Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 ALCS preview

By Rick Morris
This year’s American League Championship Series is being contested between two squads who exemplify why the sport has not had a repeat champion since the 2000 Yankees.  Both the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees have a decent amount of holes and neither is going to be immediately touted as favorites for 2013 even if they win the title in the end.
Detroit struggled mightily to win baseball’s worst division, tallying an 88-74 mark and spending almost no time in first place during a campaign that saw them posed as vastly underachieving favorites.  Their rotation, anchored by arguably the game’s best pitcher in Justin Verlander, is above-average overall; their lineup, however, while anchored by arguably the game’s best one-two punch in the Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, has holes at almost every other position not manned by Austin Jackson or Delmon Young.
New York won 95 games and became the top seed in the AL without any serious swoons during the season, but did so at various times despite signs of difficulty from the team’s collective age.  CC Sabathia had a stretch where he looked ordinary, although he has since turned it around.  Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte have looked ageless, but their production has been surprisingly necessary as Phil Hughes has merely rallied to the level of “acceptable” and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam in the rotation has been far less than that.  Bullpen depth has prevented the loss of Mariano Rivera from being excessively harmful and the lineup has more power than any other in baseball, but it is frequently of the all-or-nothing variety (i.e. Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira and the otherwise awesome platoon combo of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones).  The most fitting example of the team’s offensive production not meeting the insane expectations is provided by the highest-priced player in baseball, ARod, who was pinch-hit for in the ALDS and ultimately benched in Game 5.  This lineup needs to bludgeon the opposition lest they all get shut down at the same time.
Strangely, each team faced a squad in the ALDS on a trajectory to becoming the next Miracle Mets with a world championship, but the Yankees survived Baltimore and the Tigers survived Oakland, each in five games.  Seeing these teams get stretched by squads so inferior on paper (in the case of the As, because of their extreme youth) can’t deliver much confidence about the solidity of either squad.  But, as New Yorker Woody Allen once observed, 90% of life is just showing up and these teams have done that.
All of the aforementioned indicators leave these teams, who are also linked in recent history with the Jackson-Granderson trade, on what is close to a too-close-to-call basis.  The New York bullpen was better in the regular season and so far in the playoffs.  The Tiger bats have been better top-to-bottom in the playoffs, though.  With the starting pitching, the Yankees will either have to throw out spare piece David Phelps in Game 2 or run Kuroda out there on short rest and they will face a rare disadvantage for a Sabathia start when he is matched against Verlander.  Those edges for the Tigers should add up to the team’s second pennant in seven years.  Detroit in 6 (NOTE: playoff picks are thus far 2-4 and St. Louis over Detroit over 6 is the World Series pick).

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