By Jon Lane
Game 163 for the Tigers and Twins will finally decide the AL Central and who plays the Yankees in the ALDS either Wednesday or Thursday. Probable starting pitchers are for the Tigers rookie Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.04 ERA) and Scott Baker (15-9, 4.36) for the Twins, who went on a 16-4 run since September 13 and a three-game sweep of the Royals to get to this point.
Because the Packers and Vikings are playing at the Metrodome Monday night, Tigers-Twins is Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Also on Tuesday, the Yankees will hold a workout at Yankee Stadium, where CC Sabathia, Joe Girardi and Mark Teixeira will meet the media in formal press conferences.
By Jon Lane
The Yankees won’t know until possibly Tuesday night who they will be playing in the Division Series.
Here’s the scenario: The Tigers’ lead remains at two games with one to play. The Twins win the AL Central if they beat the Royals and the Tigers lose White Sox. If the teams remain tied, the Twins will host a one-game playoff Tuesday at 5 p.m. night with the winner immediately flying to New York to play the next evening – if the Yankees decide on the extra off day. The deadline for that decision remains one hour after the division is decided, even if it’s Tuesday night.
Here are the pitching match-ups in Detroit and Minneapolis:
Justin Verlander (18-9, 3.45) vs. John Danks (13-10, 3.69)
Sunday: Carl Pavano [yes, him] (13-12, 5.07) vs. Luke Hochevar (7-12, 6.24)
The Tigers choked away a division lead in 2006, but had the wild card as a safety net. No such luck this time.
By Jon Lane
What to watch for this week:
? Yankees games meaningless only to the standings. The AL East may be wrapped up, but Joe Girardi will be resting regular players (read: Alex Rodriguez) while evaluating who may grab the last couple of ALDS roster spots (read: Brian Bruney, Freddy Guzman). Peter Abraham had a funny line looking ahead to who may comprise tonight’s batting order: The Hangover Special.
? Whether Mark Teixeira can become AL home run champion. Teixeira’s 38 home runs are one behind leader Carlos Pena, out for the season with a broken hand.
? One last chance for Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer to convince voters they deserve to be AL MVP.
? CC Sabathia’s first and only shot at his first 20-win season (he’s a two-time 19-game winner) Friday night against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Sabathia is a top contender for the Cy Young, though Royals ace Zack Greinke may have sealed it after holding the Twins to a run over seven innings on Sunday. In five September starts (Twins, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Angels), Greinke has allowed three runs (two earned) in 33 innings.
(Before I get to the Twins, allow me to digress. From this person’s point of view, Mariano Rivera belongs in the Cy Young conversation and deserves a place in the top three. His 44 saves are his most since 2004 . He has two blown saves and allowed only two runs since June. There’s Jeter, Teixeira and Sabathia, but where are the Yankees without Rivera? Would there have ever been that last dynasty if not for Rivera?)
? Twins vs. Tigers in a four-game set that will likely decide the AL Central champion and the Yankees’ ALDS opponent. Three weeks ago, the Tigers had a seven-game lead. That’s down to two with Detroit on an 8-11 skid and Minnesota on its typical late-season surge (11-2). The Twins are also winners of nine out of 14 against the Tigers this season.
Let’s rewind to 2006: The Tigers led the Central by 10 1/2 games on August 7. The Twins won the title on the final day of the season while the Tigers settled for the Wild Card. Minnesota was swept by Oakland in the ALDS. Detroit dropped Game 1 of the DS to the Yankees before winning their next seven to capture the AL pennant. Go figure.
Nick Blackburn opposes Rick Porcello tonight at Comerica Park. It’s Brian Duensing against Justin Verlander Tuesday, Carl Pavano (yes, him) against Eddie Bonine Wednesday, and Scott Baker and Nate Robertson conclude the set on Thursday. Something tells me it’ll be Twins vs. Yankees next week. What do you think?
By Jon Lane
I wrote in this space after the Yankees’ took two of three from the Red Sox last month at Fenway Park that the men from the Back Bay aren’t dead yet. Alas, the Red Sox are winners of seven straight games and 10 in a row on Yawkey Way.
There won’t be too much suspense these last few weeks. The Yankees’ magic number for clinching a playoff berth is four, which means you seriously do not have to worry about a Mets-like September collapse. But homefield advantage throughout the postseason is far from wrapped up, even if New York leads Boston by 6 ½ games in both the AL East and the right to host that extra DS and LCS game.
Red Sox-Yankees at Yankee Stadium next weekend now has some intrigue. The Yankees’ AL East magic number is 11, and the way the BoSox are playing you figure the Bombers will spray champagne in their own clubhouse either that weekend or the following week when the Royals are in town. This brings up a question, writes Pete Caldera. Do you celebrate clinching the playoffs with the big champagne party, or wait until you clinch the AL East?
Nothing ever seems to go right for the Angels when they play the Red Sox. They’ll arrive to Fenway for the finale of a three-game set tonight still steaming over controversial calls that they perceive cost them Wednesday’s game. Closer Brian Fuentes actually wondered whether the men in blue were too “timid” or “scared” to make a decision that riles the temper of Red Sox Nation.
“Especially here and some other places, they seem timid to make calls,” Fuentes said after twice failing to get a third strike called on Nick Green before walking him with the bases loaded score the tying run. “I’ve heard it from other guys that come in here and say that. That’s either because it’s a mistake, or they’re scared.”
Barring any late comebacks, the clubs will meet for a third straight time in the first round of the playoffs, where in the last two Octobers the Red Sox have eliminated the Angels, who are 1-9 against Boston in the postseason since 2004.
Updating you on two of the Yankees’ potential playoff opponents, the Tigers rallied from a three-run deficit Wednesday to snap a three-game skid on the night they honored the iconic Ernie Harwell, while the Twins completed a sweep of the Indians to take a four-game win streak to a showdown with the Tigers this weekend, three of seven remaining games between the clubs this season.
Detroit leads Minnesota by 4 ½ games entering today and is trying to hold on with a pitching staff of Justin Verlander and fingers crossed. (I initially didn’t mention Edwin Jackson, but the Royals are currently lighting him up and, like Rick Porcello, we’ll see how they respond with the season on the line.) Jarrod Washburn has given up at least three runs in each of his last five starts and a bum knee has bumped him from his scheduled start on Sunday. I’m just sayin’.
By Jon Lane
Watching Andy Pettitte deal Monday night, I certainly was hoping for a perfect game. Seeing Jerry Hairston boot that routine grounder, I groaned, but held out hope for a no-hitter. Then witnessing Nick Markakis’ clean single, I groaned again. I’m a sucker for history who admittedly popped for Mark Buehrle when he threw his perfecto, and even saluted Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Derek Lowe for their no-nos while wearing Boston white and red.
You need a little – or in Buehrle’s case – lots of luck to throw a perfect game or a no-hitter. When less talented teams succeed, I sometimes believe that it’s better to be lucky than good. In Pettitte’s case Monday night, and as it relates to the Yankees since June, this hasn’t been luck. The Yankees have imposed their will on the rest of the league. Strange things have happened through the years that have proven Yogi Berra a soothsayer, but at 35 games above .500, only the mother of all monumental collapses will prevent the Yankees from playing in October.
Thus, looking ahead in the slightest will not tempt the fates. It’s a given that CC Sabathia, despite his shady postseason history, will start Game 1. The popular belief is A.J. Burnett will go in Game 2.
But why not Pettitte? You know his postseason history. His 14 wins are second all-time behind John Smoltz’s 15. And you’re aware of his track record in taking the ball in Game 2 of a postseason series, where he’s 6-3 in his Yankees career. Conversely, Burnett, who has stepped up (and also imploded) in big spots, hasn’t pitched in a playoff game. You want someone who has done it before, especially in a short series where pitching matters first and foremost.
Here’s what Pettitte has done to date coming off a down season when he pitched with a bum shoulder.
? Monday night, he worked only four two-ball counts before Hairston’s error, this after he retired the first 20 Orioles hitters. Pettitte struck out eight without a walk over eight innings. Baltimore’s other hit off the left-hander was Melvin Mora’s solo homer.
? Since the break, Pettitte is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA in nine starts, allowing 45 hits and whiffing 62 over 59 2/3 innings. His 12 wins and 4.03 ERA rank second on the Yankees behind Sabathia. He has 190 wins as a Yankee, trailing only Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).
? He’s healthy and pain free, to the point where he’s hinted aloud to wanting to pitch a few more seasons.
“It feels good to be healthy,” Pettitte said. “It feels good that my elbow after surgery doesn’t hurt anymore when I pitch. “At this time last year my shoulder was absolutely killing me. It just feels good to feel healthy. I just hope I can hold it and keep it for another two months.”
Memo to Joe Girardi: Give him the ball in Game 2.
If the season ended today, the Yankees would play the Tigers in the ALDS with Games 1 and 2 (and a fifth if necessary) at Yankee Stadium. It’d be a rematch of the 2006 DS when the Tigers, riding a six-game losing streak (the first five that cost them the AL Central flag), stunned Mike Mussina and the Yankees in Game 2 and didn’t lose again until Game 1 of World Series. Justin Verlander defeated Mussina that afternoon and is the Tigers’ unquestioned ace. But how will Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Armando Galarraga react in a big spot? And remember how badly the Yankees wanted Jarrod Washburn and lost out to the Tigers on deadline day? Washburn is 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA in six starts for Detroit. He threw eight shutout innings August 14 against Kansas City, but other than that he’s been brutal. The left-hander was blasted for eight runs in 5 2/3 innings yesterday by the Rays.
The Tigers lead the Twins by only 3 ½ games with seven games left against them (four in Detroit September 28-October 1). Their big-ticket acquisition may end up costing them the playoffs.
Hairston’s error was no doubt part of Monday’s story, but John Harper was a bit rough, don’t you think? The Yankees won the game.
Derek Jeter watch: The Captain is 10 from tying Lou Gehrig as the Yankees’ all-time hits leader.
Want to the go to the playoffs? River Ave Blues has information on ticket pricing and policies.