I don’t know if it makes me overly pessimistic after only watching 1 game of this series so far, or realistic because of how bad the Yankee offense looked in Game 2, but I admittedly have little faith in this team tonight. The manner in which they carried themselves on Sunday, more than the negative results they produced, was very disconcerting and signaled a dying team. There was no energy, no emotion, no life from a team playing an incredibly important home playoff game, and that doesn’t bode well for the Yankees in the rest of this series. Now the half-empty, boo-filled Yankee Stadium didn’t help matters at all, so maybe a change of scenery will help guys relax, but relaxed or not, facing Justin Verlander tonight is going to be a tough task. Yes, the Yankees have hit him before, but they’ve done that when they’re healthier and swinging the bats much better than they are right now. With the way they’re not hitting and the way Verlander is pitching, a complete game shutout seems like a very realistic possibility tonight.
In the most literal definition, tonight is not a do-or-die game. If the Yankees lose, they still have a chance to run the table and win this series in 7 games. But realistically, a Yankee loss tonight pretty much seals this deal up and in all likelihood ensures that this series doesn’t make it back to New York. If the struggling hitters have just been waiting to make their adjustments at the plate, tonight would be the night to do it.
Updated Starting Lineups (4:20PM)-
NYY: 1) Gardner- LF, 2) Ichiro- RF, 3) Teix- 1B, 4) Cano- 2B, 5) Ibanez- DH, 6) Martin- C, 7) Chavez- 3B, 8) C-Grand- CF, 9) Nunez- SS
DET: 1) Jackson- CF, 2) Berry- LF, 3) Cabrera- 3B, 4) Fielder- 1B, 5) Young- DH, 6) Dirks- RF, 7) Peralta- SS, 8) Avila- C, 9) Infante- 2B
Phil Hughes (6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 K in 1 postseason start) vs. Justin Verlander ( 16 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 22 K in 2 postseason starts)
3 Things to Watch For:
1) The Big Shakeup
Something has to change in the lineup for tonight’s game. There’s just no reason to wait around for guys to figure things out anymore at the expense of losing games. Rumors were swirling last night that we were going to see Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, and possibly more new players in tonight’s lineup, and I still stand by my 1-9 selections from yesterday, but as of the time of this post nothing had been made official. If Joe does sit multiple regulars tonight, be it A-Rod, Swish, or Granderson, he opens this game up to all kinds of different opportunities: opportunities to play small ball, opportunities for late-game pinch hitting matchups, and opportunities to be second guessed by everybody tomorrow. It’s a risky move on Joe’s part, but it’s a risk worth taking based on what the lineup has produced. If he decides not to take the plunge and stays with his regulars, be on the lookout for some early pinch hitting moves if the Yanks stumble out of the gates again.
2) Phil Hughes The Verlander Slayer
After a horrible outing to finish up his 2012 regular season, Phil was impressive in his ALDS start against Baltimore. He was able to throw his fastball for strikes, got a good amount of swings and misses, and really worked his slider in effectively once he found the command of it in the middle innings. Hughes has also bested Verlander once this year, in what was still his best start of the season and probably his best career start to date when he threw a complete game 4-hitter at Comerica Park in June. Phil’s gotten up for some big games before, and they don’t get much bigger than this tonight. Not knowing how much run support he’s going to get, if he gets any at all, Hughes has to go in with the mindset that he needs to carry the team tonight like he did back in June. He’s also going to have to have an effective third pitch tonight, because the Tiger hitters haven’t forgotten about that game in June, or the game in August when they tuned him up, and I bet they’ll be looking to tee off on the fastball early in the count.
3) Hitting & Running
There was a clear sense of desperation in the Yankees’ offensive approach on Sunday night, as they sent multiple runners on apparent hit-and-run plays to try to get guys in scoring position. Doing it with the Curtises Granderson of the world is one thing, but trying it with Raul Ibanez is another and the type of risk that’s not nearly as calculated considering his lack of speed. I expect there to be more speed in the batting order tonight, and expect that speed to be used in more base stealing and H&R chances against Verlander, but it will be important for Joe and the guys on base to be smart about it. If Verlander throws a fastball and the batter swings and misses, they could be looking at strike ‘em out/throw ‘em out situations, and giving outs away on the bases will be just as destructive as not getting guys on base. Hitters need to work counts and try to give baserunners a good chance to time Verlander up, and the baserunners need to be tactical about trying to run on the offspeed pitches.
Players To Watch:
New York- Robinson Cano
To hear that Robbie Cano set a new MLB postseason record is not a huge surprise; the guy is one of the best hitters in the game. To hear that he set a new record for offensive futility by going 0-26, the new longest hitless streak in postseason history, is unfathomably bad and almost impossible to believe considering how hot he was coming into the playoffs. Cano has completely fallen off a cliff, and is the number one offender for failing to adjust to what opposing pitchers are doing to him at the plate by attacking him away.
What’s worse, Cano’s difficulties at the dish look like they may be negatively impacting the rest of his game. His flub of a transfer on a potential double-play ball that could have kept Game 2 scoreless was uncharacteristic for him, and he seems to be jogging to first base even slower than usual on his rollover groundouts. People can bag on A-Rod all they want because of his money, but the fact is that he’s an old player who’s not nearly as good as he once was. Cano is still in his prime and is the real person who needs to step up and carry this team. He’s had a day to think about and hopefully work on things; let’s see how he approaches his first few at-bats tonight.
Verlander was the proverbial one-man wrecking crew in the ALDS, shutting the Oakland A’s down in dominant fashion twice. He threw a lot of pitches to secure that Game 5 victory, but as a throwback type player there won’t be much concern on Jim Leyland’s part about Verlander’s workload or pitch count tonight and there shouldn’t be. This game is tailor-made for a guy with Verlander’s competitive streak- a chance to step on the throat of the Yankees and take a commanding lead over them at home, and set up a possible elimination game tomorrow.
When the Yankees have beaten Verlander in the past they’ve done it by working counts against him and drawing walks to create more baserunning opportunities. If they’re going to have a chance to win tonight, they need to do that again. Verlander always holds the fastball back early so he has something big to go to late, so pay attention to his offspeed stuff early and how often he’s throwing it for strikes. If he’s getting his curveball and changeup over and getting some swings and misses, that’s going to set up his late-game fastball and put the Yankee hitters in a really tough spot.
Of all the postseason hitting struggles the Yankees have endured since the start of the 21st century, this year's version certainly seems like the biggest. There's been a lot of weak swings, a lot of weak contact, and not nearly enough of the trademark Yankee power. Justin Verlander isn't the ideal pitcher against whom to fix those issues, but that's the situation the Yankees find themselves in. It's time to get it together, boys. Season's riding on it.