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CC Sabathia did his best Justin Verlander imitation to carry the New York Yankees to the American League Championship Series. We look deeper into how the Yankees got here and what to expect in the upcoming series.
The New York Yankees beat -- nay, outlasted -- their AL East division rival Baltimore Orioles, winning the decisive Game 5, 3-1. CC Sabathia was excellent for the Yankees, allowing just two baserunners before the 8th inning en route to a complete game.
However, we're not here to talk about the game itself. We'll leave that up to the experts, our SB Nation brethren over at Pinstriped Bible. Instead, here's a look at how the Yankees got to this point and what to expect now that they're preparing for a playoff rematch with the Tigers.
The Yankees slogged through April and May, enduring four separate three-game losing streaks on their way to a 27-23 record on May 31st, 1 1/2 games behind the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. Interleague play was kind to the Yankees though. They rode a season-high 10-game winning streak -- including consecutive sweeps of the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Nationals -- to a 20-7 record in the month of June. A 5-3 record over the first eight days of July left the Yankees at 52-33 at the All-Star Break, seven games clear of the Orioles in the AL East standings.
After the break, the Yankees won five of their next six games to reach a season-high 10-game lead over the Orioles in the divisional standings on July 18th. They were 57-34 at this point. Over the next 43 days, they went 18-21 and their massive divisional lead shrunk to just three games prior to a crucial series with the Orioles at Yankee Stadium. The O's won two of three in the Bronx that weekend, shrinking the Yankees' lead to two games. Another week, a 3-4 record (including a four-game split with the Orioles in Baltimore) and the Yankees' lead was down to one. The Orioles moved into a tie with the Yankees on three separate occasions during the rest of September, but were never able to take the outright lead.
Heading into the last series of the regular season, the Yanks and O's were tied with identical 92-67 records. As we all saw, the Yankees swept the Boston Red Sox while the Rays took two of three games from the Orioles, handing the Yankees their 18th AL East division title.
Their season-long battle with the Orioles wouldn't end there, however, as the O's mercifully ended the Texas Rangers' epic collapse with a 5-1 victory in Arlington last Friday. Their victory set up a series between the two storied franchises, their first in the playoffs since 1997. The only thing missing was a 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier.
As had been the case throughout the 2012 season, both teams were able to steal a game on the road, the last of which was a 2-1 Orioles victory in 13 innings last night. Heading into tonight's Game 5 matchup, the two teams were 11-11 against one another this season.
CC Sabathia headlined a top-heavy Yankees rotation in 2012, going 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA in 28 starts. Without giving away too much of the material I'm using for my game previews, Sabathia's numbers were slightly worse than his remarkable 2010 and 2011 campaigns, but we're splitting hairs at this point.
Oddly enough, Hiroki Kuroda actually led the Yankees with 219 2/3 innings pitched in 2012 (though he had an additional five starts over Sabathia). He showed no ill effects of a transition from the pitcher-friendly NL West to the launchpad ballparks of the AL East, posting a 16-11 record and 3.32 ERA.
Phil Hughes will be best remembered around these parts for dominating the Tigers in an early June complete game, but his 2012 season was nothing to sneeze at. He had a 16-13 record and 4.23 ERA, but struggled down the stretch with a 3-2 record and 5.19 ERA in September.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte will be the fourth Yankee starter in this series. He only started 12 games in the regular season, but was an effective 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA. He wasn't brought back for the regular season though, and he will likely give the Tigers fits on multiple occasions in this series.
Oof. As usual, the Yankees are stacked in this department. Manager Joe Girardi has options upon options, which allows him to do crazy things like bring Raul Ibanez in cold off the bench only to see him hit two home runs to win a playoff game.
The regular lineup? Mostly the same as last season. Derek Jeter is still Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot. He hit .316/.362/.429 this year. Curtis Granderson has turned into a two-outcome player, but has absolutely murdered Tiger pitching over the past couple seasons. Alex Rodriguez had a horrid divisional series, but is still a future Hall of Famer and can explode at any time. Bank on Nick Swisher having at least one huge game during this series. Mark Teixeira was 6-for-17 in the previous series but was much worse against right-handed pitchers in 2012, hitting .239/.331/.438 during the regular season.
Oh, and then there's the hottest player on the planet right now: Robinson Cano. Cano was just 2-for-22 against the Orioles in the ALDS, but hit a scalding .491/.517/.782 over the final 12 games of the regular season with three home runs and 16 RBIs. If Cano is allowed to single-handedly beat the Tigers, I will likely put my foot through my TV.
For the first time in over 15 years, playoff games against the Yankees are a full nine innings. Mariano Rivera, he of the 0.70 ERA in 141 career playoff innings -- seriously, those stats are effing ridiculous -- is no longer manning the 9th inning for the Yankees. This might prove to be one of the biggest breaks of the series, and it happened over five months ago.
That being said, these are the Yankees, and their bullpen is still sufficiently stocked. Rafael Soriano was one of the best closers in baseball this season, racking up 42 saves after Rivera's injury. David Robertson has been shaky at times, but still posted a 2.67 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings this season. He also pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings during the ALDS. Joba Chamberlain returned to the bullpen and provided a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings over the last month of the regular season, but he left Game 4 after being hit in the right elbow with a broken bat. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada are the resident LOOGYs.
Make no mistake, the Yankees are going to be a bear of a matchup for the Tigers. All four of their starting pitchers have the ability to shut down the Tigers' lineup and CC Sabathia has already proven in his career that he will pitch as many innings as possible to get his team through a series. There is no better lineup in baseball at driving up pitch counts and, conversely, this is the last lineup I'd want the Tigers' bullpen to face in a tight contest. Above all, I am not looking forward to potentially playing four games in Yankee Stadium. The Tigers are fully capable of taking this series, but an early split in the Bronx would make me feel a lot better about their chances.