How will Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder fare against Yankees pitching?
If the American League playoff seedings hold in place over the next three days, the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees will face each other for the second consecutive postseason in the AL Division Series.
As of Oct. 1, there's still enough wiggle room among the five likely AL playoff teams (along with the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels still having a sliver of a chance) that the final playoff seedings haven't been determined.
But if the Texas Rangers win the top seed in the AL, they will play the winner of the wild-card playoff. That leaves the Tigers and Yankees for the other ALDS matchup. Last year, Detroit beat the Yankees in five games thanks in large part to surprising home runs from Don Kelly and Delmon Young off Ivan Nova.
The Tigers likely won't face Nova this year, as he won't be in the Yankees' playoff rotation and might not even be on their ALDS roster. CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes will be familiar faces for Detroit hitters, but the Yankees will start two other pitchers the Tigers didn't see last year in Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte.
How will Detroit's lineup fare against those four pitchers, as well as the top relievers out of the Yankees bullpen? Let's look at how Tigers batters have performed against the Yankees' projected playoff starters, as well as their top relievers.
As could be expected, Miguel Cabrera is the most dangerous Tigers hitter against the Yankees ace.
In 38 plate appearances, Cabrera has a .357/.474/.643 slash average vs. CC Sabathia with two home runs and five RBI.
Prince Fielder also hits Sabathia well, though there are only 13 plate appearances to go on. Fielder is batting .364/.462/.636 against Sabathia with a home run and four RBI.
Brennan Boesch seems to have fallen out of favor with manager Jim Leyland—and rightfully so, with a .242 average and .664 OPS. But the Tigers might want to dust Boesch off to face Sabathia. Despite being a left-handed hitter, Boesch has had success against Sabathia.
The two have faced each other only 16 times, but Boesch has a .313/.313/.625 average vs. Sabathia with a home run and two RBI. However, he also has eight strikeouts, so maybe Leyland might want to try someone else.
Leyland should strongly consider playing Gerald Laird at catcher in Game 1 of the ALDS rather than Alex Avila based on the matchup with Sabathia. In 28 plate appearances against Sabathia, Laird batted .417/.500/.625 with one home run and four RBI.
Other Tigers regulars haven't fared so well against Sabathia.
Austin Jackson has 12 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances, but is slugging .542. Jhonny Peralta has a .100 batting average in 25 PAs. Delmon Young is batting .235, though he has a .417 slugging percentage. And Omar Infante is batting .207 with 10 strikeouts in his 31 PAs versus Sabathia.
Having pitched four of his five seasons in the National League doesn't give the Tigers much experience against Hiroki Kuroda.
But thanks to interleague play and a couple of Tigers hitters playing the bulk of their careers in the NL, we do have some information to go on.
Let's start with the two batters who have faced Kuroda the most. Prince Fielder has a .333/.375/.400 average versus Kuroda, with no home runs and two RBI in 16 plate appearances. Omar Infante has 12 PAs during which he's batted .400 with one RBI.
Miguel Cabrera hits everyone, so it stands to reason he hits Kuroda. There are only nine PAs to draw from, but Cabrera has a .444/.444/.1.222 slash average with two homers and three RBIs. You might say he owns Kuroda.
No one else in Detroit's lineup has more than six plate appearances versus Kuroda. It should probably be noted that Alex Avila has a home run in his three PAs, however.
In last year's ALDS, Phil Hughes only pitched 2.1 innings against the Tigers but didn't allow a run. This season, Hughes faced Detroit in two starts, finishing with a 1-1 record and 3.38 ERA, along with 11 strikeouts in 13.1 innings.
For his career, Hughes is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 10 appearances vs. the Tigers despite 48 strikeouts in 49 innings.
But really, Hughes should just try to avoid pitching to Miguel Cabrera as much as possible. Hughes and Cabrera have faced each other for 24 plate appearances, during which Cabrera has compiled a .409/.458/.1.045 average with four home runs and nine RBI.
Another Tigers hitter who's had success vs. Hughes is Jhonny Peralta. The Detroit shortstop has a .500/.500/.700 slash average with five RBI in 21 PAs. Brennan Boesch is batting .545 against Hughes, albeit in only 11 PAs. Delmon Young has also hit Hughes rather well in 18 PAs, batting .294.
Someone who might not want any part of Hughes is Austin Jackson. In 13 PAs against Hughes, the Tigers centerfielder is batting .083 with five strikeouts.
Andy Pettitte hasn't faced the Tigers since 2008, so most of the current Detroit lineup hasn't made any plate appearances against him.
Of the Yankees' four projected playoff starting pitchers, however, Pettitte has had the most success versus Miguel Cabrera. In 20 plate appearances, the Tigers third baseman has a .200 batting average against Pettitte. But Cabrera has two home runs, accounting for a .550 slugging percentage.
The Tigers batter with the most success vs. Pettitte is Delmon Young, going back to the days when he faced the Yankees on a regular basis with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 24 PAs, Young has a .542 average with three doubles, a triple and four RBI.
Jhonny Peralta has also hit Pettitte well, compiling a .389/.476/1.111 slash average with three home runs and nine RBI in 21 PAs.
Prince Fielder has only faced Pettitte twice, going 1-for-2. Though Prince and his father Cecil aren't speaking, this might be a time to get back in touch with the old man. Cecil Fielder had a .625/.667/.750 slash average against Pettitte in 18 plate appearances.
How about the Yankees bullpen? Do their top relievers match up against Tigers hitters well?
Closer Rafael Soriano has pitched well against Miguel Cabrera. They only have nine plate appearances against each other, but Soriano has held Cabrera to a .111 batting average. Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta are both hitting .200 against Soriano.
However, Prince Fielder has had great success in his five PAs vs. Soriano. The Tigers first baseman has two home runs and three RBI, resulting in a a .500/.600/2.600 slash average. Delmon Young has also hit Soriano relatively well, batting .333 with a home run in six PAs.
Setup man David Robertson hasn't faced any Tigers hitter more than nine times. Young has seen Robertson nine times, batting .286/.444/.429 with three RBI.
Robertson has held Cabrera to a .200 batting average in six PAs. Peralta is batting .400 with one RBI, also in six PAs. Alex Avila has five PAs versus Robertson, batting ,250.
The Tigers will likely be relieved (no pun intended) that they don't have to face Mariano Rivera. Cabrera has no hits against him in five PAs, Peralta has two hits in 15 PAs, resulting in a .133 average. Young has a .154 (2-for-13) average vs. Rivera.
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