New York Yankees (1-4) at Detroit Tigers (3-2)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Pinstriped Bible
Pitching Matchup: LHP CC Sabathia (0-1, 7.20 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
The last time Sabathia visited Comerica Park, he didn't even make it through four innings as the Tigers completed a four game sweep in the ALCS last October. But why take my word for it? Here's video evidence:
Sabathia's struggles have continued throughout the spring and into his start on Opening Day, where he allowed four runs on eight hits and four walks in just five innings against the Boston Red Sox. He had surgery during the offseason to remove a couple of bone chips in his elbow and has historically struggled in the month of April, so I wouldn't read too much into the numbers just yet.
One number I am interested right now is Sabathia's fastball velocity. Last year on Opening Day, he averaged 93.2 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball and hit a peak velocity of 94.9 mph throughout the afternoon. This year, his fastball averaged just 90.6 mph with a top speed of 92.4 mph. Given that his off-speed pitches showed no change in velocity from 2012 to 2013, the drop in fastball velocity may be why he struggled so much on Monday. I will be keeping an eye on the radar gun this afternoon with CC on the mound.
Verlander also had trouble missing bats on Opening Day, though his struggles paled in comparison to Sabathia's. Verlander still pitches five shutout innings to pick up a win over the Minnesota Twins, but he had trouble putting batters away. This was in large part thanks to a very disciplined Twins lineup that only swung at 24.5% of Verlander's pitches outside of the strike zone -- opponents did this 35% of the time against him last season. However, part of this may be Verlander's reliance on his fastball and changeup in the cold Minnesota weather. He only threw his curveball 12 times, way down from the 18.3% rate we have seen throughout his career. Expect more curveballs -- and, subsequently, more frustrated batters -- in today's game.
A note on aggressive baserunning
One of the points of emphasis for the Tigers this offseason was improving their baserunning, an area where they struggled in 2012. While this hasn't resulted in a huge uptick in stolen base attempts -- the Tigers are three-for-three so far, in case you're curious -- I have noticed a change in how the Tigers are running the bases. Specifically, Austin Jackson has gone from first to third on singles to right field on three separate occasions already this year. However, instead of slowing up when going into third, Jackson is going into the base with authority in case the ball is misplayed at any point. I may explore this in depth as the season goes on, especially if this aggressiveness starts to turn into more runs.
As we talk about all the time in regards to the playoffs, timing is everything. In this case, timing has seriously favored the Tigers in this series. Between the Yankees' late arrival into Detroit on Friday morning and the rash of injuries that they have faced early on this year, they are basically held together with paper clips and bubble gum at this point. This is one of those games where, as a Yankees fan, you would hope that your ace could put the team on his back and will them to victory. Unfortunately for them, their ace is pitching in a venue where he has struggled relative to his career numbers -- CC is 9-5 with a 4.26 ERA in 16 career regular season starts at Comerica Park -- and will be facing the best pitcher in baseball. Advantage: Tigers.
The home cooking continues with a Tigers sweep.