As I'm writing this, the Yankees are 2.5 games behind the Red Sox for the AL East lead.
It looks like whether they win the division or not they will make the playoffs, as the 2nd place team in the East will be the Wild Card team barring some kind of monumental collapse. Curtis Granderson is always a compelling story when he comes back to the D and his performance this season makes this matchup that much more compelling.
The Tigers opened the season in Yankee Stadium, losing the first two games before salvaging the final game of the series.
In the first game of the series, Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia squared off with neither pitcher earning a decision in an eventual Yankee win off a Granderson go-ahead home run in the seventh inning. New York jumped all over Brad Penny in the second game of the set thanks to three run shots from Mark Teixeira and Russell Martin resulting in another Yankee win.
The Tigers returned the favor in the series finale with Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch each knocking in four RBI off the combo of Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon to overcome a poor performance by Max Scherzer to get the first Tigers' win of the season.
The Yankees then made their way to Comerica in the first week of May, where the Tigers took 3 of 4. Justin Verlander started this series off with another no-decision after a solid performance.
Jose Valverde took the loss in the opener when he gave up two runs in the ninth inning in a non-save situation. Brad Penny pitched well enough in the second game of the series to hand C.C. his second loss of the year in a low scoring affair. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello then each pitched masterful games to send the Bronx Bombers out of Detroit on a three-game losing streak.
With both series coming so early in the year it's hard to say that there is much we can take away from them, but the fact that the Tigers were able to hand C.C. one of his few losses of the year is a good sign. Tigers pitching also seemed to get the best of a powerful Yankee lineup most nights.
Tigers won 4-3
Both pitching staffs are headed by a legitimate Cy Young candidate in Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia and both have pretty spotty starting pitching after that.
The Tigers are likely to go with a rotation of Verlander (20-5, 2.38 ERA/0.90 WHIP), Max Scherzer (13-7, 4.21/1.33) and Rick Porcello (12-8, 5.01/1.44), assuming they go with a three-man rotation.
Nobody but Verlander has been consistent at all this year, but Scherzer and Porcello each have the ability to be great on any given night and have had some success against the Yanks this season. Brad Penny and Doug Fister don't seem to be playoff caliber pitchers but are decent options should they be called upon.
The Yankees could go a few ways with any combination of AJ Burnett (9-11, 5.31/1.44), Ivan Nova (13-4, 3.97/1.38), Freddy Garcia (10-7, 3.16/1.31) or Bartolo Colon (8-9, 3.63/1.24) following Sabathia (17-7, 2.99/1.16).
Colon and Burnett have really struggled of late and were ineffective against Detroit earlier this season, so a Sabathia/Garcia/Nova rotation is probably the most likely. Nova has had a very solid rookie campaign but is inexperienced so Joe Girardi may opt to go with a veteran in his place. Phil Hughes is also back in the mix after a rough start to the year and may be an option as well.
The Tigers bullpen has some very solid options but is not deep at all. Phil Coke has pitched better since moving back to the bullpen, Joaquin Benoit has finally been pitching the way the Tigers expected him to when they gave him a big pay day in the off-season and Jose Valverde has been the best closer in the league in save situations this year.
The wild card here is Al Alburquerque. If not for injuries, we may be talking about a historical season from him. The Tigers desperately need Alburquerque to be healthy come October as a middle inning guy who can eat up some innings if a starter struggles.
The Yankees definitely have a deeper bullpen. Luis Ayala, Boone Logan, Hector Noesi, and Rafael Soriano are all more than capable arms and David Robertson was rightfully an All-Star this year.
Mariano Rivera has been the most dominant closer of this generation but he is aging and has struggled a bit of late. Even still, he has made a living out of turning it on when it counts most and I'm not ready to count him out just yet. The loss of Joba Chamberlain to Tommy John surgery is tough for the Yankees, but they have done well in his absence.
Both teams have the exact same team average of .269 and the Tigers actually have more guys hitting over the .300 mark. Miguel Cabrera (.324), Victor Martinez (.325) and Jhonny Peralta (.314) are all hitting at an elite level and have had success against New York this year.
Alex Avila (.304) and Brennan Boesch (.283) have bobbed above and below .300 all season as well and Ryan Raburn has been on fire in the second half after floating around the Mendoza line before the All-Star break like usual.
Delmon Young (.304) and Wilson Betemit (.316) are both hitting for great average but their sample sizes with the Tigers are not big enough yet to make much of that. Both of them have been coming up with big hits since coming to Detroit however, so there is reason to be optimistic.
The Tigers real problem is the way Leyland fills out the lineup card. Hitting for a great average doesn't mean much if nobody is on base ahead of you.
The Yankees don't have that lineup card problem as is evidenced by the fact that despite their roster not being quite as impressive when it comes to individual averages, they have driven in 122 more runs as a team. Granted some of that is because Yankee Stadium is a home run haven and Comerica is a pitcher's park but when the Tigers are top five in hits and average but drop down to 10th in runs scored and RBI, something isn't right in Detroit.
Granderson is having an MVP caliber year, Mark Teixeira is going to end up right around his career averages of about 35 home runs and 120 RBI, and Robinson Cano is quietly having a stellar year as well.
With Derek Jeter starting to hit like the Jeter of old and A-Rod coming back from the DL, the Yankees have a very potent, albeit comparably top-heavy lineup. Teixeira is the only Yankee hitter to have consistent success against Detroit this year.
Top to bottom I actually prefer the Tigers hitters. Let's just hope the skipper puts them in the right spot.
Jim Leyland has been criticized all season long, rightfully so in my opinion, for his management of the lineup. He is beyond stubborn with players like Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge, constantly giving them playing time over younger and more productive players such as Andy Dirks and Wilson Betemit.
With the exception of Cabrera, Leyland is notorious for giving his regular players way too many days off as well, even when they're hot. The Tigers are also dead last in the majors in stolen bases as Leyland basically refuses to even try to steal. He may have a World Series ring and a new contract extension, but I have lost all faith in him in that regard.
Joe Girardi has a relatively short managing career but he already has a World Series win on his resume from 2009 when he took these Yankees to the title. He flies under the radar for the most part which tends to be a good thing when you have a team with as much talent as he has. He puts them in the right situations and lets them play.
Girardi has made the news recently for failing to dispute a home run call, that replay showed to be incorrect and costing the Yanks a win, but if that is the extent of his mistakes this season–New York is in good shape. The Yankees are also 2nd in the league in stolen bases meaning Girardi isn't shy to send a runner.
I actually don't mind this matchup from a Detroit perspective. Both teams are similar in many ways, and as long as Detroit can get adequate pitching from Scherzer and Porcello, I like the Tigers' chances.
Detroit showed they can win against the Yanks earlier this year, and playing games in Yankee Stadium should do wonders to keep lefties Boesch and Avila hot at the plate to go along with Cabrera and V-Mart.
Prediction: Tigers in 5