10/12/12 11:32 PM ET
ALCS position-by-position: Tigers-Yankees
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
Alex Avila's third postseason series showed signs of productivity at the plate. In two rounds in 2011, the Tigers catcher had just a .116 on-base percentage in 44 plate appearances. In this year's American League Division Series against Oakland, he went 3-for-12 (.250) with a home run. Avila didn't walk any and Gerald Laird, who plays against lefties, made two starts, but Avila was nonetheless improved. His OPS, .833, was actually tops on the team for the series.
Yankees catcher Russell Martin hasn't hit over .300 in a postseason series since his first two playoff series, in the DS with the Dodgers in 2006 and '08. But lifetime, Martin still carries a .339 on-base percentage in the playoffs -- in fact, he's never finished a series with an OBP below .300. In last year's Yanks-Tigers ALDS, Martin went 3-for-17 (.208) -- the same he went against the Orioles in this year's ALDS.
Avila had the better OBP in the regular season (.352 vs. .311), Martin the better homer total (21 vs. nine). But both have pop: Avila hit 19 homers a season ago.
Their career regular-season caught stealing numbers are close: Martin's at 30 percent, Avila at 31. This season, though, Martin caught just 24 percent, while Avila was steady at 30 percent.
A year ago, the home run totals made the call slightly closer. Detroit's Prince Fielder had 38 home runs and New York's Mark Teixeira 39 in the 2011 regular season, although Fielder still carried the advantage in average, on-base and slugging percentage. This year, Fielder's got the advantage everywhere except for defense. Teixeira's homer total shrank to 24. Fielder's long-ball count dropped also, to 30, but Fielder still had a .412 OBP -- 80 points higher than Teixeira.
"He's amazing," Teixeira said of Fielder on Friday after the Yankees' champagne celebration. "He's one of the best left-handed hitters of our generation. He's only been around, seven or eight years, I'm not sure how long it is, but this guy's a stud."
Notable, though, is how Fielder did in the ALDS: he went 4-for-21 (.190) with one walk, while Teixeira went 6-for-17 (.353) with five walks. Fielder homered, Teixeira didn't.
Detroit's Omar Infante is a fine player who's coming off a very good series. He went 6-for-17 (.353) with one walk against Oakland. New York's Robinson Cano, meanwhile, scuffled against Baltimore. He's chasing bad pitches, and hit just .091 (2-for-22) for the ALDS. Cano, though, was scorching hot to end the regular season, going 9-for-15 with three homers and nine RBIs in the last three games, and he went deep 33 times in the regular season. He's one of the best players in the game at any position.
A defensive play from Derek Jeter charging a slow grounder for the final out of the eighth inning Friday night in a 3-1 Game 5 win against the O's helped put the Yankees in this position. Granted, range is always an issue defensively -- a single shot right by him earlier in the inning with barely a step made toward the ball -- but he's nonetheless still one of the best out there. That includes at the plate, where he went 8-for-22 (.364) in the ALDS, despite eight strikeouts. Jeter hit .316 in the regular season.
Jhonny Peralta had a solid ALDS himself, going 5-for-17 (.294) after hitting .239 in the regular season. He did well in the 2007 and '11 playoffs, too. But most anyone being compared to Jeter is in a losing battle.
Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown. Alex Rodriguez didn't start in what was to date his team's most important game of the season. He didn't even play.
Both will go down as two of the greatest hitters to play the position -- and the game -- but Rodriguez isn't right at the moment. Even if he were, no one's matching Cabrera, who, by the way, had a relatively quiet ALDS: 5-for-20 (.250) with one RBI. But A-Rod hit .125 and whiffed nine times in his ALDS, and there are no promises he starts every game of the AL Championship Series.
Andy Pettitte, the Yankees' scheduled starter for Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday, knows what he needs to prepare for.
"Obviously you have Cabrera in there and Fielder," Pettitte said. "Great hitters."
New York's Curtis Granderson and Detroit's Austin Jackson were famously once traded for each other before the 2010 season. Jackson was much improved in '12 compared to the previous season: He raised his average 51 points to .300 and hit 16 home runs, six more than 2011. Defensively, Jackson's one of the best center fielders in the game, and according to wins above replacement, he was one of the top 10 position players in the AL this season.
"He's very athletically gifted," Granderson said Friday of Jackson. "He's done some amazing things in a very big ballpark in Comerica. A lot of people don't talk about how difficult it is to play out in that ballpark, and he's able to make it look small. Offensively, he's made some tremendous strides from the first season when people said he couldn't do this, he couldn't do that. Then he went offensively and he had a great year. He's able to steal some bases, and he's done some amazing things for that team."
Granderson, meanwhile, topped 40 home runs for a second straight season, but his second half-numbers were poor: .212/.278/.480. Those struggles carried into the ALDS, although he came through with a pair of hits Friday in Game 5, including a home run, because of better at-bats.
Jackson went 5-for-20 (.250) with seven strikeouts in his ALDS, Granderson 3-for-19 (.158) with nine strikeouts.
Andy Dirks plays essentially every day now, be it in left field against righties or right field against lefties. He had a decent ALDS: 5-for-17 (.294), with one extra-base hit, a double. His regular season was more impressive: a .322/.370/.487 line with eight home runs in 88 games. That stacks up pretty close to what Ichiro Suzuki did for the Yanks: .322/.340/.454 with five home runs in 67 games. Quintin Berry plays in left for the Tigers against right-handed pitchers, and he hit .300 (3-for-10) in the ALDS, following a .258/.330/.354 line in the regular season.
Ichiro's ALDS included a big RBI double in Game 5, but that was one of five hits in 23 at-bats (.217). Fielding -- he's played an excellent left field -- and speed (Berry steals, Dirks doesn't) tip the scales in the Yankees' favor. They have a strong player on the bench, too, in Brett Gardner.
Nick Swisher hit .111 (2-for-18) in the ALDS, and he's a lifetime .162 hitter (23-for-142) in 43 playoff games. Rookie Avisail Garcia starts in right against lefties for the Tigers, and he didn't do much with his first taste of playoff baseball, going 1-for-7 in the ALDS. He did hit .319 (15-for-47), though, in the 23 regular-season games he played. Dirks, who plays right against righties, at least had a strong ALDS. Both he and Swisher are coming off strong seasons, but Swisher was head-and-shoulders better: he's a switch-hitter and hit 24 home runs with a .272/.351/.464 line. But after another Swisher 0-for in Game 5 on Friday, the free-agent-to-be has to prove he can get it together in the postseason.
Raul Ibanez typically starts for New York against righties. Ibanez won Game 3 of the ALDS with homers in the ninth and 12th innings -- as a pinch-hitter, no less.
Delmon Young, Tigers' primary DH, hit 18 home runs with a .267/.296/.411 line in the regular season. He had four hits in the ALDS, same as Ibanez. Ibanez had nine at-bats and Young had 17. Nunez went 1-for-5 in the ALDS, Ibanez is the difference-maker.
Starting pitchers for Detroit had a 3.76 ERA in the regular season, second-best in the AL. And they have two potential starts coming this series from Justin Verlander. If he and CC Sabathia manage to lock up, which looks unlikely, it'll be one of the most highly touted matchups of the year.
Yankees starters had a 4.05 ERA in the regular season -- sixth-best in the AL. New York actually had more starters in the top 10 ERA than the Tigers did. Both Sabathia (3.38, 10th) and Hiroki Kuroda (3.32, eighth) were there, while Verlander's 2.64 ERA put him in at No. 2. But Verlander and Max Scherzer finished Nos. 1 and 2 in the league in strikeouts, with 239 and 231, respectively.
Encouraging for the Yankees is that they've done decently against Verlander in the playoffs: scoring a combined eight runs in 14 1/3 innings between two starts, one in the 2006 DS, one in '11. But he's still the game's best pitcher, capable of dominating and swinging a series like perhaps no one else.
Tigers setup man Joaquin Benoit is on shaky ground. He gave up two runs and a lead in Game 2. Benoit had a 5.52 ERA in the second half. New York's David Robertson, meanwhile, just threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the ALDS for the Yanks. Only one of seven relievers the Yanks used in the ALDS, David Phelps, had an earned run -- the only earned run in 11 1/3 innings. For the Tigers, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Octavio Dotel turned in seven consecutive scoreless outings between them in the ALDS, but Benoit's an important piece who doesn't inspire confidence at the moment.
Detroit's Jose Valverde took the loss in Game 4 of the DS against Oakland, letting up three runs in the ninth. New York's Rafael Soriano, meanwhile, threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Soriano isn't Mariano Rivera, but he's been as good as the Yanks could have hoped for.
"Soriano had a great year," O's manager Buck Showalter said on Friday. "He was a 'What if' for Mariano, and it came to pass."
Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.