© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/01/06 11:44 PM ET

Yankees-Tigers: Position analysis

Jorge Posada is one of the longtime foundations of the Yankees' success.

But Ivan Rodriguez still sets the standard defensively, and his offensive skills, though not what they were five years ago, are still formidable and worthy of a No. 3 hitter. Rodriguez uses the whole field, runs well and is very good at disrupting opponents' offense with his defense.

The Yankees will go with established sluggers Gary Sheffield and/or Jason Giambi. There may be some questions about Sheffield's ability to adjust to a new position at the 11th hour, but this isn't about Gold Gloves. Sheffield may or may not be back in full swing offensively. Giambi is a proven run producer.

Sean Casey hit well below his career average since joining Detroit from Pittsburgh and slumped in September. One of the toughest hitters in baseball to strike out, Casey hits line drives to all fields when he's in a groove.

Placido Polanco is one of the more effective No. 2 hitters in the game, and he makes those around him better, as the Tigers found out when they went 13-21 late in the season when Polanco was on the disabled list with a separated shoulder. Average defensively, Polanco is a heady player who seldom strikes out, is adept at small ball and can hit the ball out of the park now and then.

But Robinson Cano had a breakout season for the Yankees. He is a star in the making and makes the New York lineup more versatile.

This is closer than many believe. Carlos Guillen is a smooth fielder, a .300 hitter with some power and one of the reasons the Tigers are where they are today. He leads the Tigers in on-base percentage, and though he missed time because of injuries, Guillen remains one of the better all-around middle infielders in the game.

Derek Jeter is having one of the best years of a brilliant career, though, and his presence is what holds that entity called the New York Yankees together.

If Alex Rodriguez commits four errors and grounds into five double plays, then OK, it's the Tigers and Brandon Inge in this category. Inge is the best athlete on the Tigers, and the converted catcher/outfielder has gradually improved his play at his latest position. At this point, you would take Inge over Rodriguez as a defensive player. Inge has power and runs very well. A clutch hitter, Inge has come up with the big hit more than once in key games this season.

But A-Rod obviously has the greater potential to change the course of a game with his world of ability. And this would be an ideal postseason for him to do that.

Craig Monroe is among the league leaders in strikeouts, but he's also provided power, and he drives in an acceptable number of runs for a corner outfielder. Monroe is a dead-pull hitter who has trouble against top right-handed pitching or when he tries to pull pitches off the plate. He doesn't walk very often. Defensively, Monroe is average.

Hideki Matsui is coming off the first major injury of his career. He is an adequate defender, but he is also, at this point, the more clearly established run producer in pressure situations.

Johnny Damon is an essential part of the Yankees' offense, working the counts, wearing out pitchers and coming up with key hits.

Curtis Granderson is an emerging talent with the speed necessary to play center field, yet Granderson has also displayed surprising power for a line-drive hitter. Granderson has a good, accurate arm and plays excellent defense. The 25-year-old needs better plate discipline and to improve his base-stealing skills. Granderson probably has an overall defensive edge, but it is difficult to pick against the playoff-tested Damon, an essential to the Yankees in the leadoff role.

Bobby Abreu helped to transform the Yankees in the second half, with patient at-bats and dependable play. Abreu is a big talent, and in the New York lineup, he doesn't have to try to be an even bigger talent.

Detroit cleanup hitter Magglio Ordonez is usually among the league leaders in hitting with runners in scoring position, and once again, he's topped the century mark in RBIs. Ordonez drives the ball to all fields with a short, powerful swing, and he seldom gets cheated. He is a decent fielder with an accurate arm.

The Yankees will go with either Giambi or Sheffield here, whoever is not playing first base. That's a much more imposing combination than the Tigers present.

The release of Dmitri Young leaves the power-hitting Marcus Thames as the DH, but with Giambi, the Yankees have more potential for DH pop.

If his right forearm is pain-free, Mariano Rivera is the man you would most want on the mound in the ninth inning in a postseason save situation. And Scott Proctor has been tireless and consistent. Mike Myers has been solid as the situational lefty.

But the Tigers have more bullpen depth. Closer Todd Jones may not be as dominating as a Joe Nathan or a Francisco Rodriguez, but the right-hander is effective and is set up by Joel Zumaya and his 100-mph heater. Fernando Rodney, Jamie Walker and Jason Grilli give manager Jim Leyland plenty of other talented options for the late innings.

The Tigers have capable bench players. Omar Infante is a handy guy to have around as a strong-gloved infielder who can fill in at a number of spots and is a capable pinch-runner. Vance Wilson is a capable backup to Rodriguez. Stairs is an excellent pinch-hitter, and Neifi Perez gives Leyland another glove off the bench. Overall offensively, however, Detroit's supporting cast is average at best.

But this category goes to the Yankees for two reasons: Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams. Cabrera would be starting anywhere else, and he did start for much of the season, until Matsui returned. He'll be invaluable here as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch-runner. Williams has one of the best postseason pedigrees available. He's been here before, and he's succeeded.

Leyland has done a masterful job of getting a young Tigers team to the playoffs after years of futility. Leyland has been stern when necessary but generally laid-back in a style that has meshed perfectly in Detroit. Leyland should be the AL manager of the year.

But the postseason is Joe Torre's turf, until further notice. He's won four World Series, and if none of those victories occurred in the last five seasons, that may only mean that he is due. Nobody handles potentially explosive situations better, with more dignity and patience, than Joe Torre.

If this were midseason, you might take the Tigers here, but they limped home. The Tigers, after a sensational start, have essentially been a .500 team since the All-Star break. A few key players -- such as Casey, Monroe and Thames -- slumped badly during the final weeks of the season. The pitching has also dropped off slightly, and the Tigers lost the division championship on the last day of the season. It will be interesting to see how much they have left in the tank.

The Yankees, on the other hand, believe that they are supposed to win the World Series, but they just haven't lately. They've been down this road before, and everything that has happened since mid-February has just been a rehearsal for this time in October.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.