The ALCS begins this Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, TBS) as the New York Yankees host the Detroit Tigers in a rematch of their first-round playoff series of a year ago. This matchup is chalk full of storylines, none bigger than the status of Alex Rodriguez. Will he find himself riding the bench for the second straight game?
New York doesn't have much time to reflect on their Game 5 win in the Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, and for many, that's probably a good thing.
Numerous Yankee stars struggled throughout the series besides Rodriguez. They'll look to turn that around tonight and in Game 2 on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, TBS) before the series shifts to Detroit for Games 3-5.
Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Rodriguez all hit .158 or lower against the O's. As a result, Eric Chavez got the start in place of A-Rod at third base in the deciding game.
Fortunately for the Yanks, Tigers ace Justin Verlander pitched in Detroit's Game 5 ALDS win against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday. Detroit will have Doug Fister on the mound for tonight's opener.
So what does Yankee skipper Joe Girardi do with Rodriguez?
His decision would be more difficult if Chavez had taken advantage of the opportunity. Instead, the veteran went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the Division Series.
Girardi has tried to keep Rodriguez away from right-handers lately, and all four Tigers starting pitchers are righties. According to Cliff Corcoran of SI.com, A-Rod's 1-for-9 with two walks and three strikeouts in his career facing Fister.
Forget for a minute your personal opinions on Rodriguez. There's no denying he's a polarizing figure, especially after his steroid issues came to light. The only thing to consider is who gives the Yankees a better shot at winning?
There's an old saying in sports: "You go with the guys that got you there."
Sure, Rodriguez didn't have great numbers during the regular season (.272, 18 HR, 57 RBI). He also played in only 122 games.
But when you compare their career postseason numbers, everything favors A-Rod being in the starting lineup. Rodriguez has a career playoff average of .268 in 72 games, while Chavez is hitting a paltry .205 in 31 games.
How quickly Yankees fans seem to forget Alex's performance in the 2009 playoffs, the last time New York won the World Series. He hit .378 with six HR and 18 RBI in 15 games. However, it is worth pointing out that that was three years ago and Rodriguez is now 37.
Yet, it's also worth pointing out that Granderson only hit .232 during the regular season and followed that up with a .158 clip against Baltimore. Is anyone calling for him to be benched?
If Girardi plays Rodriguez, he struggles, and the Yankees lose the series, critics will be all over him. But if he plays Chavez and the same exact scenario plays out, the criticism will be much worse.
The Yankees are better off letting one of the game's most prolific hitters sink his own ship than they are if they don't let him "on the ship" to begin with.
Baseball fans everywhere eagerly await your decision, Joe.
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