DETROIT — A day to rest – and a trip to New York.
Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers will face a familiar foe in the AL Championship Series.
The Tigers had less than 24 hours to savor their five-game victory over the Oakland Athletics before learning their opposition in the ALCS. Detroit will face the Yankees in a rematch of last year’s playoffs.
New York edged Baltimore 3-1 on Friday night in the deciding Game 5 of the division series.
The Tigers were set to fly hours later, with Game 1 at Yankee Stadium tonight and Doug Fister taking on
Detroit beat the Yankees in five games in the playoffs last year before losing in the ALCS to Texas.
“We don’t want to be satisfied,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said after Detroit eliminated Oakland with a 6-0 victory Thursday night. “Now we’re there. But we’ve been there before. Now we want that next step. We want eight more wins.”
Verlander led the Tigers past the Athletics by throwing a four-hit shutout in a winner-take-all Game 5.
The Tigers signed slugging first baseman Prince Fielder in the offseason in an effort to win their first World Series since 1984.
Detroit took the AL Central for the second consecutive year, but its offense hasn’t necessarily lived up to expectations despite the presence of Fielder and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
Instead, it’s been the pitching – specifically from the starting rotation – that has lifted the Tigers lately. Verlander allowed a home run by Coco Crisp to open the division series and calmly shut the A’s out after that, winning both his starts. For the series, Detroit starters went 2-1 with a 1.30 ERA against a strikeout-prone Oakland lineup.
Fister and the rest of Detroit’s entire postseason rotation is right-handed, bringing Alex Rodriguez’s role into immediate question for the Yankees.
The Tigers look healthier than they were in last year’s ALCS, when catcher Alex Avila seemed worn down and outfielders Delmon Young and Magglio Ordonez were injured to varying degrees. Verlander’s impact on the 2011 playoffs was limited too, since two of his starts were cut short by bad weather.
That hasn’t been an issue so far this year.
“We still felt like we were going to win. We didn’t care who was pitching,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “He went out there and pitched probably one of the better games of his career at a big time. There’s not much, at times, you can do about that when a guy like that with that much ability goes out and pitches as well as he did.”
On Friday, the remnants of Detroit’s cigar and bubbly party from the previous night were still being cleaned up from the visiting clubhouse in Oakland. But the vanquished A’s gave the Tigers high marks.
“Jim Leyland was a class act,” Melvin said. “He came over to our dugout before celebrating with his team.”
Leyland has managed the Tigers to the playoffs for the third time – and each time Detroit has faced the Yankees. The Tigers beat New York in the division series en route to the 2006 AL pennant, and again last year.
One potential concern for Detroit is the bullpen. Joaquin Benoit has struggled to keep the ball in the park, and closer Jose Valverde lost Game 4 of the Oakland series, putting the Tigers on the brink of elimination.
Still, Detroit’s impressive rotation of Verlander, Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer makes the Tigers a threat against anyone. Verlander is slated to pitch Games 3 and 7 of the ALCS.
“This is the best stuff I’ve seen,” Dombrowski said. “To come in and do what he did, Game 5, everything on the line, to do what he did – that’s why in my eyes he’s the best pitcher in baseball.”