Regular season records: Detroit 95-67 (AL Central champs), New York 97-65 (AL East champs).
Down the stretch: The Tigers went 20-6 in September, the best record in baseball for the month. The Yankees went 16-12.
Rotation: Detroit — RHP Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA), RHP Doug Fister (11-13, 2.83), RHP Max Scherzer (15-9, 4.43) and RHP Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.75). New York — LHP CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00), RHP Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70), RHP Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62), RHP A.J. Burnett (11-11, 5.15).
Closers: Detroit — RHP Jose Valverde (2.24 ERA, 49 saves in 49 attempts). New York — RHP Mariano Rivera (1.91 ERA, 44 saves in 49 attempts).
Why the Tigers could win: For starters, they have the single most dominant starting pitcher in the game today, in Verlander, who conceivably could start twice in the five-game series. (Tigers Manager Jim Leyland, however, has said he would not use Verlander on short rest in Game 4.) This is a dangerous team that boasts the best record in baseball since the start of August (38-16), an offense that scored the fourth-most runs in the AL and a bullpen that blew the fewest saves (10) of any in the league.
Why the Yankees could win: The scary potency of this team has been obscured by their problems in the starting rotation. But consider this: The Yankees’ run differential this season of 210 ranks as the best in baseball since 2001 and the best for a Yankees team since their 1998 juggernaut. There is danger up and down their lineup, and the back end of their bullpen is as good as anyone’s, with David Robertson (4-0, 1.08 ERA) becoming Rivera’s best setup man since the days of Jeff Nelson.
Prediction: Tigers in five.
Regular season records: Tampa Bay 91-71 (AL wild card), Texas 96-66 (AL West champs).
Down the stretch: The Rays went 17-10 in September, making up a nine-game deficit to Boston in the wild-card race and clinching it on the final day. The Rangers went 19-6 in September, the second-best record in baseball for the month.
Rotation: Tampa Bay — LHP Matt Moore (1-0, 2.89), RHP James Shields (16-12, 2.82), LHP David Price (12-13, 3.49), RHP Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.95). Texas — LHP C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94), LHP Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95), LHP Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39), RHP Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40).
Closers: Tampa Bay — RHP Kyle Farnsworth (2.18 ERA, 25 saves in 31 attempts). Texas — RHP Neftali Feliz (2.74 ERA, 32 saves in 38 attempts).
Why the Rays can win: Forget about the fatigue factor. Although the Rays had to ride their pitchers hard just to sneak into the postseason, they have arguably the best pitching depth in the playoff field, and they also have a secret weapon in rookie Matt Moore, a lefty flamethrower who has been almost unhittable since his call-up. The Rays will deploy him as the Game 1 starter tonight. They don’t have much offense, but if you’re into karma, the Rays just might be your team.
Why the Rangers can win: The Rangers had the luxury of coasting into the playoffs and setting up their rotation the way they want it, which means the red-hot Wilson (1.21 ERA in September) is lined up to make two starts. The Rangers’ offense is as potent as any, and Ron Washington has so many big bats he can barely fit them all in his lineup. And after their trade-deadline moves, they have arguably the deepest bullpen in the playoff field.
Prediction: Rangers in four.