Though they do get to face Brad Penny, who they teed off on in his first start of the season, and whose return to the American League has, to put it delicately, not gone so well.
In any event, the Yankees (16-9, 1st in the AL East) are at Detroit (12-16, 3rd in the AL Central) — losers of six straight, including sweeps by both the Mariners and division-rival Indians — for a four-game series for the second straight May, and in a rather bizarre scheduling quirk, won’t see the Tigers again for the rest of the season. This has to be one of the earliest instances ever of a team completing all of its games with a given opponent.
As you may (begrudgingly) recall, the Yankees got their butts handed to them last May in Detroit, as poor Mike — who attended all four games – can attest to. That ignominious series featured the Yankees not only getting shut out for the first time all season, but getting shutout twice in those four games. The 2011 edition has already been shutout twice.
This year’s Detroit team doesn’t feel quite as scary to me as those of recent vintage — probably because no one is hitting outside of Miguel Cabrera, a resurgent and Yankee-killing Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila — and their record is really right around where you’d expect it to be for a team that has mostly struggled to score. Austin Jackson — who every analyst in the free world expected would experience a pretty significant regression after his insane 2010 BABIP – has had a particularly rough go of it so far, “hitting” a paltry .194/.269/.269. Even Derek Jeter‘s been better than that (though not by much).
Tonight’s game has the suddenly ace-like Bartolo Colon (2.77 ERA/2.79 FIP/2.91 xFIP) going against Justin Verlander (3.64 ERA/3.72 FIP/3.31 xFIP). This should be a fascinating game to watch, as the resurgent Colon has been dispatching hitters like its 2005, while Verlander continues to be one of the best pitchers in the game. The Yankees have shown an ability to get to Verlander in the past, and though Verlander’s been unlucky as far as home runs go (1.29 HR/9) he’s been extremely lucky on balls in play (.226 BABIP against .293 career) and I’d expect the Yankee bats to tag him for a few runs. I don’t really know what to say about Colon other than that I hope he can somehow continue what he’s been doing, but, like teammate Freddy Garcia, he also seems like a prime candidate for a stumble.
Tuesday’s contest is rather lopsided, as CC Sabathia (2.25 ERA/2.73 FIP/3.19 xFIP) is slated to face Brad Penny (6.11 ERA/4.90 FIP). Penny’s been bad in spite of a low BABIP, isn’t expected to pitch much better (4.82 xFIP) and it appears the only reason he hasn’t been worse is his high GB%. Simply put, the Yankees have no business losing this game.
The third game has Freddy Garcia (2.00 ERA/4.26 FIP/3.92 xFIP) going against Max Scherzer (3.82 ERA), who has been good though appears to have been the beneficiary of a significant helping of luck (4.94 FIP). While his .317 BABIP could be considered unlucky, his strand rate of 87.1% is ridiculous and completely unsustainable. Soon enough some of those runners will be coming around to score, though this doesn’t mean Scherzer isn’t still very good. Though rotationmate Rick Porcello has out-fWARed Scherzer thus far, Scherzer’s still probably Detroit’s second-best pitcher.
And speaking of the groundballer Porcello (4.25 ERA/3.55 FIP/3.34 xFIP), he gets the call for the Tigers in the finale against A.J. Burnett (3.93 ERA/4.21 FIP/3.84 xFIP). It was a tale of two Porcellos against the Yankees last year, as he infuriatingly threw 7 shutout innings against them in May, but was torched for six runs over five innings back in August. After two rough starts to begin the season he seems to be back on track, and his strike-throwing tendencies (only 2.12 BB/9) have also materialized in the K/9 portion of his ledger, as he’s striking out nearly two batters per inning more than last season.
Here are the two teams’ offense and pitching numbers, with AL ranks in parentheses:
While the talent on the roster likely says otherwise, thus far the Tigers have played like a true middle-of-the-road team, with an underpowering offense and a pitching staff with peripherals superior to its actual performance. I’m not so sure we’ve seen the real Detroit Tigers so far, although perhaps they are a below-.500 team.
In any event, the Yankees have quite clearly played better baseball than the Tigers have, and though Comerica has been the third-most unfriendly hitting environment in the American League thus far — and though I am also loath to call any team winning three out of four in any series, and a split is still probably the most likely outcome — the Yankees really should be able to take three of four from this lesser version of the Tigers. As long as they don’t give Cabrera anything to hit, there really isn’t anyone else in the lineup that can hurt you right now.
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