OK, so I guess it's time to actually put my predictions in print.
Here is an excerpt of what we ran in our Tigers playoff preview section:
Season series — 4-3 Tigers
. Both teams won just once in the opponent’s ballpark, but the season series was over by May 5. A lot of things have changed for both squads since then.
Why this matchup should scare the Tigers: Leading the American League in home runs and second in scoring, the Yankees are built perfectly for their bandbox ballpark, with a lefty-dominated lineup that takes advantage of the jet stream out to right field. Worse yet, the Tigers no longer have a lefty in their starting rotation to counter that. In a short series, where depth is less important, you’d have to think that would favor the Yankees, who may have the best one-through-nine lineup in baseball, led by Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.
Why it shouldn’t scare the Tigers: Once you get past CC Sabathia, the Yankees’ most effective pitcher has been rookie Ivan Nova, who gets by thanks to one of the highest run support totals in the big leagues. The Yankees are incredibly reliant on their offense, and aren’t good in close games like you’ll get in the playoffs. That should favor the better pitching staff. Yes, the Yankees won games started by Justin Verlander in each regular-season series, but that was ‘April Verlander,’ not ‘About-to-win-Cy-Young Verlander.’ Max Scherzer twice beat the Yankees, who scored just 10 runs in a four-game series at Comerica in May.
Tigers in 5
(can only face in ALCS)
Season series — 6-3 Tigers.
Detroit may have started to turn around its early fortunes with a pair of walk-off wins against the defending AL champs in mid-April, then taking two of three in Arlington, Texas, in early June put the Tigers on the brink of taking the AL Central lead for the first time.
Why this matchup should scare the Tigers: The Yankees may be the best power-hitting team, but the Rangers are the best hitting team, period. Led by Michael Young and last year’s MVP, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre, the Rangers are hitting at a .282 clip as a team, and their pitching is good enough, especially after dealing for bullpen arms at the deadline. Alexi Ogando has all three of the wins against the Tigers — nearly unheard of for a non-divisional opponent these days — but the former reliever hasn’t been as good as his All-Star start of late.
Why it shouldn’t scare the Tigers: Detroit can slug with any team, and has proven that it can outslug even the Rangers. Outside of the powerful Ogando, Texas’ lefty-heavy rotation doesn’t present all that much of a scare for the Tigers’ righty-heavy lineup. The Tigers had a losing or .500 record against everybody in the AL West but the best team.
Tigers in six, with a lot of 6-5, 8-6 scores.
(Could face in ALCS)
Season series — 6-1 Tigers.
The Tigers swept the Rays in Comerica — albeit in a split series, due to a rainout — then went to Tampa and took three of four in what manager Jim Leyland called the biggest series of the season.
Why this matchup should scare the Tigers:
Tampa has the best starting pitching in baseball, with David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Neimann, James Shields and Wade Davis. On top of that, the Rays are one of the hottest teams in baseball, having made up a nine-game deficit in the Wild Card standings to overtake Boston on the final day of the regular season.
You hate having to face those "team of destiny" types.
Why this matchup shouldn’t scare the Tigers:
Detroit may be able to match Tampa pitcher-for-pitcher, especially in a short series, and has a far better offense. The Tigers were able to take three of four from the Rays on the road, despite only scoring 11 runs in the series.
Rays in seven, with a lot of 3-2, 2-1, 1-0 scores.
Phillies vs. Cardinals: Philadelphia in three
Brewers vs. Diamondbacks: Arizona in five
Phillies vs. Diamondbacks: Philadelphia in six
Why the Tigers can win it all:
The Tigers may have the two hottest pitchers in baseball over the last month and a half, in Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. Since Aug. 16, the duo have gone a combined 14-0 with a 1.61 ERA (20 ER, 111.2 IP), 106 strikeouts and 12 walks.
“I think we're ... a team that nobody really wants to face. We've got kind of that good group of talent. We hit the ball well, we play good enough defense and we pitch well,” Verlander said.
Add in a bullpen that’s been doing its best work of late, and a set-up/closer combination in Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, and you’ve got the pitching end of it covered.
The offense ain’t half bad, either.
Miguel Cabrera has been on a tear in September, putting himself in a position to win his first-ever batting title, while Victor Martinez has made opposing managers pay for pitching around the Tigers’ cleanup hitter. Both have more than 100 RBI on the season, while Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila have more than 80 each.
The Tigers also have gotten a ton of contributions from secondary sources.
“Sometimes those guys pick you up and when guys like that pick you up, that’s the best tonic in the world, for me,” manager Jim Leyland said. “When (Ramon) Santiago hit the game-winning home run against Kansas City, that uplifted Cabrera and Martinez and all the big boys. That's when you know you really got something going. When Ingey (Brandon Inge) hit the home run, hit the home run in his first at-bat back, or Donnie Kelly hit a couple big home runs, that's the tonic that really gets your team going. The big boys are consistent, they’re going to be there all the time. But when those other guys do stuff like that, I don’t use the word magical, but that’s the best kind of tonic you can have, to be honest with you.”
Percentage-wise, the Tigers are almost as good on the road this year as they are at home, meaning that home-field advantage won’t be the end of the world to them.
Why they might not:
The Tigers don’t have a ton of playoff-tested players on the roster, and three of the projected starters — Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello — have never pitched in the postseason (although Porcello did start Game 163 in 2009). While Fister and Verlander have been a lethal combination, Porcello and Scherzer have been inconsistent this season. Both have had bright spots, but both have also been shelled, at times. Add in the fact that the two rank in the top 10 in the majors in run support — something that you can’t count on, come playoff time — and you might start to see a chink in the Tigers’ pitching armor.
Saying the Tigers' defense isn't great isn't going out on much of a limb. Aside from Austin Jackson, who has saved a handful of games with his incredible catches in center field, and possibly Alex Avila behind the plate, the Tigers don't have what you'd consider a "plus" defender at any other position on most days. A leaky defense cost a much better defensive club the World Series in 2006, if you'll recall.
The Tigers have done very well in close games, but don’t have an offense that’s particularly suited to playing it close to the vest. Situational hitting is a strength, but speed is not, as Cabrera and Martinez are among the league leaders in grounding into double plays.
Verlander and Valverde have both logged a huge workload for their respective roles, and fatigue could be a factor.