Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia. And then, if everything works out, Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia again. That's not the only reason to watch the Tigers and the Yankees play in the first round of the ALDS, but it sure is a great reason. It definitely seems like it will be more exciting than, say, a match-up of Nova/Fister (literally, "No go, fister!" in Spanish.)
There are other reasons to watch, of course. Both teams are quite good -- it's not like we were going to get to the playoffs, look up, and notice that the Astros were on the schedule. Both teams have strong offenses. Both teams had some weirdness at the back-end of their rotations during the regular season, but that shouldn't be as much of a problem in the playoffs, especially in the best-of-five Division Series.
The Yankees built their offense the traditional way: by drafting smartly, pursuing the best international amateurs, making astute trades, and lactating rubies and diamonds whenever the right player came along. As such, they enter the 2011 postseason with one of the more complete offenses in the game. It's hard to find a better 2-6 in the past decade that's better than Granderson/Teixeira/Rodriguez/Cano/Swisher.
Even the guys who aren't supposed to be good are. Remember when Derek Jeter was a millstone and a liability? He ended the season with a .355 on-base percentage. Russell Martin was a free-agent flier who the Yankees hoped could just be adequate; he hit 18 home runs, and his .237.324/.408 line is pretty darn okay for a starting catcher. Jorge Posada is a beloved icon, and his family loves him very much.
Here's something about that, though: the Tigers were just as good this year. If you park adjust the numbers, they were even better -- they had a 110 OPS+, which is the highest of any AL playoff team, including the Yankees (106 OPS+). The Yankees might be distributed a little more evenly, but a few of the Tigers had monster seasons:
Alex Avila - .295/.389/.506, 143 OPS+
Miguel Cabrera - .344/.448/.586, 181 OPS+
Jhonny Peralta - .299/.345/.478, 123 OPS+
Victor Martinez - .330/.380/.470, 132 OPS+
And midseason acquisitions like Wilson Betamit and Delmon Young were improvements on their predecessors. It's not the flashiest offense, but it was one of the best in the majors this year.
Verlander/Sabathia, Verlander/Sabathia, Verlander/Sabathia omgomgomg, Verlander/Sabathia.
The Yankees are going with a three-man rotation, with Sabathia going on short rest if there's a Game Four. Jim Leyland already noted that Verlander wouldn't pitch on short rest. So there goes the potential for a Game Five match-up of doom. Dang.
I'm not sure which rotation I trust less once we get past the aces. Scherzer has a problem allowing home runs, and the Yankees have a guy or eight who could make that a bigger problem. Doug Fister is a freaky control maven, and those types generally fare worse in the playoffs compared to the hard throwers. At least, I used to think that. Then I read this post and the subsequent comments, and I couldn't follow any of it because I'm a little dim. So if someone could just leave a comment here as to whether that's true or not ...
But if I don't trust Scherzer and Fister, I really don't trust Nova and Garcia. Nova was the Doug Fister of the International League last year, and Garcia had a rough September, excepting his lone start against the Red Sox.
Jose Valverde was perfect on the season, recording 49 saves in as many chances. He did have four losses on the season. One of them was against the San Francisco Giants, which if you run through a conversion table, is the equivalent of eight blown saves. What an unreliable fellow.
Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera. That probably wins the head-to-head match-up, which closers don't really have to worry about.
But as long as we're artificially comparing positions, get a load of this David Robertson/Al Alburquerque pairing. Both strike out over 13 batters per nine innings. And both have walked 83,839 hitters this season.
Baseball games. Lots of cheering. A lot made out of small samples. Heck, I don't know. This might be the most even match-up out of the four playoff series. The Yankees have the home-field advantage, so they're probably the slight favorites? Maybe?