them more frequently as well. It’s worth noting that some poor ball-in-play luck (.378 vs. 273 BABIP) plays a part in the huge split.

Regardless, it goes without saying that the Yankees have to take advantage of that, perhaps by again sitting Alex Rodriguez in favor of Eric Chavez even though neither guy is really hitting. Joe Girardi could trot out a lineup with only two true right-handed hitters — Russell Martin and Eduardo Nunez/Jayson Nix — and those guys could easily bat eighth and ninth. Last night’s ninth inning mini-rally was encouraging if nothing else, and today the Yankees have a chance to build on it and actually generate some offense by stacking lefties against Scherzer.

The need for more speed

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Joe Girardi has had to tinker with his lineup far more than I’m sure he would have liked this postseason, and it was all out of necessity. Alex Rodriguez simply has not hit right-handers at all, and the duo of Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher went from middle of the order thumpers to bottom of the lineup automatic outs. He inserted both Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez into the starting lineup last night and was mostly rewarded, as Nunez drove in their only run with a solo homer while Gardner had some of the team’s best and longest at-bats. The Yankees still lost though.

I expect tonight’s lineup to be very similar to last night’s with maybe one or two minor changes. Maybe Swisher is back in the starting lineup and Granderson sits, something like that. Either way, I think the stretch of 9-1-2 hitters — Nunez, Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki — will remain the same to give the team some speed on the bases. They didn’t use that speed at all last night though, as Ichiro singled twice and didn’t bother to steal second either time even though the one thing Justin Verlander will let an offense do is steal a base. I understand that every base-runner is precious when you’re struggling to score, but I felt the situation called for pushing the envelope.

Max Scherzer is a bit more stingy with the stolen base than Verlander, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the speed game should come out of the playbook. Frankly it doesn’t make sense to play Nunez and Gardner and not have them try to steal when they do reach base. Obviously the whole getting on-base thing is quite important, but Scherzer hasn’t been himself lately and is probably the least effective Tigers’ starter right now. If last night’s ninth inning mini-rally is going to carry over to today, it will be because Detroit’s starter is still dealing with some nagging shoulder issues and can’t reach back for 95+ when in a jam.

Desperate times do call for desperate measures, and Girardi did sorta take those measures with his lineup moves last night. If he keeps Nunez and Gardner in the lineup for Game Four, even if they don’t bat back-to-back, the club has to try to take advantage of their speed. I’m surprised they have yet to lay a bunt down towards Miguel Cabrera at third or even Prince Fielder at first, but if Scherzer is pitching well the first time through the order it might be a shot in the middle innings. The Yankees have to try to generate some offense in different ways tonight and hopefully going forward later in the series, and taking advantage of the fresh legs (both Nunez and Gardner missed a big chunk of time with injury this season) could be one way to do it.

Hughes cleared to throw following back stiffness

Via Joel Sherman: Phil Hughes has been cleared by doctors to throw today after leaving last night’s start with mild stiffness in his back. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild saw the right-hander stretching between innings yesterday, which raised a red flag. He threw just three innings and 61 pitches in the game. Assuming today’s throwing session goes well, Hughes will be able to throw his usual between-starts bullpen session tomorrow and might even be available in relief down the road if the Yankees make the Tigers sweat a little in the ALCS.

Nothing to lose (except everything)

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees are playing with house money at this point. No one realistically expects them to win the next four games and mount a historic comeback from a three games to none deficit in the ALCS. The pitching has been fantastic and the hitting has been dreadful. Even is CC Sabathia goes out and dominates the Tigers in Game Four tonight, there’s a pretty good chance the Yankees will support him by scoring zero runs.

I hope that’s not the case though. Maybe those tough grind-it-out at-bats in the ninth inning last night were an indication that the Yankees are starting to figure things out offensively. Robinson Cano even got a hit in that inning, and they always say that all it takes is one hit to turn things around. Max Scherzer had a great regular season but has been battling shoulder problems of late, which is why his fastball velocity fell off in a big way in September. He averaged 94.2 with the fastball during the season but just 93.0 in Game Four against the Athletics last week.

Maybe that reduced velocity allows the Yankees to scratch a run or two across early and actually take the lead, something they’ve yet to do in the series. Maybe that’s enough for Sabathia to squeeze out the win. Then the Yankees have Andy Pettitte going in Game Five and Hiroki Kuroda on regular rest in Game Six. Sabathia would come back on three days’ rest to square off against Verlander in the winner-take-all Game Seven. It could happen. It’s incredibly unlikely, but not impossible.

At this point, the Yankees are the underdog. They’re not your typical small market underdog, but they’re an underdog nonetheless. No one expects them to win the series and I’m sure most people believe they’re going to lose Game Four tonight and get swept out of the playoffs as well. Expectations are low or just flat out non-existent, which can be a dangerous thing. It’s easy to forget how good of a team the Yankees really are, and if one or two (or three!) bats wake, they could become a headache for the Tigers in a hurry.

The Yankees have nothing to lose at this point other than their entire season, and I think most people assume that it’s only a matter of time before Detroit wraps up the series. Joe Girardi & Co. are going to take it one game at a time and blah blah blah cliche cliche cliche. There’s nothing to say, they just have to start hitting and hope the pitching holds up. It would behoove the Tigers to end this series as soon as possible though, you don’t want to give the Yankees that Game Four win. Anything can happen after that.