Yankees, Tigers have pitching aces up their sleeves

Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander may be even better this year than he was in his Cy Young/MVP season...

Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander may be even better this year than he was in his Cy Young/MVP season of 2011. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:20 PM ET

NEW YORK - They have been sparring, not with their fists or their words -- there's too much mutual respect for that -- but with their actions through the first round of the playoffs.

Justin Verlander dominated the Oakland Athletics. CC Sabathia, ditto, against the Baltimore Orioles. They are arguably the top two money pitchers in the American League. Now they are in the same arena, each trying to impose his will on the other's team in the American League Championship Series. It figures to be quite a show.

They were matched against each other in the ALDS last year but rain in Game 1 doused the fuse in that one, with both pitchers bowing out after a long rain delay in the bottom of the second. They paired off in Game 3 but Sabathia was not at his best and he has said that failure has motivated him this year. The Tigers ended up winning the series in five games.

"We get to get our revenge against Detroit," said Yankee catcher Russell Martin. "It's a new year and I'm just happy that we have a chance to get back at them."

Be careful what you wish for, young Yogi. Verlander may be even better this year than he was in his Cy Young/MVP season of 2011.

Against Oakland, Verlander made two starts and pitched 16 of the 18 innings, facing 59 hitters in the two games. He gave up a solo home run to Coco Crisp, the very first batter he faced in Game 1 and then nothing else, allowing seven hits and five walks while striking out 22 in the two games.

"When Verlander gets on a roll, it's tough to stop him," marvelled A's manager Bob Melvin. "It's like a locomotive going at a high speed. He was tough to deal with."

Like Verlander, Sabathia also pitched Games 1 and 5 for the Yankees against Baltimore and prompted O's manager Buck Showalter to comment: "He didn't pitch all five, but it certainly felt like it, didn't it?" Sabathia came within one batter of pitching back-to-back complete games, working 17.2 innings, allowing 12 hits, three walks while striking out 16. When he came out for the ninth inning Friday, Sabathia's fastball spiked from 93 to 95 mph and he blew the O's away.

"There are really only about six or seven true number one starters in baseball," said Showalter. "And we throw that word 'ace' around very easily. [Sabathia] certainly is one of those guys."

As fate would have it, they won't pitch against each other unless and until this series gets to a seventh game. After pitching the Tigers to a fifth-game win over Oakland on Thursday, Verlander will start Game 3 of the ALCS in Detroit on Tuesday. Coming off his win over Baltimore in a deciding game on Friday, Sabathia is set to start Game 4 in Detroit. Should there be a Game 7, you can just about count on these two facing each other.

"You'd like to have your ace going the first game and I'm sure Detroit would say the same thing," said New York manager Joe Girardi. "But we believe in our other pitchers."

Hiroki Kuroda will pitch Game 2 for New York against Detroit's Anibal Sanchez. The Game 3 matchup puts Verlander against Phil Hughes and in Game 4, Sabathia will be opposed by Max Scherzer.

Bats Go Silent

If the Yankees are going to make good on their hope to avenge last year's five-game ALDS loss at the hands of the Tigers, they are going to have to hit Detroit's pitching with more authority than they did Baltimore's.

The so-called Bronx Bombers hit .211 as a team and scored just 16 runs in five games. Alex Rodriguez (2-for-16) was the lightning rod and took all the abuse for this impotence, exchanging prime time for some pine time, but he had plenty of company. Robinson Cano went 2-for-22. Curtis Granderson was 3-for-19, recovering for a two-hit night in the finale. Free-agent-in-waiting Nick Swisher was 2-for-18 and Russell Martin was 3-for-17.

Between them, those five players were 12-for-92, a paltry .130 batting average.

"In the postseason, players will try too hard at times," said Girardi, "because they want it so badly. The other thing is that usually teams that get to the playoffs have the best pitching, so runs are going to be at a premium. It is cooler. The ball doesn't travel like it does in the summer. With days off, bullpens are fresher and you can use your top guys more often and you can push them more."

There's also the notion that if you can bottle up Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, then you've taken the guts right out of the Tigers offence. In five games against Oakland, Cabrera was 5-for-20 and Fielder was 4-for-21, a sickly combined .220 batting average.

The rest of the Tigers? They combined to hit .262, scored 15 of the Tigers' 17 runs in the series and drove in 14 of them.

Small sample size? Of course. But the playoffs are nothing if not a small sample size and if you're not producing in the few opportunities that arise, tough luck.


Photos