Cano's slam puts Tigers in big hole
October, 1, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
William Perlman/US PresswireRobinson Cano's sixth-inning grand slam keyed New York's win in Game 1 of the ALDS.Five observations from the conclusion of Friday's rain-delayed Game 1 between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees ...
1. Robinson Cano could be poised to have a monster postseason. Cano is one of those players who seems simultaneously overrated and underrated -- a bit overrated by Yankees fans who don't believe Dustin Pedroia belongs on the same field as Cano; maybe a bit underrated by the stats analysts who point to his low walk total and inconsistent defense and conclude Ian Kinsler had a better season.
Cano spent most of the season batting fifth, moved up to fourth at times when Alex Rodriguez was injured, and then in the final week of the season, Joe Girardi moved him up to the third spot in the order, a position he may not relinquish for the next five years. In his first four postseasons, Cano was unproductive, hitting under .250 with just two home runs in 28 games. His willingness to expand the strike zone and swing at bad pitches (still the one flaw in his game) made him vulnerable against the quality pitching you see in October. Last year, something clicked -- or he got hot at the right time -- and he pounded four home runs against the Rangers in the ALCS. Let's see if he's getting in that groove again.
I didn't have any problem with Jim Leyland bringing in Al Alburquerque to face Cano with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning. Cano hits left-handers as well as right-handers, so there was no obvious platoon advantage to be gained. Leyland went with a guy who hadn't allowed a home run in 43.1 innings and had a phenomenal strikeout rate. He just threw a slider that didn't bite and Cano jacked it into the second deck for the 50th grand slam in postseason history.
2. If Ivan Nova does this again, the Yankees will be tough to beat. Needless to say, the weakness for the Yankees is the depth in their rotation. I believed the original Game 2 matchup of Nova and Doug Fister would be the key to the series and gave a slight edge to Detroit based on Fister's terrific run at the end of the season. Nova isn't going to blow you away with his stuff. If anything, his wildness worked in his favor Saturday night, as he walked four batters and Detroit couldn't get any timing down on his offspeed stuff. But he's a smart kid who knows how to pitch and showed Saturday that he won't let the moment get to him. This matchup could loom again in Game 5 and Yankees fans have to be more confident now.
3. Fister was a little unlucky in that sixth inning. With two outs and runners at second and third, he hung an 0-2 curveball to Brett Gardner, the one bad pitch he made in the inning. Gardner grounded it up the middle, just past second baseman Ryan Raburn, for a two-run single. If Ramon Santiago had been playing second, he may have may made the play. On a hit-and-run play, Derek Jeter then rolled a slow grounder into right field as Raburn covered on the steal attempt. As Ron Darling and John Smoltz pointed out on the TBS telecast, it didn't really make much sense to have Raburn covering with Jeter's propensity to go to right field. But credit Jeter for taking an inside pitch and going the opposite way.
4. With Nova pitching into the ninth, it sets up Girardi for Game 2. He won't hesitate to go early to a well-rested bullpen (although he ended up using Mariano Rivera for three pitches) and conceivably should be thinking about getting a combined four innings from Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Rivera, if necessary. No need to hold back and wait for those guys to pitch just one inning each, especially with CC Sabathia going Monday in Game 3.
5. The pressure now falls on Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer to come up big. The Yankees' offense is going to show a lot of patience and make him throw strikes. Scherzer's control did improve this season, but he's still inconsistent: He gave up two runs or fewer in 20 of his 33 starts, but gave up five or more in 10 starts. As a fly ball pitcher who gave up 29 home runs, Yankee Stadium isn't the best ballpark for him. (He gave up four home runs to the Yankees in two starts this season.) The Detroit offense may need to put up some runs early off Freddy Garcia to win Game 2.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.