Game 2012 Playoffs.6: Tigers at Yankees

4 wins away from the WS. 8 wins away from a championship.

A few weeks ago, I asked everyone how far would the Tigers have to advance in the playoffs for you to want to bring Leyland back? I said I’d be happy if he went deep into the ALCS, and it looks like there’s a good chance that happens…what was your response? Be honest now.

Honestly, I like our chances in this series. Our starting pitching has been remarkable since early September. The four starters posted a sub 1.50 ERA in the ALDS. Yes, it was against the Oakland Athletics, a team that batted .238 with a .714 OPS during the regular season. But that explains a 3.25 or 2.75 ERA, not 1.50. Fister, Sanchez, Verlander and Fister vs. Pettitte, Kuroda, Sabathia and Hughes.

And as bad at the Tigers bats seemed against the As (I can’t remember more than 5 RBIs on hits), they were actually the best offense of the 4 ALDS teams. Cabrera, who has reached base in all 16 of his post-season games with the Tigers, won’t be shut down like that again. Once he gets going, the rest of the guys will too.

Now, the bullpen is an issue. Or the back of the bullpen is an issue. I think that Leyland will go with Benoit and Valverde until they each blow another one, and then I think he’ll stick with them in their designated innings, but with Dotel looking over their shoulder. Not what I want him to do, but that’s what I think he’ll do.

Would you classify Tigers/Yankees as a rivalry? I certainly wouldn’t, but 3 playoff match-ups in 7 years isn’t bad. Pretty legit that the Tigers have been to the ALCS 3 times in the last 7 years, which speaks to the talents of Verlander and Santiago. Actually, since 2006, only the Yankees and Tigers have made 3 ALCS appearances. Selective sampling, I know, but perhaps Dombrowski and Leyland deserve more credit than we give them.

On to tonight’s game – 8pm Eastern on TBS. Fister v. Pettitte.

Andy Pettitte came out of hiding in May (I guess Clemens finally accepted the retraction) to pitch phenomenally, if only on a limited basis, for the Yankees this year. Pettitte started 12 games and finished with a 5-4 record, a 2.87 ERA, and a 1.14 WHIP. That said, he had pretty significant R/L splits, with righties posting a .245 ERA and .681 OPS against .202 and .516 for lefties. In terms of playoff experience, Andy Pettitte is a triple secret black belt. He’s amassed well over a season’s worth of innings, 270, and has an impressive 19-11 postseason record with a 3.83 ERA. Fister has 24 career postseason IPs, and a 2-1 record and 4.13 ERA.

Fister followed up a marvelous September (3-1, 2.34 ERA) with a good start in game 2 of the ALDS. Roughly a year ago he started game 5 of the ALDS in New York, and held the Yankees to 1 ER over 5 innings, earning a W. He may need to go a bit deeper tonight, but I don’t think that nerves will be a problem.

The Tigers were 4-6 against the evil empire this year, 3-4 there, and 1-2 at Comerica. Cabrera (4-12, 2 HR), Peralta (6-16, 3) and Young (11-19) all mash against Pettitte.

A few notes:

– Roster stays the same for the ALCS. Still wondering why Santiago is on there. I guess it’s a 2006 thing.

– If you think that the baseball nation knows anything about baseball, then things are looking good for the Tigers. According to an ESPN poll, 61% of sportsnation thinks the Tigers will win, and the majority feel that the Tigers have the better hittiers and starting pitching.

– For those of you who are in to Fangraphs (like I am), here’s a nice long run down on the series.

– Due to an internal glitch, the Nationals sent their fans a WS pre-sale notice this morning, just hours after the most heartbreaking loss in franchise history. So you know when people say “well, it can’t get any worse than this?” They’re wrong.

Tonight’s Tone Setting Lineup:

1. Jackson, CF
2. Infante, 2B
3. Cabrera, 3B
4. Fielder, 1B
5. Young, DH
6. Peralta, SS
7. Dirks, LF
8. Garcia, RF (my pick to click)
9. Laird, C