10/01/06 11:42 PM ET
Yankees-Tigers: Quick hits
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
1. Pitching, pitching and more pitching. The Tigers have the best ERA in the Major Leagues, one of the best bullpens in the Majors and enough veteran talent like Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones to minimize any concerns over the abundance of youth on the staff.
2. Venezuelan voltage. Venezuelan natives Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen have amped up the Tiger offense of late, hitting a combined .355 (49-for-138) with nine homers and 25 RBIs since Sept. 1. The two usually bat fourth and fifth, respectively, and when they are swinging the bat well, it protects No. 3 hitter Ivan Rodriguez and helps out hitters in the lower half of the order, like Sean Casey.
3. The law of averages. The Tigers haven't been in the postseason for 19 years. They are just three years removed from one of the worst seasons in baseball history. Two years ago, the Boston Red Sox broke an 86-year World Series championship drought. Last October, the Chicago White Sox broke an 88-year drought. Maybe it is the Tigers' turn to turn expectations on their head.
Achilles' heel: Detroit's strikeout-to-walk differential is the worst in the American League, and that free-swinging tendency has hurt the Tigers at times and could be disastrous against a team that tends to maximize its own opportunities.
Key showdowns: Any Detroit starter vs. Johnny Damon. The whole tone for this series could be set here. The Tigers need to establish immediately that they not only belong on the same field with the Yankees, but they can actually take this series. But what if Damon stages one of those nine-pitch at-bats and then singles somewhere?
Dark horse: Craig Monroe. Detroit's left fielder has struggled offensively in September, but he remains a dangerous out and a bat to beware in clutch situations. Nearly half of his home runs have come in the seventh inning or later.
Reasons the Yankees will win:
1. They have one of the best lineups, not just in contemporary baseball, but in the whole history of baseball. Only truly superior pitching can beat them. Anything less, and they just wear down entire pitching staffs.
2. People naturally tend to focus on the Yankees' power, but they can also manufacture runs. This is not an all-or-nothing attack. If they have to win the occasional 3-2 game in this postseason, they can do it as well as anybody.
3. They're the New York Yankees, winners of 26 World Series championships and nine straight division titles. In their heart of hearts, they believe that they are supposed to triumph in October, but they still know they have to work for it.
Achilles' heel: Suppose Mariano Rivera's right forearm begins to hurt again. There is no one who has been more essential to the Yankees' success over the last decade than their closer. Jeter is as essential, but nobody is more essential. Rivera has to be Rivera, for even the mighty Yankees to win.
Key showdowns: The Tigers' table-setters against Chien-Ming Wang. Detroit's second-half struggles coincided with Placido Polanco's time on the disabled list. When Polanco was healthy, the Detroit offense clicked more often than not. When Polanco was on the DL, the Tigers went 13-21. But if Polanco and speedster Curtis Granderson can jump-start the offense, the Tigers could be on their way. And Game 1 would be the ideal place to start.
Dark horse: Robinson Cano. He's obviously not one of the more storied Yankees, and he did miss time with an injury. But he still had a breakthrough season. He is quietly one of the members of this team who has made the Yankees a more versatile, more dangerous team than their recent predecessors. It is early in his career, but this could already be his October.
Prediction: Yankees in four. The Tigers were baseball's best story for much of this season, but they won only 21 of their last 50 games and none of their last five. They are, overall, a heartwarming story, but you can't pick them in good conscience, given that kind of finish. The Yankees don't have anything like lock-down pitching, but they have one of the best lineups the baseball world has known.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.