In the immediate aftermath of the Yankees' 3-1 victory over the Orioles that clinched the series and advanced the Yanks to the ALCS versus the Detroit Tigers, the story is CC Sabathia and his complete-game performance. Sabathia was every bit the ace, allowing one run and four hits in a do-or-die scenario for his team.
But as we look ahead to the Yankees and Tigers facing each other in the ALCS, A-Rod becomes a story—perhaps the story—yet again.
What will the Yankees do with their third baseman now? What sort of playing time can Rodriguez expect against the Tigers? Have the Yankees already gone past the point of no return with him? Can they put A-Rod back into the starting lineup after making it clear that the team didn't think it could win its most important game with him on the field?
One of the reasons Yankees manager Joe Girardi sat Rodriguez down for Game 5 against the Orioles was because of how he was hitting against right-handed pitching. This season, A-Rod hit .256/.326/.391 against righties. That obviously hasn't improved during the playoffs, as Rodriguez hit 2-for-16 (.125) overall with nine strikeouts.
The Tigers' starting rotation doesn't figure to make things much easier for A-Rod in the ALCS. All four of Detroit's starters in the series will be right-handed. According to the team, the rotation will line up with Doug Fister pitching in Game 1, followed by Anibal Sanchez in Game 2. Justin Verlander gets the start in Game 3, and Max Scherzer will go in Game 4.
Girardi has already shown he won't strictly go by Rodriguez's performance against a particular pitcher. He had good numbers against Baltimore's Game 5 starter, Jason Hammel, batting 8-for-24 (.333) with four home runs and nine RBI. But most of that success occurred at least four years ago, and Girardi based his decision on what he was seeing from Rodriguez now.
With that in mind, Rodriguez hasn't hit Fister very well. The two have faced each other in only 11 plate appearances, but A-Rod has compiled just a .111/.273/.111 triple-slash average with three strikeouts.
Is there any chance he gets the start in Game 1 versus Detroit with those numbers?
There's not much to go on between Rodriguez and Sanchez. A-Rod has never gotten a hit against Sanchez, but has faced him only three times. Could Game 2 be the one in which Rodriguez might get a chance to start?
Rodriguez has had some success against Verlander. In 37 plate appearances, A-Rod has a .267/.405/.600 average with three home runs and nine RBI. But if Girardi thought Rodriguez couldn't handle Jason Hammel, what is the likelihood that he'll be in the lineup against Verlander, who's pitching the best he ever has in the postseason?
That leaves Max Scherzer in Game 4. Could Rodriguez make an appearance against a right-hander who finished second in MLB with 231 strikeouts this season? Scherzer also compiled a rate of 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings, the best in the majors. Rodriguez has trouble catching up to even an average fastball right now. How is facing Scherzer going to work out for him?
Well, we can look at the previous 14 plate appearances in which Rodriguez has batted against Scherzer. He has one hit in 12 at-bats (.083) with four strikeouts. That matchup hasn't gone well for A-Rod.
To sum it up, Rodriguez is hitting 10-for-54 against the Tigers' four scheduled starting pitchers in the ALCS. That's good for a .185 batting average.
Rodriguez does have a .333 (2-for-6) against Tigers closer Jose Valverde, however. So maybe he can count on a pinch-hitting appearance in the ninth inning if Valverde is trying to close out a game for Detroit.
Considering Valverde has given up three runs and four hits in 1.2 innings with an opponents' batting average of .444, that might be a good matchup for A-Rod. Tigers fans would certainly be terrified of such a confrontation.
So, what are the Yankees going to do with Rodriguez in the ALCS?
All the evidence seems to point to the conclusion that he won't play. Maybe Girardi made a one-time decision for a do-or-die game. But if the Yanks' best chance to win Game 5 versus the Orioles was with Eric Chavez at third base, why would that change just because the team is beginning a new series against a new opponent?
It's a story that many of us would probably like to see go away. Is A-Rod going to play? But as long as Rodriguez and his $30 million salary are on the bench wearing his grey hooded sweatshirt playing the role of cheerleader, it's going to be a topic of conversation.
At least we can probably predict the ending to this story, or at least this particular chapter. Redemption doesn't look to be in Rodriguez's immediate future against the Tigers.
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