The Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees each won their division series in five games, thus requiring both to use their ace in the fifth game. Despite that, the Tigers had an obvious advantage heading into the American League Championship Series, thanks to the quirks of this year's schedule. The Tigers began their series against the Oakland A's a day earlier than the Yankees began theirs, as the Yankees waited for the wild-card winner.
That means the rotations for the ALCS will likely line up like this if the series goes seven games:
Game 5: Fister (four days) vs. Pettitte (four days)
Game 6: Sanchez (five days) vs. Kuroda (five days)
Game 7: Verlander (four days) vs. Sabathia (three days)
Yankees manager Joe Girardi had to pitch Kuroda on short rest in Game 2, and Kuroda was brilliant, taking a shutout into the seventh and finishing with 11 strikeouts and no walks in 7.2 innings. It went for naught as Sanchez matched him with seven scoreless innings of his own as the Tigers won 3-0. Two of those runs came in the eighth inning after umpire Jeff Nelson admitted he missed a tag play at second base with two outs.
You can see the problem the Yankees then face in Game 3 in Detroit: Their No. 4 guy against a rested Verlander. Girardi could have pitched Sabathia on three days' rest (which Sabathia did twice during the 2009 World Series run), but for now Hughes is scheduled to start. If the Yankees manage to stretch this series to seven games, I have to think Sabathia would go in Game 7.
Of course, the way the Yankees hit in the first two games, it looks like this could be a quick series. Their offensive struggles against the Orioles have continued against the Tigers, other than Saturday's night four-run ninth inning. With just four hits on Sunday, the Yankees are batting .205 in seven playoff games and have scored just eight runs off starting pitchers. They've scored just 12 runs their past 62 innings (nearly seven full games).
It's not just Alex Rodriguez who is struggling, of course. Robinson Cano has been an even bigger flop, going 2-for-32 (.063) with just one walk -- and that walk was intentional. Curtis Granderson is 3-for-26 (.115) with 14 strikeouts, including three more on Sunday. Nick Swisher is 4-for-26 (.154) with no runs and one RBI. Mark Teixeira has one RBI. A-Rod is hitting .130 with 12 K's and no RBIs. Raul Ibanez began the first game of the postseason hitting ninth; he hit cleanup on Sunday. I'm not sure if that's a sign of Girardi making a smart move or just panicking.
As for the Tigers, they're up two games despite an offense that has posted a .299 OBP through seven playoff games, hit just three home runs and drawn just 12 walks while striking out 62 times. But the bottom line for them: They're heading home, have Verlander going in Game 3 and you get the feeling that Miguel Cabrera is due to launch a couple home runs.
A little more offense would be nice, but this team went in the postseason knowing it would go far as its starting pitching could take it. So far, Verlander & Co. have done just that, and if the Tigers can wrap up the series in six games that sets up Verlander to start the World Series opener.