Monday, October 02, 2006

Pitching Matchups

Position player vs position player isn't really telling of a team's chances in a postseason series. It's good to know, but the pitching is where matchups get important. The Tigers have intelligently arrayed their staff in this upcoming series, so let's take a look at what Joe Torre has in store.

Game 1: Nate Robertson vs Chien-Ming Wang

If there is any one Detroit pitcher to pick against the Yankees, it's Nate Robertson. He's a left handed pitcher, and a decent one at that. He pitched twice against New York during the season, going 8.2 and 7.0 innings while allowing 6 and 2 earned runs respectively. Despite the six earned runs (which came late), it is safe to say that Robertson effectively handled the Yankees. At least he won't be a pushover. He posted an ERA of 3.84 and 137 Ks in 208 innings. I'd say that he keeps the Tigers in the game.

The Yankees counter with Chien-Ming Wang. Detroit is an excellent team for Wang to face. They swing early and often. They are dominated with right handed hitters. They try to hit fly balls. They don't take walks. This is exactly the kind of team that Wang has shown to tear through this season. To be fair, Wang stunk in his first start against Detroit (4 innings, 5 ER), but absolutely dominated in his second (7.2 innings, zero earned runs, just 3 hits allowed). I'm willing to bet that Wang easily handles Detroit.

Edge: Yankees

Game 2: Mike Mussina vs Justin Verlander

If there are two more diametrically different pitchers matching up this postseason, I'm not aware of them. Verlander broke out in a big way this season, and is a prime reason as to why the Tigers turned their franchise around. That said, I wouldn't bet on him in this game. Verlander has a lot going against him. He does not handle left handed hitters well (.279/.343/.462 vs .253/.313/.369) compared to right handed hitters, has slowed down in August and September (6.83 and 4.82 ERAs), and got roughed up by the Yankees in his only outing against them (5 IP, 6 ER). 100 MPH heat really tires that arm out.

100 MPH heat? Yeah right, we'll take the knuckle curve. Moose is coming off his best season since 2003 (the last time that the Yankees made the World Series), and is facing exactly the right lineup for his abilities. The Tigers love the swing, and Moose will certainly take advantage of that. Mussina faced Detroit only once this year, and it was probably his best start of the year (Complete game, no earned runs, just six hits allowed on 101 pitches, including one fiery scream at Joe Torre). Expect big things out of a big game pitcher.

Edge: Yankees (big time)

Game 3: Randy Johnson vs Kenny Rogers

Too bad it's not 1996 all over again. Kenny Rogers has actually been a pretty good pitcher over the past two years. He's been kind of a Wang-lite, striking out few and getting groundballs. He didn't face the Yankees at all this season. That said, we all remember Kenny Roger's postseason blunders. I don't know what to expect of Rogers.

Speaking of uncertainty... Randy Johnson takes the mound for the Yankees in Game 3. He hasn't been bad against Detroit this season (6.0/8.0 IP and 0/4 ER allowed), but his back may just hold him back again. This absolutely reeks of Kevin Brown in 2004 to me. I'm worried.

Edge: Tigers (But expect a slugfest)

Game 4: Jaret Wright vs Jeremy Bonderman

We've expected a lot from Bonderman for a long time now. He has fantastic strikeout ability, but never really managed to put his other skills together. In his best season yet, the 24 year old posted a 4.08 ERA. He blew the last start of the season, eventually resulting in the Tigers losing the division to the Twins. Bonderman had mixed results in two starts against the Yankees (7.1/5.1 IP, 4 ER both times). Not terrible, but nothing that really inspires confidence. Still, he certainly has the ability to be dominating. Personally, I've never been to impressed with the guy.

Of course, we have the less impressive Jaret Wright pitching Game 4. Wright was by no means horrible this season, but I don't know if I would call him more than average. He posted a 4.49 ERA in 140.1 innings. Much like Rogers, Wright has relied upon the groundball more than the strikeout as he ages. Wright actually remarkably was able to limit the home run (just 10 all year) as well as any starter in the game. Besides that, he has few strengths. The swing-for-the-fences-every-pitch nature of Detroit's lineup may work in Wright's favor, but more than 6 innings is not going to happen.

Edge: Tigers

Bullpens come next.