American League Division Series – Game 5 Preview

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American League Division Series

            10/6/11: Game 5 – Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees

            Doug Fister vs. Ivan Nova

 

Game 5—it all comes down to this.  The ALDS and NLDS are a best of five series for some reason.  Probably because so many people were against the wild card team idea when it was introduced that a shorter division series was the only way to appease the haters.  I guess they figured the wild card team would be the weakest team, and therefore lose immediately.  Little did they know that we’d get to a point in time where most of an entire division is actually worse than the wild card team (I’m looking at you AL Central).

The Tigers and Yankees head back the Bronx to fight for a shot at being American League Champion.  Things have not turned out quite the way either team envisioned a week ago.  C.C. Sabathia was supposed to have two full starts in by now (and, ideally, two wins) for New York.  Justin Verlander was supposed to be ready to go tomorrow in Game 5.  Heck, the Tigers were expecting to have closed this series out already with a Verlander win, a Fister/Nova duel in Fister’s favor, and Scherzer using the expanses of Comerica to take all the home run wind out of the Yankees’ sails.  Yet, here we are—Game 5.  So what can we expect?

I don’t think Joe Girardi is going to change his lineup now.  Managers like playing left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers, and vice-versa.  Have I done the research as to why?  No, so my best guess is a body mechanics issue—a right-handed person is more likely to throw straight, with a little across the body action to the left, meaning a right handed pitcher is likely to have a natural throw that’ll ride inside on a left-handed hitter, and ideally be easier to hit.  But, that’s totally a guess.  Makes sense though, doesn’t it!  That all being said, the Tigers have nothing but right-handed pitchers in their rotation, and Girardi has responded with a lot of left-handed bats: Granderson, Cano, Teixiera, Swisher, Posada, Martin, Gardner.  Seven of nine batters are left-handed and will probably continue to play against Fister.

The Tigers side of the lineup should look a little different than past nights, though.  Actually, it’ll probably look a lot like it did in Game 4, except with one notable change.  When Casper Wells was traded to Seattle in the Doug Fister deal this season, the Tigers lost what was arguably their “big bat” off the bench(I’d rather we still had Marcus Thames, but that’s just me).  Wells didn’t see much playing time, but he provided some depth in the outfield, and a bat that had a fair amount of pop to it.  Unfortunately (for who knows what reason), Leyland didn’t play him all that often.  Of course his replacement from the farm system, and current benchwarming champ, Andy Dirks is with the team for the ALDS and will likely see some playing time tomorrow.

Now is Leyland’s chance to set the lineup he wanted against Nova the first time around.  Dirks, Avila, Peralta, Santiago, Kelly, Cabrera, Martinez, Betemit, and Young will most likely be the starting nine.  Jim can follow the same strategy of left-handed batters against right-handed pitching (which is the kind of “old-school” thought that JL loves), and this lineup gives him six left-handed bats.

Potential Lineups:

NY—

  1. Jeter (SS)
  2. Granderson (CF)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Rodriguez (3B)
  5. Teixiera (1B)
  6. Swisher (RF)
  7. Posada (DH)
  8. Martin (C)
  9. Gardner (LF)

DET—

  1. Dirks (CF)
  2. Santiago (2B)
  3. Young (LF)
  4. Cabrera (1B)
  5. Martinez (DH)
  6. Kelly (RF)
  7. Peralta (SS)
  8. Avila (C)
  9. Betemit (3B)

No change to the Yankees lineup.  It worked the first time around against Fister, so why mess with it now.  The Tigers lineup is a little bit harder to predict.  You never know who Leyland will bat ninth, which is largely in part because you have no idea where he’ll bat Don Kelly.  Leyland loves Kelly, like disturbingly so.  He will bat Kelly in the most ridiculous places in the lineup: leadoff, second, CLEAN UP—you just never know.  The only spots that are for sure right now are 3, 4, and 5.  Young, Cabrera, and Martinez will not be batting anywhere else.  But Santiago could bat second or ninth.  Don Kelly could be penciled in leadoff, or he could show up at the bottom of the lineup.  You just never know where he’s going to end up.  But, I would think it highly likely that these are the nine Jim will go with against Nova.  That would make the only player that hasn’t played in the division series Omir Santos, the backup catcher.  Since he bats right-handed, he probably won’t play tomorrow (unless Avila is more injured than he appears—he’s taken quite the beating, and I think he tweaked something in Game 3).

Keys to the Game:

Yankees—Fister showed New York just what he’s got now that he’s fighting for something.  While playing for Seattle, Fister had 12 losses.  He had next to nothing in the way of run support, and Seattle sucks.  So now that he’s in the playoffs, fighting for a chance at the American League crown, Fister is a brand new animal.  He showed the Yankees his ability in the rest of Game 1, but he was ultimately tapped for seven earned runs, due in no small part to Robinson Cano’s grand slam off of Al Alburquerque.  New York will have all the momentum, they’ll have the home crowd, and if they want to take Game 5 they have to get through Fister again.  Fister can paint the edges of the plate better than any pitcher I’ve ever seen pitch, so the Yankees have to pay attention to the bottom and outside edge of the strike zone.  They proved in Game 1 that he’s not invincible, so they’ll simply have to keep doing what they do best and destroy the ball.

Tigers—Nova has been a star rookie this season at 16-4.  There’s no doubt that his name is in the Rookie-of-the-Year conversation (although Rod and Mario told me all season that Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals was probably the leader of that race, with Mark Trumbo from the Angels close behind).  But he’s still a rookie, and pitching in the deciding game of a postseason series is going to be stressful.  I can’t believe that he won’t make a mistake, and the big hitters in the lineup have to take advantage of it.  As it turns out, only about half of the position players on the Tigers’ 25-man roster have faced Nova in the regular season, and only once for those guys.  So, now that they’ve seen him in a whole game, you would believe that the veteran hitters up and down the lineup would get some pretty great swings against him.  Miguel Cabrera is going to have to prove why he’s the best hitter in the league and destroy Nova.  The left-handed bats that Leyland puts in the lineup are going to have to use that short right-field fence to their advantage.

Predictions:

            It will come down to pitching once again.  I remember the first week of the season when the Tigers were in the Bronx, and the third game in the series turned into a slug-fest from both sides with the Tigers coming out on top with double-digit runs.  We have yet to have one of those games in this series, and it’s highly doubtful that it happens tomorrow.  Fister is great, and he will pitch like he always does.  Nova has been a crucial number two for the Yankees, and he has all the tools to keep the Tigers down.  With the series on the line, I see it coming down to a one-run pitching duel.  Who comes out on top?  I think Nova gets a rude awakening and the Tigers rock him.  Fister stays cool and collected and the Tigers win Game 5 4-3.

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