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Tigers at Yankees
Series: ALCS Game 2, Tigers lead 1-0
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Starters: Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32 ERA)
There are losses, and then there are losses. The Yankees not only suffered a painful extra-inning defeat in the ALCS opener after rallying from four runs down in the ninth inning, they lost Derek Jeter to a broken ankle. Coming off a year in which he defied his age to lead the majors with 216 hits, their 38-year-old captain had been one of the team's few hot hitters thus far in the postseason, hitting .333/.379/.444 in 30 plate appearances. Now the Yankees are without him for the remainder not only of this series but of this season.
Filling Jeter's spot at shortstop will be Jayson Nix, a 29-year-old righty utilityman who batted .243/.306/.384 with four homers in 202 plate appearances this year. To the extent that Nix has carved out a major league niche, it's thanks to a modest amount of pop against lefties; he hit .255/.318/.408 in 111 plate appearances against them this year, and is at .239/.309/.428 career. Those numbers don't look like much, of course, but they're better than his line against righties (.228/.291/.354 in 91 PA this year, .199/.271/.338 career), a problem given the rightward tilt of Detroit's staff. Nix's biggest problem is making contact; he struck out in 26.2 percent of his plate appearances, and walked just 6.9 percent of the time. He made 15 starts at shortstop for the Yankees and has 27 there in his career; within the small sample size, his defensive metrics suggest he's slightly below average at best — which at least isn't a downgrade from the defensively questionable Jeter.
Manager Joe Girardi does have another alternative at his disposal in Eduardo Nunez, who was added to the roster in Jeter's place; the 25-year-old righty hit .292/.330/.393 in 100 plate appearances, losing more than two months to a thumb injury and being sent down to the minors to work on his fielding; though he has decent range, he is error-prone to the point that the Yankees' attempts to use him anywhere besides shortstop disappeared after he returned in September. Nunez does have speed (11 steals in limited duty this year, 22 last year) and he can hit lefties (.298/.332/.436 career) but again, that's of limited value against the Tigers. Alex Rodriguez, who has played just eight innings of shortstop since joining the Yankees in 2004, has been ruled out by Girardi; his offensive slide continues — he's now 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts — and he was pinch-hit for in the late innings yet again on Saturday night.
Going for the Yankees is Kuroda, who is starting on three days' rest for the first time in his stateside career due to the compressed LCS schedule, an issue I explored at length here. The 37-year-old righty made a strong showing in his lone Division Series start against the Orioles, throwing 8 1/3 innings and allowing just two runs, both on solo homers; he threw 105 pitches in the outing, his highest total since Aug. 25.
Kuroda made two starts against the Tigers this year, allowing five runs on 13 1/3 innings while striking out nine; Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila went deep against him. Kuroda works primarily with a sinker that averages 92.6 mph, and a slider that gets swings and misses; he throws one or the other pitch 89 percent of the time against righties, spotting a splitter and a four-seamer as well. He uses those latter two pitches more often against lefties, with the splitter his go-to for swings and misses from that side, and mixing in a curve, too. His platoon split (.253/.312/.422 against lefties, .244/.279/.385 against righties) is notable but not exceptional; he generates a good number of groundballs (53 percent rate) while showing exceptional control (2.1 walks per nine), traits that helped him put up a 2.72 ERA in 19 starts at Yankee Stadium, where he held hitters to a .219/.268/.347 line — a point that Girardi and staff likely considered to counter the short rest issue.
Opposing Kuroda is Sanchez, who limited the A's to two runs in 6 1/3 innings in Game 3 of the other Division Series, alas on a night when his team was held scoreless. The 28-year-old righty, who was acquired from the Marlins on July 23, put up strong peripherals across the board (0.9 homers, 2.2 walks, 7.7 strikeouts per nine, 47 percent groundball rate) but suffered via a .315 batting average on balls in play. Sanchez works primarily with a four-seamer that averages 92.6 mph, a slider and a swing-and-miss changeup, mixing in a curve and sinker against lefties as well. He showed a reverse platoon split for the third year out of the past four, with a .243/.299/.347 line against lefties, and a .291/.324/.473 line against righties. He was torched for seven runs in three innings by the Yankees on Aug. 8, most notably serving up a three-run homer to Curtis Granderson.
If the Tigers can get a lead late in the game, manager Jim Leyland faces the question of how to protect it. Jose Valverde abetted the Yankees Game 1 comeback by retiring just two hitters and serving up two-run homers to Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez to surrender a four-run lead, this after blowing the save and taking the loss in Game 4 of the Division Series. Valverde's velocity and thus movement have been less than usual lately. Setup man Joaquin Benoit was touched up by Oakland as well, and both lefty Drew Smyly and righty specialist Octavio Dotel threw at least 27 pitches in Saturday's 12-inning affair, so they may be fatigued if available. Righty Al Alburquerque, who didn't pitch, could figure into the mix, but don't be surprised if Leyland tries to push Sanchez, who threw 101 pitches in his ALDS outing, a bit further than he might otherwise do.