Just two games after CC Sabathia's series-clinching gem in Game 5 of the ALDS, the Yankees and their lifeless bats have dug themselves into a substantial hole.
Making the trek to Detroit down two games to none wasn't how Joe Girardi's club had envisioned its ALCS experience starting out. And replacing the irreplaceable Derek Jeter for the duration of team's playoff run was probably the last thing on the skipper's mind.
Nonetheless, MLB postseason history has shown us time and time again that it's never actually over until your opponent finds itself in the midst of a celebratory champagne shower.
Now, preventing Justin Verlander—the reigning AL MVP, who seems to have finally found his playoff groove—from navigating his way through a stagnant lineup in Game 3 at Comerica Park will be no easy task. But even if the Yankees do fall into a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 deficit—all is not lost.
Sabathia is slated to toe the slab in Game 4, and his own run of dominant pitching could be the shot of energy this squad needs to wake up from its ALCS slumber.
Sabathia has wins in each of his three starts against the Tigers this year and has now gone at least eight innings in five straight starts dating back to September 21. He allowed no more than two runs in any of those outings.
In the ALDS against the Orioles, CC was masterful, turning in 8.2 innings of two-run baseball in Game 1 and then shutting the door on Baltimore's unexpected playoff appearance by hurling a complete game gem (nine strikeouts and one run allowed) in Game 5.
He'll square off against Max Scherzer on Wednesday, which, like facing Verlander, doesn't bode well for the Yankees and their struggling bats. But if Sabathia continues his torrid pace, he won't need much support to get the job done.
It's been documented (per Jason Beck of MLB.com) that Detroit's sluggers haven't had much success against left-handed pitching this season. So, that alone is one reason to remain optimistic about New York's chances of making this series, well, a series.
Following the lefty Sabathia will be Andy Pettitte in Game 5 if New York can indeed avoid a sweep. The 40-year-old vet is another left-handed starter, and one who was able to hold the Tigers lineup scoreless through the first five frames of Game 1 before surrendering a pair of runs in the sixth.
Girardi will hand the ball to Hiroki Kuroda if the Yankees can stretch it to Game 6, and Sabathia is set to pitch Game 7 at Yankees Stadium on three day's rest if they can even the series at three games apiece (assuming the Tigers take one of three at home).
Obviously, pitching hasn't been the Yankees biggest problem; the brunt of their struggles lies at the plate—not on the mound. The back half of the batting order has been piling up strikeouts at an alarming rate and the beef in the middle hasn't been doing much to stem the tide.
But one dominant performance is all it takes to swing postseason momentum in your favor. And even if it comes from a pitcher, hitting can feed off of that energy as well.
If the Yankees can get past Verlander and see CC take the mound down 2-1 in the series instead of 3-0, this ALCS is far from over. Even if the outcome is the latter of those two, the ace may still be able to find a way to keep his team afloat.
At least he's guaranteed the chance.
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