ALCS Prediction and Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers

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Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Red Sox: Take advantage of the Tigers exhaustion; get into the Tigers bullpen; keep the games close late.

The Tigers just finished getting through a long and tough series against the Athletics. They’re a veteran team that’s probably half-relieved to have gotten through the ALDS and half-emotionally exhausted from the difficulty they had winning the series. If the Red Sox jump out and hit them immediately, the Tigers might conserve their energy for the next night.

The Tigers have the advantage in starting pitching, but when it comes to the bullpen the Tigers don’t have a trustworthy closer. Jim Leyland will push his starters as far as he can.

If the games are close late, the Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit is not battle-tested in the role and might crack.

Keys for the Tigers: Ride their starters deep; jump on the Red Sox questionable middle-relief; hope that Miguel Cabrera’s legs are feeling better.

The Tigers have a significant starting pitching advantage and have to use it. In the ALDS, Leyland mistrusted his bullpen to the degree that he used probable AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in relief. His starters have not been babied by being yanked at 100 pitches. They have the ability to go deeper into games and will be helped by the cool weather and the post-season adrenaline.

The Red Sox middle-relief core is supposed to be “better” with Ryan Dempster out there. That’s not my idea of better and he’s the type of pitcher the Tigers will hammer. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales and Brandon Workman aren’t a who’s who of great relievers either.

The Tigers have a lineup full of bashers with Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter buttressing Cabrera, but Cabrera is the hub around which the Tigers offense is built. If he’s still compromised – and there’s no reason to think he won’t be considering his inability to move in the ALDS – then they might struggle to score.

What will happen:

Game three is almost as if the Red Sox are punting it, scheduling John Lackey to pitch against a hot Justin Verlander. The first two games have evenly matched starting pitchers. David Ortiz is 3 for 3 with two homers in his career against game one starter Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers will be very careful with Ortiz and that puts the rest of the lineup, specifically Mike Napoli, on the spot. If the Red Sox lose one of the first two games, they’re going to be in serious trouble with the game three matchup.

The Red Sox lineup is built on walks, power and being greater than the sum of its parts. The Tigers lineup is overall superior with their ability to hit and hit the ball out of the park. While Benoit is not a trustworthy closer, Koji Uehara’s longball troubles bit him in the ALDS. With this Tigers lineup, it has a good chance of happening again. The Red Sox will have to use Uehara. If the Tigers get depth from their starters, Leyland won’t hesitate to let them finish their games.

As much as a positive influence John Farrell has been on the Red Sox this season, he’s still does a large number of strange strategic things. The advantage in managers falls to the Tigers.

The Tigers have to win one of the first two games. If they do that, they’re going to win the series. And they will.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER




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ALDS Preview and Predictions – Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs

Oakland Athletics (96-66) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Athletics: Do their “thing”; keep the Tigers in the ballpark; get into the Tigers’ bullpen.

When I say “do their thing,” I mean the A’s game is based on hitting home runs and their pitchers throwing strikes. As long as they’re hitting home runs and their pitchers are throwing strikes, they win. If they don’t hit home runs, they don’t do much of anything else worthwhile.

Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes all had big power years. Other players in their lineup – Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick – hit the ball out of the park as well. But if they don’t hit homers, they won’t score.

The Tigers are a power-laden team that hits a lot of home runs in their own right. With Miguel Cabrera dealing with a spate of injuries, the A’s can’t fall asleep on him because he can still manipulate the pitcher like an aging George Foreman used to with his, “I’m an old man, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gon…” BANG!!! Then they’re watching the lights in the sky from their backs. It’s a similar situation as watching a Cabrera homer.

The Tigers’ bullpen is shaky and if the A’s force their way into it, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit aren’t accustomed to the roles they’ll face as post-season set-up man and closer.

A’s’ boss Billy Beane makes an impassioned self-defense of his methods not working in the playoffs because the playoffs are a “crapshoot.” It’s the exact type of excuse to which Beane would reply arrogantly and obnoxiously if someone else were to give it. If he’s supposed to be finding methods to bend baseball to his will, isn’t it time he finds a way to win in the playoffs?

Keys for the Tigers: Get something from their warhorses; get depth from their starters; hit the ball out of the park; keep the A’s in the park.

Cabrera is injured and Justin Verlander has been shaky. The playoffs tend to send a jolt into veteran players who’ve grown accustomed – and perhaps slightly bored – by the regular season. Adrenaline could help Verlander regain his lost velocity. Max Scherzer has been great this season, but the Tigers’ chances may come down to Verlander.

Leyland doesn’t like having an untrustworthy bullpen and while Benoit has adapted well to being a closer, there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll be able to do the job in the playoffs until he gets an opportunity and does it. It’s best to have the starters go deep into the games and score plenty of runs to not have to worry about it.

The Tigers’ pitchers keep the ball in the park. That has to continue.

What will happen:

Every year, the A’s are the “feel good” story and every year they get bounced in the playoffs. There’s a desperation to have Beane win that ring to somehow shut out any remaining simplistic Chris Russo-style, logically ludicrous argument of, “I don’t wanna hear what a genius he is. Win a championship.” If he wins, where can they go?

The problem is that Beane has never figured out how to use his “card counting” skills in the draft (also a fallacy) to handle the dice in the “crapshoot” that is the playoffs. One would think he’d have done it by now. Maybe he should show up for the playoffs in a mask and declare himself “Billy Bane” while telling the A’s to take control of his genius.

The Tigers are deeper and their defense has been shored up by the acquisition of Jose Iglesias. The shift of Jhonny Peralta to the outfield gives them an even deeper lineup.

Not hitting home runs is the death knell for the A’s and the Tigers aren’t going to give up the homers the A’s are used to hitting. On the mound, the Tigers and A’s are evenly matched top-to-bottom, but the Tigers all-around offense gives them the advantage.

The A’s are trying to validate their backstory, but all they continually do is validate the criticism of it.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FOUR




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Valverde’s Signing Was Inevitable

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Jim Leyland tried the soft approach. He tried to gently discuss how uncomfortable he was with the Tigers’ decision to go cheap and unproven with their closer when they’d invested a massive amount of money in this current group while in the final year of his contract. In public, he was agreeable and conciliatory when the Tigers let Jose Valverde walk and didn’t bring in a legitimate, proven closer via trade or free agency. He was willing to move forward with the Bruce Rondon experiment and, when the rookie faltered in spring training, stated his intention to use a bullpen-by-committee and do the best they could.

All it took, though, was one blown save from Phil Coke in the second game of the season for the Tigers to acquiesce to their manager’s clear wishes and bring back Valverde on a minor league contract. He’ll go to Lakeland and “get in shape” (whatever that means for the prominently bellied Valverde) and, before long, will be back with the Tigers and given the opportunity to regain the job he lost with a series of terrible performances including a horrific gack in game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees that could easily have cost the Tigers the series.

Leyland is jittery and constantly fretful, but he trusts his veterans more than he’ll trust any rookie or unproven commodity. He might very well have thrown a patented Leyland tantrum after yesterday’s loss and gone as far as he possibly could in demanding that the Tigers bring back Valverde. As bad as Valverde was at times last season, he was nearly perfect in 2011 and Leyland knows that any issues his erstwhile closer might have won’t be related to a mental issue. There are pitchers on the Tigers’ staff who can conceivably close. Coke can do it if given the opportunity over the long term. Octavio Dotel is 39, but has closed and as long as he’s healthy would get the job done. But using Coke, Valverde, Joaquin Benoit or establishing someone unproven such as Al Alburquerque or Rondon in the ninth inning would reduce the Tigers’ depth in the earlier innings and make the manager and everyone around him nervous.

If there’s a man in baseball whose personality permeates his clubhouse while he’s not doing or saying anything at all—just his aura is enough—it’s Leyland. He’s passive aggressive and made clear that he didn’t want a rookie closer and that he did want Valverde back. Now he’s getting what he wants and if Valverde has his velocity and looks adequate in extended spring training, he’ll be closing for the Tigers again within a month because that’s what the manager wanted from the beginning and he let everyone know it through multiple methods of expression.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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The Tigers’ Options At Closer (AKA Coffee, Cigarettes And Baseball)

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Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland is openly and passive aggressively letting it be known that he’s unhappy with the concept of Bruce Rondon as his closer. So far in spring training, Rondon has been wild with 5 walks in 3.2 innings pitched, and has surrendered 5 hits and 3 earned runs. That’s in four appearances.

The Tigers spent the entire winter shunning any pretense of bringing back erstwhile closer Jose Valverde (who Leyland wanted back as recently as a few days ago), stayed away from any and all available veterans like Rafael Soriano, Heath Bell or Joel Hanrahan, and essentially handed the job to Rondon. With the regular season three-and-a-half weeks away, Leyland is looking at his loaded club with a powerful lineup, a deep starting rotation and a solid pre-closer bullpen and panicking at the thought of the entire thing crashing down because he doesn’t have someone he can moderately trust pitching the ninth inning. Valverde had some major meltdowns at inopportune times, but in 2012 he did save 35 games and had a solid hits/innings pitched ratio of 59/69. His strikeouts and velocity were way down making me think there was something physically wrong with him that the Tigers kept quiet, attributing his slump to the ambiguity of closing and mechanical woes. To a veteran manager like Leyland, the known and shaky veteran who’s gotten the outs for him before is better than the unknown rookie who can’t throw strikes.

So what to do about it?

Are there still-available closers—apart from Valverde—that are any good and gettable? Carlos Marmol can be had and if he’s in a better situation than with the Cubs, he might work. The Nationals aren’t trading Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard. The Tigers could sign Brian Wilson and hope the remaining bullpen members—Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit—hold down the fort (or seize the job) until Wilson is ready to pitch. If the Brewers fall out of contention, John Axford might be on the market. Francisco Rodriguez is sitting out. There are outside-the-box arms like Derek Lowe—40 in June—who was an All-Star closer with the Red Sox before becoming a starter and still wants to pitch. He’s said that he doesn’t want to be a reliever, but that was as a long-reliever. Would he want to take a last shot at closing for a championship-level team? Could he do it? Physically, who knows? Mentally, there’s no doubt. His ground ball rate is still superior and he’d be ridiculously cheap.

At his age, Leyland doesn’t need the aggravation of a rookie closer who can’t throw the ball over the plate. If he’s publicly carping about it, you can imagine what he’s saying to his coaches and is only being slightly more diplomatic with his ostensible boss, GM Dave Dombrowski. Leyland has a bratty side and, like any overgrown child even as he protests that he’ll deal with the situation as best he can, his sour face and underlying tone of displeasure combined with his already tense and jittery presence from a lifetime of coffee, cigarettes and baseball is surely felt throughout the clubhouse in spite of his protestations to the contrary. The players know Leyland, know the American League and probably don’t feel any more comfortable with Rondon sabotaging a potential championship season than the manager does. Rondon doesn’t have much time to get his act together. If he doesn’t, the Tigers are going to have to do something about it before it destroys everything they’re trying to accomplish.

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ALCS Preview and Predictions—New York Yankees vs Detroit Tigers

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New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East; defeated Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 2 in the ALDS) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74; 1st place, AL Central; defeated Oakland Athletics 3 games to 2 in the ALDS)

Keys for the Tigers: Tack on runs and keep the game out of the hands of Jose Valverde; hold down the Yankees’ bats as the Orioles did; get runners on base in front of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Valverde has been terrible this year. Yes, he has a fastball and a split that can get strikeouts, but the hitters—and especially the Yankees—know to give him a chance to start walking people and he’ll oblige. His strikeouts were way down this year with only 48 in 69 innings. The Yankees will be supremely confident even if they’re trailing going to the ninth inning with Valverde coming in. The Tigers have the offense to put up big numbers and they’ll feel better en masse if they’re not placing the game in the hands of Valverde.

The focus was on Alex Rodriguez because he wound up being benched, but A-Rod was benched because the Yankees had options to do so. They don’t have that option with their other struggling hitters Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher isn’t going to be in the lineup every game if he doesn’t provide some offense early in the series. The Orioles did it with Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, and Miguel Gonzalez. The Tigers are trotting out Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer. Maybe the more familiar pitchers will help the Yankees have better at bats.

With Fielder and Cabrera, the Tigers have bashers that the Orioles didn’t. If the Yankees are in a position where they have no choice but to pitch to one or both, they’ll do damage.

Keys for the Yankees: Hit; don’t hesitate to make lineup changes with Swisher or A-Rod; get similarly great starting pitching as they did in the ALDS.

Mark Teixeira is coming off of a calf injury that could’ve ended his season and is an injury that has a tendency of recurring even when it feels as if it’s back to normal. He’s running hard and his key stolen base set the stage for the Yankees to take the lead in game 5 against the Orioles.

Cano, on the other hand, is running at perhaps 60% of capacity. He does it because he’s allowed to get away with it. It’s unacceptable. I can deal with him struggling at the plate; I can live with an error once in awhile; but this attitude of, “I don’t have to run because I can hit better than 98% of baseball,” is a warning sign to the Yankees that they should think very long and seriously before handing Cano—at age 31 a year from now—a contract for 8-10 years at over $200 million. His laziness on the field could extend to off the field; what once came easy will no longer come easy; and if he’s not willing to run out a double play ball in the playoffs, then what makes anyone think he’s going to work hard off the field to stay in shape when his bat slows down and his reactions aren’t as quick?

He was actually worse that A-Rod in the ALDS because A-Rod has the excuse of age and declining bat speed. I had thought Cano would be mitigated because he wasn’t going to see any pitches to hit, but in the series with the Orioles, he saw plenty of pitches to hit. He just didn’t hit them.

Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda are warriors; Phil Hughes has the fans and media acting skittish whenever he’s out on the mound, but he’s been able to handle the pressure games and do his job.

By my estimation, Swisher will get the first two games against Fister and Sanchez to see if he produces. If he doesn’t hit, by game 3 when Verlander is on the mound, Swisher will be sitting.

It was interesting that both Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland left their aces out on the mound in a game 5 when they definitely would’ve pulled them in favor of their closers in a less-important game.

What will happen:

The Tigers are not the Orioles. They’re not relying on a bunch of journeymen and youngsters. They’re trotting star power out there with Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry are speed players who pose a threat on the bases. Alex Avila and Delmon Young have had big hits in the playoffs. With their starting pitching, they’re more capable of shutting out the lights on the Yankees than the Orioles. Sabathia is not pitching until game 4 after his complete game effort in game 5 of the ALDS against the Orioles.

Cabrera has brutalized the Yankees’ pitchers—link.

Fielder hasn’t been as successful, so the series is going to hinge on him and Young, both batting behind Cabrera.

Valverde has had success against the Yankees, but he can’t be trusted. Nor can Yankees’ closer Rafael Soriano who, despite pitching well against the Orioles, has not been trustworthy in playoffs past. Both Leyland and Girardi will be inclined to leave their starters in the game rather than entrust a close game to questionable bullpen arms when they can help it. Joaquin Benoit has been shaky for the Tigers and David Robertson gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting out of it and that’s not going to work with Cabrera and Fielder.

I don’t see how A-Rod, Swisher, and Granderson will suddenly rediscover their strokes against better pitching than they saw in the Orioles series. I have no idea what to expect from Cano.

Leyland has bounced the Yankees the two times he’s faced them in the playoffs and with the Tigers lineup performing better than the Yankees and an even matchup on the mound, the Tigers will stop the Yankees again.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER

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Cliff Lee—Desperately Seeking A Win?

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Where is this headed? Are the Phillies, so desperate to get Cliff Lee a victory on the season, going to insert him into a blowout as a reliever after four innings to get him a win?

Lee, with a Cy Young Award and post-season dominance on his resume, is being roasted because he hasn’t won a game yet in 2012?

Who cares?

The Phillies and Lee have bigger problems than to worry about the constant harping on whether or not Lee has a “W” next to his name. This is not a veteran hanging on trying to get his 300th career win; nor is it a pitcher who should be concerned about what’s said by outsiders who still equate the “W” with success or failure.

The “win” has received scrutiny in recent years and while it needs to be placed into context how a pitcher accumulates his total, it’s not something to be ignored entirely. It matters to the participants. It’s only in the past few seasons that a pitcher like Felix Hernandez or Tim Lincecum were able to gain their deserved Cy Young Awards because of advanced stats and that there are voters willing to look at something other than the pitcher who won 23 games vs the one who won 16.

That still doesn’t prevent the argument that Justin Verlander didn’t deserve the MVP award last season because the Tigers would’ve found “any” pitcher (conveniently unnameed) to fill in for Verlander and they would’ve won the division regardless.

This argument is ignorant of the Tigers’ early season struggles and that it was Verlander who carried them when they were stumbling around. Only when they made mid-season acquisitions of Delmon Young and Doug Fister; when Joaquin Benoit began pitching the way they expected; and when the Indians came apart did the Tigers take off and run away with the division. Without Verlander they wouldn’t have been in position to do so.

So there are mitigating factors in all statistics, awards and attempts to analyze.

Because Lee doesn’t have any wins doesn’t mean he’s having a “bad” year. It doesn’t mean the Phillies should put him on the trade block.

His contract owes him $87.5 million after this season and he has a 10 team no-trade list. The teams that could afford that contract and surrender the prospects to get him presumably are on the no-trade list because a veteran pitcher isn’t going to want to go to a place that could pay him more money and would be getting him at a discount over the short term. Lee made clear during his free agency that he wants nothing to do with the Yankees.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is not going to do that to him again and wouldn’t get anything more than prospects to add to a club that is still loaded with immovable long-term deals for veterans. The Phillies are what they are and a rebuild or retool on the fly is not on the table.

Lee hasn’t won any games this season because the Phillies’ offense has been unproductive; the bullpen has been shaky; and Lee has allowed runs late in games to sabotage himself. If the Phillies were the Phillies of years past, Lee would have 4-6 wins.

Would that make it all better?

He’s pitched poorly in his last two starts and for someone as mentally tough and impervious to pressure as Lee, it appears as if the talk of him “needing” a win is getting into his head.

That’s only going to make things worse and compound an issue that isn’t an issue for him to worry about or affect him at all.

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Shifting The Moneyball Goalposts Yet Again

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As much as Moneyball tried to paint the picture that “this is the way to build your team and if you ignore it you’re an idiot”—and succeeded to some degree—it was never the “way” to build a team. It was a strategy borne out of necessity and opportunity.

In fact, Billy Beane is not, nor was he ever, a “genius”. What he did took nerve, but that nerve stemmed from being locked in the vacancy of having limited funds and competing against teams that were raiding his cupboard on a year-to-year basis.

The truth is becoming more mainstream with articles such as this one in today’s New York Times discussing how smaller markets have grown smarter and therefore more competitive.

Are they getting smarter?

Possibly.

Are they more competitive?

Definitely.

Is there a connection to Moneyball?

Um. No. Not really.

Considering the teams remaining in the playoffs, you have one that connected on a deep strike to try and win this year while they still had a mid-lineup combination among the best in baseball with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The Brewers brought in a Cy Young Award winner in Zack Greinke; a solid mid-rotation starter in Shaun Marcum; and traded for an All-Star closer to function as their set-up man in Francisco Rodriguez. As a result of this, they’re in the NLCS under a moderate budget. But their farm system is gutted and once Fielder and K-Rod leave, they’re going to be hard-pressed to repeat this success. As long as Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are healthy, they’ll still be competitive, but this good and able to cover up flaws like an atrocious defense that cost them dearly last night? To protect a vanilla manager who does bizarre things? It’s hard to see.

The Cardinals have the best manager of his generation in Tony LaRussa and made a series of “win now” maneuvers signing Lance Berkman and trading Colby Rasmus for ancillary, depth pieces to augment LaRussa’s frequent bullpen usage. They also benefited from a superior Braves team collapsing and allowing them the opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Tigers are a big money team that spent lavishly on a set-up man in Joaquin Benoit and made smart deals in getting Doug Fister and Delmon Young at mid-season for basically nothing. But without one of the three best pitchers and hitters in baseball—Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera—they’d be golfing now.

The Rangers were built by a young GM in the Moneyball mold of someone who’d never played but was well-versed in statistics. It took awhile for Jon Daniels to gain footing and he survived making one of the worst trades in baseball history in sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton; but since then he made some trades that were absolutely brilliant by raiding the Braves farm system for Neftali FelizElvis Andrus and Matt Harrison when they traded Mark Teixeira a year-and-a-half before he was up for free agency. That took nerve, but it was only possible because the Rangers weren’t contending and in desperate financial straits to the point where they could ignore fan entreaties to keep their star. Now that they’re in better condition financially, they’ve been able to use a loaded farm system to acquire a Cliff Lee in 2010 and the numerous bullpen components that have brought them to the verge of a second straight pennant.

It all goes in cycles.

Moneyball was trendy because it was a neat story of a triumph over adversity for a “can’t miss” superstar who transferred his inability to fulfill that promise on the field, but became a star off the field.

The problem was that what Beane did was more gutsy than smart. He’s an actor. And his new role is that of the boxed-in everyman; the excuses are that everyone else is using his template and doing so with more money than he has and his antiquated ballpark has made it impossible to draw fans and attract marquee free agents. But if he’s a genius, shouldn’t he figure something else out?

It’s laughable that Beane was politicking for and openly wanted the Cubs GM job and they didn’t even ask to interview him, instead focusing on and apparently getting Theo Epstein.

Like the X-Files, the truth is out there and those who aren’t invested in the concept of “Beane as genius” are seeing it and shunning him or at least questioning the portrayal.

The dismissive way in which Moneyball writer Michael Lewis discusses the Rays (“they have investment bankers running it and have been lucky in the draft”) is exactly the same argument that people used to contradict his salable and practically ridiculous narrative of Moneyball. I’m wondering whether he sees that or is blocking out this reality in a psychiatrist’s dream case of egomania.

Beane’s persona-switch from hard-charging, ruthless, corporate monster to happy-go-lucky, shrugging man of the people who’s trapped where he is in a system that’s swallowed him up doesn’t explain away a series of horrible trades and drafts. But that doesn’t fit into the story.

There is no one way to build a successful team—a team that’s going to win the World Series. The 2011 storyline is that the big money clubs, rife with superstars and recognizable names, all got bounced in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely due to humiliating collapses. Next year it might be the opposite; or it could be something different entirely; or the same thing.

But the mythmakers will look for an angle, even if they have to conjure one from nothing just like Moneyball. And just like the moving the goalposts of Moneyball, it’s a desperate act that’s still occurring as we speak.

The public and media are beginning to see it.

Finally.

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ALCS Preview: Detroit Tigers vs Texas Rangers

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Detroit Tigers (95-67; 1st place, AL Central; defeated New York Yankees in ALDS 3 games to 2) vs Texas Rangers (96-66; 1st place, AL West; defeated Tampa Bay Rays in ALDS 3 games to 1).

Keys for the Tigers: Win Justin Verlander‘s starts; score against the Rangers mediocre starters; don’t tempt fate; stick to the script.

Justin Verlander is rested and ready for game 1 of the ALCS after manager Jim Leyland steadfastly refused to even consider using him in game 5 against the Yankees. They won, so they have their pitching set up the way they want it.

Verlander is in the midst of one of those magical seasons and his chance of being the key to dispatching the Yankees was interrupted by the weather. He’ll have another chance against the heavy hitting Rangers. Historically, he hasn’t had much trouble in the hitter-friendly confines of The Ballpark in Arlington, but the Rangers have some hitters who can crush a fastball, notably Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton. Michael Young is 6 for 26 in his career vs Verlander with 3 doubles.

The Rangers starting pitching isn’t all that impressive. C.J. Wilson got knocked around in his game 1 start against the Rays, but none of the Tigers hitters have done much with him in their careers. The Tigers don’t want to enter the late innings with Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz coming at them—they didn’t do much with the Yankees bullpen and won’t do much with the Rangers bullpen either.

The Tigers aren’t particularly patient at the plate on the whole and when they get runners on base, they have to cash them in. They didn’t do that against the Yankees and won anyway; they don’t want to push their luck.

With a lead, the Tigers handed the ball to Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde and it worked; if they’re able to get from solid performances from their starters and enter the late innings with a lead, they’ll win the series.

Keys for the Rangers: Get their starters out of the game if they’re struggling; cash in on baserunners; get the game to their bullpen with a lead.

The Rangers penchant for pushing their starting pitchers deeply into games to get the number of innings they want extended inexplicably to game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays.

Why manager Ron Washington left Wilson in to absorb a beating and essentially put the game out of reach is mind-boggling. That can’t happen in the post-season.

Colby Lewis has proven himself to be a big game pitcher who thrives in the playoffs; I’m not sold on either Matt Harrison or Derek Holland.

Ryan Raburn is—get this—8 for 12 vs Harrison with 2 homers and 2 doubles. Brandon Inge is 3 for 7 with 2 homers; and Alex Avila is 4 for 4 with a homer.

Against Holland, Delmon Young is 6 for 12 with 2 homers; the other Tigers experience against him is limited and not noteworthy.

Has Ogando usurped Adams as the eighth inning man? Or was that just for the last series and because Adams was struggling? Does Adams get a reboot as the set-up man?

Miguel Cabrera is 4 for 4 in his career vs Adams.

Cabrera murders Ogando as well with 5 hits in 9 at bats and a walk.

Inge is 2 for 2 with a homer in his career vs Feliz.

One of the reasons the Tigers beat the Yankees is because the Yankees left so many runners on base; the Rangers can’t repeat that mistake.

I doubt we’re going to see Koji Uehara and his gopher ball with anything important on the line in this series, but it is Ron Washington managing the Rangers and he wears a path out to the mound late in games and he does…strange…things.

What will happen.

The Tigers starting pitching is clearly better than the Rangers and they have an advantage in that their manager isn’t going to do something deranged to blow a game up. The bullpens are evenly matched when it gets down to crunch time; if the middle-relievers Phil Coke, Darren Oliver, Daniel Schlereth, and Scott Feldman have to be counted on at any point, that means strategies are flying out the window and both sides are trying to survive.

The Tigers will get to the Rangers starters; Verlander may get touched up in one of his games, but the Tigers will mitigate it by scoring enough runs to win.

Adams has been having control problems, but the Tigers are over-aggressive; if they’re patient, they can get to the Rangers bullpen.

Cabrera was relatively quiet in the ALDS and that’s not going to continue.

Avila was also held down in the ALDS, but he hits Lewis and Harrison well and is going to go on a hot streak in this series.

Getting past the Yankees was the hard part; getting past the Rangers will be easier and that’s what the Tigers are going to do.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX.

ALCS MVP: ALEX AVILA.

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The Michael Kay Martini

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For the Michael Kay Martini, you will need:

2 1/2 oz Gin.

1/4 oz Dry Vermouth.

1 green olive.

1 sterile cotton swatch.

A crying Michael Kay.

3 ice cubes.

Place the ice cubes in a mixing cup, then pour in and combine the Gin and Vermouth.

Stir well. (Michael Kay ain’t no James Bond and his drink should reflect that.)

Strain and pour into a Martini glass.

Drop the olive into the drink.

Just before serving, wipe the streaming tears from the stricken face of Michael Kay and coat the rim of the glass.

Serve and enjoy.

Despite the fervent belief in this flawed team among apologists/”experts” in the media, the Yankees lost.

It’s funny how not one person on YES or in the New York based radio and television business thought the Yankees would lose.

Or maybe not so funny. Maybe it’s telling.

I’m not paying attention to the booing, the alibis or the subjective savagery engendered by those who failed in this series—namely Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher—nor do I want to hear that the Tigers were “lucky”; that Yankees manager Joe Girardi is to blame; or similar nonsense from last season that, although Cliff Lee beat them, it’ll all be okay because the Yankees were going to sign Lee and eliminate their nemesis from the competition.

The Yankees veterans didn’t come through; benching A-Rod in favor of Eduardo Nunez isn’t going to happen on this planet, ever; Girardi did a brilliant job this year; and I doubt Justin Verlander is on the market.

Apparently Kay, that noted baseball genius in his own mind and nowhere else, went ballistic over Tigers manager Jim Leyland‘s decision not to use Verlander in game 5; it wasn’t simply that he wasn’t going to use Verlander, but he took him out of the equation entirely by having the pitcher throw his scheduled bullpen session early in the day so there would be no option, no temptation to use him if he thought he might need him.

Personally, I would not have planned to use Verlander; but nor would I have had him throw his bullpen session just in case I needed to use him.

Leyland, a baseball man for nearly 50 years who’s done about everything one can do in baseball and has experienced all the highs and lows going back to devastating NLCS losses with the Pirates to a World Series win with the Marlins, took that path of protecting his 28-year-old star pitcher rather than concerning himself with one game. If he’d lost and an instance in which he could’ve and should’ve used Verlander arose, he’d have been criticized.

But Verlander has never relieved before; he’s thrown almost 260 innings this year and if the Tigers make it all the way to the World Series, that number will come close to 300; and he had a hard start two days earlier with 120 pitches and massive pressure.

More importantly, it was a team effort on the part of the Tigers that took out the Yankees, not the best pitcher in the world alone.

What would it have said to the other Tigers players—on a team that won 95 games in the regular season—to remove them from their customary jobs in favor of Verlander?

Joaquin Benoit was signed to a 3-year, $16.5 million contract to be a set-up man.

Jose Valverde was perfect in his save opportunities in 2011.

Leyland used every player on his roster all season long; this is not a one man show.

Even had he lost, he made the right decision in using his set-up man and closer for the late innings. Had he not done so, all of his credibility and the confidence of his players would’ve been demolished in one panicky choice to use Verlander.

And there’s no guarantee that it would’ve worked.

Had the Tigers used Verlander and won, there would’ve been the lingering question from Valverde and Benoit: “What? I’m good enough to pitch for you all season, but not in the biggest game of the year?”

Much of managerial success in baseball has more to do with being a psychologist and preschool teacher than a strategist.

Leyland has experience that those in the media couldn’t have; and he has the courage to do what’s right rather that what’s explainable to the masses. Masses that include those who know nothing about baseball; nothing about people; and nothing about anything.

The Tigers are moving on.

The Yankees are going home.

Drink up.

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Detroit Tigers vs New York Yankees

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Detroit Tigers (95-67; 1st place, AL Central) vs New York Yankees (97-65; 1st place, AL East)

Keys for the Tigers: Score early, score often against the Yankees starters; get into the bullpen early; ride their own starters deep into the games; win Justin Verlander‘s starts; Magglio Ordonez.

The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games, but that’s not an accurate gauge as to how they played this season.

Up until August, their position was precarious in terms of whether they would even make the playoffs; they made a series of trades to get Delmon Young, Doug Fister and Wilson Betemit; the Indians—who had led the Tigers by as much as 8 games in May—came apart.

It was Justin Verlander who carried the Tigers on his shoulders before they took command of the division by ripping off a 12 game winning streak in September. It will be Justin Verlander who will lead the Tigers past the Yankees or into the winter after a first round playoff loss.

They have to ride their horse.

Manager Jim Leyland is insisting that Verlander will pitch games 1 and 5 and under no circumstances is pitching in game 4.

We’ll see.

Fister has been masterful since his acquisition from the Mariners with an 8-1 record and ERA under 2. He’s only allowed 11 homers in over 200 innings this season, but Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have gotten to him; he lost his only start against the Yankees this season; it was his last start as a Mariner and he went 7 innings surrendering 3 runs on 7 hits.

Max Scherzer is starting game 3 and Rick Porcello game 4. Scherzer has a power fastball and wicked slider, but is either on or off—if he’s got his stuff and control, he’s nasty; if not, he gets hammered.

I wouldn’t trust Porcello in a game 4.

The Tigers bullpen before Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde is a question mark, but Leyland will push his starters further than he does in the regular season. Verlander’s pitch limit will be somewhere in the 140-150 range if necessary and since they’re insisting they’re not pitching him in game 4, don’t expect a quick hook if he gets off to a bad start in game 1.

The Tigers have to decide what to do with their veteran bats who’ve played sparingly in 2011. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen have handled CC Sabathia in their careers, but will Leyland rely on his vets or stick with the players he was using for the bulk of the time over the second half?

Guillen has a calf issue and is probably out for the ALDS.

I’d play Ordonez against Sabathia.

Ordonez is also 7 for 14 in his career against Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees are starting rookie Ivan Nova in game 2; soft-tossing veteran Freddy Garcia in game 3. Nova and the Tigers don’t have much history. Garcia, however, has a long history with several of the Tigers hitters and has gotten blasted by Miguel Cabrera, Ordonez and Young. Yankees manager Joe Girardi will have a quick hook with Garcia and A.J. Burnett could be important in game 3 if he’s needed to restore order after a Tigers outburst. Burnett’s numbers against the Tigers are quite good.

The Tigers do not want to be nursing 1-run leads in the late innings against the Yankees; they need to build a bigger lead and hold it.

Keys for the Yankees: Beat Verlander; don’t let any pitcher other than Verlander beat them; make Verlander work and get his pitch count up to get him out of game 1 early; get into the Tigers middle-relief; score a lot to make moot their pitching issues; A.J. Burnett; end the series before game 5; Verlander, Verlander, Verlander.

Other than Sabathia, the Yankees aren’t going to mess around and leave their starters in the game if they’re getting roughed up. Burnett will be in the bullpen; presumably Bartolo Colon will be on the roster—they’ll have veteran arms to turn to if Nova or Garcia struggle.

If this were a best 4 of 7 series, I’d seriously consider shifting either Sabathia or Verlander so they didn’t have to pitch against each other. With a 3 of 5 series, that’s not really an option.

Nick Swisher is only batting .167 in 54 career plate appearances vs Verlander, but has 3 career homers. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner have very solid numbers against him and Ramiro Pena of all people is 3 for 5 in his career facing Verlander. The Yankees needn’t be terrified of the Tigers ace because they’ve hit him before, but they do not want to be dealing with a game 5 and Ivan Nova or anyone other than Sabathia scheduled to pitch; I don’t care how mentally tough Nova is, that’s not a fair position for a rookie to be in and if it happens, they’re going to lose.

Girardi has said that Posada is going to DH in the series and that’s a good move—I always defer to my experienced veterans who’ve been through playoff battles before and if this is Posada’s final post-season in his career, he’ll be looking to end it with an exclamation point.

I wouldn’t be concerned about facing Porcello—if there’s a game 4 and the Yankees are trailing in the series 2-1, they’re going to maul him.

Valverde is one of the best closers in baseball that no one knows. That said, he can lose command and walk people; he also gives up some homers. Andruw Jones is 3 for 7 in his career vs Valverde with a homer and he’s the type of pitcher upon whom Robinson Cano will feast in a big spot.

If the Yankees use Rafael Soriano with a lead, he’s going to give up a homer or three—he cannot abide post-season pressure, or any kind of pressure. He’s pitched 3 post-season innings in his career and allowed 2 homers including a backbreaker for the Rays last season in the ninth inning of game 5 against the Rangers and Ian Kinsler.

The Yankees won’t be worried about Verlander in game 1; if it gets to game 5, they will be worried about him. A lot.

What will happen.

I wouldn’t anticipate mutual dominance between Verlander and Sabathia in game 1. In fact, it could degenerate into a shootout between the bullpens. If Verlander gets knocked out early, would that change Leyland’s strategy in a game 4? Would he bring his ace back on short rest if he only throws 60 or so pitches in game 1?

If they’re down 2 games to 1, I would.

The other starters in the Yankees rotation are only going to be in games as long as they’re getting outs and will be subject to a quicker hook that you or Girardi’s Binder could fathom. Burnett is decried and despised by Yankees fans, but they’d better hope “good A.J.” shows up when that bullpen door opens because if they need him in game 2, 3 or 5 he has to pitch well.

Girardi won’t put Soriano in a big spot; David Robertson tends to get himself in trouble just for the sake of getting out of it. His strikeout prowess comes in handy in those situations.

If the Tigers get a big performance out of Fister and/or Scherzer, the Yankees will be in a lot of trouble. I’d expect one to pitch well. Either game 2 or 3 will be won late and is dependent on whose bullpen performs better, which specialists—Boone Logan of the Yankees; Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth—get the job done. Logan would be called on to pitch to Alex Avila. The Tigers are righty-heavy.

Will the young Schlereth be able to deal with Cano? With Granderson? Cano’s 1 for 4 vs Schlereth with a homer; Granderson 0 for 2 with 2 walks. Coke allowed homers to lefties Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez in game 5 of the 2009 World Series while pitching for the Yankees so he’s not exactly frightening to good-hitting lefties. But the Tigers won’t have a choice. The best case for the Tigers is to not get it to that point.

Two veterans—Ordonez and Posada—with excellent careers behind them and the windows closing on those careers will see important at bats in big situations.

The Tigers will win 2 of the first 3 games.

The Yankees will batter Porcello in game 4; this series will come down to a game 5 in Yankee Stadium with Verlander standing between the Yankees and the ALCS.

And he’s going to slam the door in their faces.

The Tigers and Verlander are taking them out.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FIVE.

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