The schedule has done the New York Yankees no favors in the 2012 postseason.
With the new Wild Card format, the Yankees have had to play games on five consecutive days, while the Detroit Tigers enjoyed a day off on Friday before the ALCS Game 1. Look for scheduling to play a significant role in the outcome of the Championship Series.
Both divisional series went five games and required stellar pitching performances from each team's ace. The Tigers' Justin Verlander joined Sandy Koufax in becoming one of only two pitchers ever to throw a shutout and register double-digit strikeouts in a deciding playoff game.
For the Yankees, CC Sabathia pitched a stellar Game 5 to finally silence the Orioles, throwing a complete game, striking out nine and allowing only a single run on four hits.
Unfortunately for New York, Sabathia's Friday start means he may only be available to pitch in the ALCS once. If the series goes seven games and Sabathia ends up pitching Game 7, that would make for back-to-back starts on short rest.
Verlander won't be available until Game 3, but if the series were to go seven games, he'd be able to pitch both Game 3 and Game 7 on normal rest. Having the game's best pitcher—who has pitched beautifully in these playoffs—waiting in the wings is a huge weapon for the Tigers.
Game 1 looks to favor the Tigers as well, with Doug Fister on the mound facing Andy Pettitte.
Pettitte has looked strong since returning to the Yanks, but Fister is the pitcher who sent New York packing in Game 5 of the ALDS last year. He also spun a solid start against the Yankees back in August, pitching 6.1 innings and allowing just two runs.
If the Tigers win Game 1, the road looks tough for the AL East champs. They'll face Anibal Sanchez in Game 2, who has looked like a different pitcher since the Yanks roughed him up in August. New York will counter with Hiroki Kuroda, who has pitched well, but will be another Yankee pitching on short rest.
The Yanks will need to come out of the first two games with at least a split, because after Game 2, they head out on the road against Detroit's aces.
The struggling Yankee bats will face Verlander in Game 3. The Tigers ace doesn't require much introduction. Verlander struck out 11 in eight innings in a win over the Yankees in last year's ALDS Game 3, and fanned 14 hitters in eight shutout innings against New York in August.
New York could bring Sabathia back on short rest to face Verlander in Game 3, but they'd probably be best served to chalk that game up to a probable loss and bring the big lefty out to face Max Scherzer in Game 4.
Essentially, given the series format and the schedule, the Yankees will need to win three of the first four games to put themselves in a position to avoid facing a rested Verlander in Game 7. If we chalk Game 3 up as a Tigers win, than New York will need to sweep the other three games.
If they split the first four, New York will have two of the remaining three games at home, but one of those home games will be a fully-rested Verlander against Sabathia on short rest.
For the Yankees to get a shot at their 28th World Series title, they'll need some savvy managing from skipper Joe Girardi. They'll also probably require some ace-level contributions from pitchers not named CC Sabathia, who put the team on his back in Game 5 against the Orioles.
Barring that, the New York better hope their offense wakes up, because their abysmal run production in the ALDS won't cut it against Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Alex Avila and the Tigers' thumpers.
Whatever the result, this figures to be a great series featuring some fascinating pitching matchups. If the Yankees can overcome the scheduling issues to take the ALCS, they'll be well on their way to bringing another World Series title back to New York.
If not, Justin Verlander might finally bring the Tigers their first ring in almost thirty years.
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