Yankees at Tigers
Series: ALCS, Game 4, Tigers lead 3-0
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST
Starters: CC Sabathia (2-0, 1.53 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
The Yankees collected one run and five hits in their 2-1 Game 3 loss to the Tigers and Justin Verlander . . . and vastly exceeded everyone’s expectations in doing so. That tells you where that team is right now. CC Sabathia has been fantastic over his last five starts, going 4-0 with a 1.51 ERA, pitching at least at least eight innings in each, and coming one out shy of two complete games in the Division Series against the Orioles, and the decision to pitch him on full rest rather than force him into a confrontation with Verlander on short rest looks like a wise one. Yet, even if he delivers a performance as dominating as his outing in Game 5 of the Division Series (9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K), it might not be enough to deliver a win given the futility of the Yankees’ lineup. After all, New York has scored just one run in its last 21 innings and is averaging just 1.5 runs per nine innings in this series.
Meanwhile, Scherzer, who has battled a sore deltoid muscle in his pitching shoulder, was pretty impressive in his lone Division Series start. He held the A’s to one unearned run on a walk and three hits while striking out eight in 5 1/3 innings -- his longest outing in his past four starts -- before his velocity began to erode again and Tigers manager Jim Leyland opted to go to the bullpen. Scherzer will be making this start on six days' rest, giving him a couple of key extra days to let his shoulder recover, and with the Tigers one win away from a sweep, Leyland is unlikely to be shy about going to his bullpen early and often. Besides, they had an off-day on Monday and only had to use one reliever (Phil Coke for 21 pitches) on Tuesday night. Then there’s this: The hitters on the Yankees’ ALCS roster have hit a collective .177/.266/.282 in 140 combined plate appearances against Max Scherzer.
Robinson Cano snapped his 0-for-29 slump, the longest hitless streak in a single postseason in major league history, with a single off Coke in the ninth inning of Game 3, and shortstop Eduardo Nuñez, making his first start of this series, hit a solo home run off a tired Verlander earlier in that inning, but there were no meaningful signs of improvement from the Yankee lineup, which, in addition to Nuñez, featured Eric Chavez (now 0-for-14 this postseason) and Brett Gardner (0-for-5) in place of Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in Game 3. So don’t expect things to change much for New York in Game 4.
The key to who wins this game is how well the Tigers’ bats match up against Sabathia. Sabathia went 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA in three regular season starts against Detroit this season, but the last of those starts, in Detroit in early August, saw him give up five runs (three earned) in 6 2/3 innings. Some Tigers have good-to-excellent career splits against Sabathia; Miguel Cabrera has hit .357/.474/.643 in 38 career plate appearances; backup catcher Gerald Laird, who typically starts over Alex Avila against lefties, has hit .417/.500/.625 in 28 PA; Austin Jackson has slugged .542 in 27 PA, and Prince Fielder, is 4-for-11 (.364) with a home run and a walk against his former Brewers teammate. Detroit may only need to scratch out a couple of runs off Sabathia to clinch the pennant Wednesday night. Even if New York does manage to save face with a win in Game 4, it's still up against a history in which only one major league team has ever climbed out of a 0-3 hole in a best-of-seven series. The Yankees are no more likely to become the second such team than their fans are to want to discuss the first. -- By Cliff Corcoran