Tigers vs. Profoundest Manifestation of Evil on Face of Earth. Let’s pretend I was a good contrarian writing for Slate. Unlike a Slate contrarian, I could actually marshall some evidence. The Yankees and Tigers were pretty much even; the Yankees’ better was only 2 games better, and their run differentials essentially even. Even once you get through with all the sabermetric wankery, the Yankees are only 4-5 wins better; essentially negligible in a 5-game series. And the sabermetric formulas that rate teams based on the most important playoff characteristics, as I recently mentioned, actually see the Tigers as favorites–not only do they have better front-line pitching, but they have the fireballers that win in the playoffs. The Yankees’ best pitcher, conversely, gets virtually no Ks, their #2 starter is still good but hittable and nursing injuries, and the discussion of their #3 starter’s injuries has obscured the fact that there’s scant evidence that he’s even an above-average pitcher anymore. And if he’s hurt, Jaret Wright might get a start, although one thinks that Steinbrenner may be on the horn with Dave LaPoint just in case. And, yeah, the Tigers staggered into the playoffs, but in the context of baseball “momentum” is a Latin word meaning “bullshit.” Hell, the Tigers must be the best +270 bet in world history!!!!!
Yeah, I’ll take that bet:
- There’s the minor fact that the Yankees field better players than the Tigers at every position, with many edges massive. The records are misleading, of course, because the Yankees played most of the year without Sheffield, Matsui and Abreu. (Although at least the Phillies’ wild card drive fell short, thank God. At least their ownership can enjoy that new gross of ivory backscratchers, which is the important thing.) With those guys, their offense goes from outstanding to historic. A player likely to be one of the 5 greatest players in history will be hitting sixth for the Yankees. The new and not really improved Hal Morris will be hitting third for the Tigers. I could go on like this, but you get the idea.
- The Tigers’ edge in starting pitching is probably much less than it seems on paper. Their strikeout artists are young and have thrown truckloads of innings. Robertson, Game 1 and presumably Game 5 starter, has mediocre peripherals. And while finding an ace that they could keep was a major factor in their remarkable season, Kenny Rogers has a lifetime postseason ERA of 8.85. In fairness, that’s a little misleading; he hasn’t been that good. Johnson doesn’t have much left, but it’s not like he’ll have to be good or anything.
- Closers take on added importance in the postseason. The Yankees, as you know, have by far the best in the history of baseball. The Tigers have the poor man’s Bob Wickman.
Unless Rivera is hurt, the best that can be hoped for is that the Tigers at least wear out the Yankees’ decent but aging pitching and thin bullpen a little. YANKEES in 2. Oh, wait, there’s no mercy rule in the major league playoffs? YANKEES in 3.
A’s vs. Twins. There’s actually more difference between these teams on paper, although much of this difference is accounted for by a guy who won’t be pitching, and most of the rest is made up for by the fact that the A’s are getting back their best pitcher, who threw less than 50 innings. Still, the Twins have to be considered significant favorites (indeed, the playoff formula likes them more than any team in the playoffs, even without Lirano.) They can start the best pitcher in baseball twice (although the A’s definitely win every other matchup), and with Mauer and Morneau finally breaking out, their offense is better too. Ditto the bullpen, although both are very good. And to top it off, they have a huge home-field advantage and are getting the extra game.
The most important thing for me is that one of these teams wins quickly so they have some chance of beating the Evil Empire. But I’m not sure that will happen. And, on a hunch, I suspect that as revenge for Beane’s legitimately outstanding teams not advancing past the first round, his worst playoff team will squeak out an upset. A’s in 5.