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The 2012 American League Championship Series starts Saturday night at Yankee Stadium with the Central champion Tigers taking on the East champion New York Yankees (8:07 p.m./TBS). Need to get caught up? No problem, we've got you covered.
As a certain great Yankee once said, it's deja vu all over again when the Yankees take on the Tigers in the postseason. This is the third time the two teams have met in the playoffs in the past seven years, but the first time they've met in the best-of-seven ALCS. The Tigers ousted the Yankees in the 2006 and 2011 ALDS. The Yankees won the 2012 regular-season series 6-4, scoring a full run per game (5.8 to 4.8) more than the Tigers in those 10 and hitting three more home runs (15 to 12). With solid starting pitching and sluggers throughout the lineups, this series has all the makings of a seven-game thriller.
Miguel Cabrera is an offensive force -- you may have heard something about the Tigers' All-Star third baseman winning the Triple Crown with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs this season. He will likely win the AL MVP and that was with Prince Fielder batting behind him in the Tigers' lineup.
Cabrera's overall offensive numbers are outstanding against just about any team, but against the Yankees they are downright absurd. In 40 career games against New York (with the Marlins and Tigers), Cabrera has 15 home runs and 37 RBIs. His slash line against the Yankees (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) is .356/.422/.747. Yes, that's a .747 slugging percentage. The Yankees pitchers will look to keep Cabrera's table-setters off the bases to minimize the damage (like the A's did in the ALDS). But with Fielder and his 30 homers, 108 RBIs and .313 batting average lurking, it's pick your poison.
Speaking of slugging third basemen, what will the Yankees do about Alex Rodriguez? Joe Girardi pinch hit for the future Hall of Famer twice in key spots against the Orioles and flat out benched him for the critical ALDS Game 5 against Jason Hammel. With A-Rod out of the lineup, the Yankees enjoyed what seemed like an offensive explosion on Friday, scoring three runs, including Curtis Granderson's sixth career postseason dinger.
A-Rod is in the Game 1 starting lineup and he has been dropped to sixth in the batting order. If his struggles continue, and with his noted problems against right-handed pitching and the Tigers' rotation stacked with righties, it's possible Rodriguez could end up relegated to pinch-hitting duty with Eric Chavez getting the start at third. Even if he comes off the bench, there is little doubt there will be plenty of opportunities to test the It-Always-Comes-Down-To-Alex theory in this series.
Thanks to each team coming off a five-game division series, the pitching rotations are a bit out of whack. Aces Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia pitched complete game gems in their respective team's close-out games, which means we won't see them until Game 3 on Tuesday at the earliest. Andy Pettitte, back from a broken leg, starts for the Yankees on Saturday night. Pettitte is no stranger to the pressure of the postseason -- he's the career leader in starts (43) and wins (19).
The Tigers counter with Doug Fister, who helped Detroit advance last year by giving up one run in five innings against the Yankees in Game 5 of the ALDS. Fister, who likely would pitch Game 5 in this series, is a dangerous No. 2 and could rack up a lot of strikeouts. The five-game ALDS without an off day hurts the Yankees. New York will start Hiroki Kuroda on short rest in Sunday's Game 2 after he threw 105 pitches against Baltimore on Wednesday. Kuroda will match up against the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez (one career start against the Yankees). The Tigers also have Max Scherzer for Game 4. Scherzer had a fantastic second half and finished with 231 strikeouts, second only to Verlander's 239.
Even without legendary closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees' bullpen has been outstanding. Rafael Soriano converted 42 of 46 regular season saves and pitched well against the O's in the ALDS in non-save situations. Despite being in the midst of five straight games without a break -- including two extra-inning marathons in Games 3 and 4 -- the Yankees' bullpen enters the series relatively rested.
The Tigers' bullpen struggled against the A's, exemplified by closer Jose Valverde's blown save in Game 4. Verlander spared Joaquin Benoit and Valverde further indignity with his complete game shutout in the clincher, but give the Yankees the edge.