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New York City-based Yankees super-fan and espnW contributor Amanda Rykoff will be sharing her thoughts on the Yankees' playoff run. We start with her observations and commentary on the American League Division Series against the Central Division champion Detroit Tigers, which starts Friday at Yankee Stadium (8:37 p.m. ET).
I'm elated to see Friday's Game 1 matchup of American League Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander against former AL Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia. This is what you want in the playoffs: ace against ace. Does Verlander concern me? Of course. He's also an MVP candidate and has been the best pitcher in the league since May. He led the majors in the regular season in victories with 24 and was the AL leader in ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250). The Yankees will have to face the dominant right-hander twice in a five-game series.
But I also never bet (proverbially speaking, of course) against Sabathia in a big game. He's the pitcher I want on the mound against Verlander. I'll take my chances with the big guy. I also love that CC has already been named as the Game 4 starter (if necessary) on three days' rest. Verlander, who has never pitched on less than four days' rest, would be held out for a decisive Game 5. And yes, if there is a Game 5 (and I think there will be), I will be at Yankee Stadium.
Why am I more worried about the Yankees facing Doug Fister in Game 2? Perhaps it's fear of the unknown. The Yankees have faced Fister three times and he has a 6.00 ERA and a 1-2 career record against them. But that was when Fister labored in Seattle. Since coming to Detroit from the Mariners on July 30, he has been lights out. He's 8-1 with the Tigers with an astounding 9.6 K/BB ratio since August 3. I know Fister has made just two starts against teams above .500 (Texas and Tampa Bay) since the trade, but he has been impressive.
Knowing that Game 3 will have Freddy Garcia of the Yankees against Max Scherzer in Detroit makes the second game of the series more critical. My feeling is that the Game 2 winner takes the series. I love the Yankees' Ivan Nova (I've been a proud supporter of Super Nova since the beginning of the season), but there's a lot riding on the rookie who strikes out just 5.3 batters per nine innings. I hope Fister's recent success can be attributed to the mostly weak-hitting lineups he has faced. I hope Nova brings his usual sangfroid -- and improved slider -- to the mound. But I'm nervous.
Just walk Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera is a ridiculously good hitter. This is not news. The All-Star first baseman batted .344 this season, best in the majors. He also led the majors in on-base percentage (a mind-boggling .448). I don't know why we haven't heard his name more frequently in the MVP discussions. But as good as he is against every team he faces, he owns the Yankees. In 30 career games against the Bombers, he has 10 home runs and 26 RBIs. His slash line against the Yankees (Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) is an obscene .374/.439/.729. Yes, that's a .729 slugging percentage. His OPS+ is 144 against the Yankees, his highest against any team in the major leagues.
The key is for the Yankees' pitchers to keep the guys in front of Cabrera -- Austin Jackson, Don Kelly and Delmon Young -- off the bases. The Tigers have some offensive pop, but nobody that makes me quake in my boots like Cabrera. Just walk him and take your chances with the rest of the lineup. I'm not joking. Or as my friend Ben Kabak of the Yankees blog River Avenue Blues said, "Walk him? That's too many pitches. Just hit him." I like that plan.
Posada's last hurrah?
Jorge Posada has been a valuable contributor to the Yankees, one of the "Core Four" and a fan favorite for years. Chants of "Hip, hip, Jorge!" fill Yankee Stadium (for better or worse) during each of his at bats. I know Posada hasn't been completely useless against righties (.269/.348/.466), but I just don't see him catching up to Verlander's or Scherzer's stuff. The Yankees lineup top to bottom is as impressive and deep as any in baseball. But as much as it pains me to say it, Posada at DH looks like the weakest link.
I want to be wrong about this. I would love Posada to stir up memories of Yankees dominance past and come through in a big spot. I would love to hear the roar of the crowd, channeling old Yankee Stadium during Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series. But 2003 was a long time ago.
Where's Kyra Sedgwick?
This series brings us the greatest closer of all time against the closer who had the most saves in the AL this season. You all know about Mariano Rivera (and if you don't, why are you reading this?), but Jose Valverde of the Tigers was 49-for-49 in save chances. That is impressive even by Brenda Leigh Johnson, TV's "The Closer," standards. Still, the Yankees have a history of making really good closers look average in the postseason (I'm looking at you, Joe Nathan).
Both bullpens are outstanding. The Tigers' Al Alburquerque has one of the best names in baseball, but I give the edge to the Yankees. If New York is down a run in the bottom of the ninth at home, I'm getting ready for pie. We have to give A.J. Burnett something to do during the playoffs, right? Bold prediction: Valverde blows his first save of the 2011 season this series.
We're all winners!
Here's my final observation of this series. All last season, people were comparing Austin Jackson and Curtis Granderson. "The Tigers won the trade," naysayers said as Granderson struggled early with the Yankees. "Too soon to tell," others said. Can we just all agree that every team involved in that three-team deal is a winner and be done with it? All three teams involved in the trade made the playoffs this year, including the Diamondbacks. Every player dealt (Jackson, Granderson, Scherzer, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke and Edwin Jackson) played a critical role in getting his team there. Everybody should be happy. I, for one, will proudly wear my Granderson T-shirt Friday at the Stadium. And yes, I purchased it right after the trade was made in 2010.