The Yankees had their six-game winning streak snapped in Boston on Sunday, but the Bombers still stand just a half-game back of Tampa Bay and the best record in baseball as they visit the Tigers and two familiar faces.
Johnny Damon landed in Detroit this past offseason after the Yanks opted not to re-sign him, and he's off to a great start, batting .294 with a .409 on-base percentage and 14 RBIs.
Brian Cashman isn't completely regretting his decision, however, because Brett Gardner (.344 average) has been a more-than-satisfactory replacement in left field.
Austin Jackson, on the other hand, is a different story. The rookie was traded on Dec. 9 in a three-team deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Bronx, and while Granderson is currently on the disabled list following a slow start, Jackson is leading the league with a .371 batting average.
The Tigers as a team are second in the AL with a .278 average, but their pitching (4.36 ERA, ninth in league) has been mediocre.
However, this may be the first series the Yankees aren't favored to win due to the fact they have Sergio Mitre starting Game 1 in place of Andy Pettitte and the struggling Javier Vazquez going in Game 2.
Let's take a look at the pitching matchups for the four-game set.
Monday, May 10 - Sergio Mitre (0-0, 2.79) vs. Brad Thomas (1-0, 5.40)
Pettitte wasn't too pleased when he heard he was going to miss a turn in the rotation thanks to some minor elbow issues, and most Yankees fans can't be thrilled either that Mitre will be taking his place.
The right-hander has pitched pretty well in five relief appearances this season, but he's 13-23 with a 5.47 ERA in 61 career starts, and will probably only be allowed to throw 65 to 75 pitches, which should put a heavy load on a bullpen that is just beginning a stretch of 17 consecutive games without a day off.
Mitre has never pitched against the Tigers and therefore, only two players on their current roster have ever faced him. Adam Everett is 2-for-5 with a double and two strikeouts, while Miguel Cabrera is 1-for-5 with an RBI and two K's.
Willis was scratched from his scheduled start Monday with an unspecified illness, according to MLB.com. Lefty reliever Thomas will start in his place, so this game should wind up becoming a battle of the bullpens.
Tuesday, May 11 - Javier Vazquez (1-3, 9.78) vs. Rick Porcello (2-3, 7.50)
It was wise to push back Vazquez's start so that he wouldn't have to face the Red Sox, but it would be wiser to yank him from the starting rotation altogether and replace him with Joba Chamberlain.
The right-hander, who was promised to eat up innings for the Yankees this season, hasn't pitched more than 5 2/3 frames in any of his five starts, failing to escape the fourth in his past two, so we could see New York relievers taxed quite a bit over the first two games of this series.
Vazquez is 6-7 with a 4.50 ERA in 13 career starts against the Tigers, including a stellar 2-5 record and 6.09 ERA at Comerica Park.
For some reason, Magglio Ordonez (7-for-36, .194) and Brandon Inge (7-for-31, .226, 13 K's) have struggled when facing the 33-year-old, but Cabrera (9-for-23, .391, 3 HRs), Damon (7-for-21, .333, 2 HRs), and Everett (5-for-13, .385, 2 doubles) have not.
Another bullpen battle could be on tap because Porcello hasn't lasted more than six innings all season. He faced the Yankees once during his rookie campaign last year, getting knocked around for six runs in 3 2/3 innings. Nick Swisher had a three-run homer.
Wednesday, May 12 - Phil Hughes (4-0, 1.69) vs. Jeremy Bonderman (1-1, 5.74)
Hughes may have taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the A's and held the White Sox scoreless over seven, but his best start of the year came on Friday, when he gave up just two runs and struck out seven in seven frames against the Red Sox.
The questions about his durability will come when he eclipses his career-high 86 innings in one season, but as of now, the right-hander looks like the real deal.
Hughes is 2-2 with a 5.30 ERA in five games (three starts) versus the Tigers, and he's 1-1 with a 3.75 in Detroit.
Against him, Ordonez is 1-for-8 (.125) and Laird, Inge, Everett and Ramon Santiago are a combined 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts, but Cabrera is 3-for-6.
Bonderman was pleased to see his stats washed away in a postponed game against the Indians on Friday. The right-hander had allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings when the rains came.
Bonderman is 3-7 with a 5.55 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) versus the Yankees, but most of the players he had trouble with are gone as the current Bombers' roster hits just .214 off him.
Derek Jeter is 8-for-33 (.242), Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano are both 5-for-22 (.227) and Mark Teixeira is an astounding 0-for-12 with three strikeouts.
Alex Rodriguez (8-for-26, .308, 2 HRs) is the only one with success against Bonderman.
Thursday, May 13 - CC Sabathia (4-1, 3.04) vs. Justin Verlander (3-2, 4.50)
Sabathia has a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox, but a 1.93 mark versus everyone else this season. That's not a good sign for the Tigers.
The big lefty was one strike away from earning the victory in Boston on Saturday before rain delayed the game for more than an hour and he was relieved.
The 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner with the Indians is 14-10 with a 4.50 ERA against his old Central rival, including a 7-3 record and 3.87 mark in 12 starts at Comerica Park.
Inge (7-for-47, .149, 14 K's), Damon (4-for-18, .222), Ryan Raburn (3-for-15, .200, 5 K's), and Everett (0-for-6) have all struggled when facing Sabathia.
However, Santiago is 7-for-21 with a double, Laird is 5-for-12 (.417) with a homer and Cabrera is 5-for-8 (.625) with six RBIs.
Ordonez has the most experience against Sabathia, going 16-for-61 (.262) with 17 RBIs and eight strikeouts.
This figures to be the best pitching matchup of the series because Verlander has won his last two starts and has surrendered only four earned runs over his past 20 innings.
The former Rookie of the Year is 3-2 with a 4.36 ERA in six career starts against the Yankees. He's dominated Swisher (7-for-38, .184, 14 K's), Teixeira (1-for-12, .083, 5 Ks), and Posada (1-for-10).
But Jeter (6-for-15, .400) and A-Rod (3-for-10, .300, HR) have had success, and maybe Ramiro Pena (2-for-3) could even find his way into the lineup.
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Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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