DETROIT: The Tigers' strength this season has been their rotation, especially young Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.63 ERA, a 100-mph fastball) and ol' standby Kenny Rogers (17-7, 3.79 with loads of lefty guile). But the Game 1 starter against the Yankees, partly out of necessity and partly out of the fact he matches up better against the lefty-laden Yankees' lineup, will be lefty Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84). He was handed the assignment when manager Jim Leyland had to use Rogers out of the bullpen in Sunday's season finale. The Tigers will use Jeremy Bonderman in the ALDS, too, though he blew a six-run lead Sunday and won't be available until later in the series. This looks like a tired, beat-up staff.
NEW YORK: Even after a good workout session Sunday, there's still some question about Randy Johnson's availability for the ALDS. The good news for the Yanks is that Johnson, struggling with a bad back, was no better than this team's third starter. The Yankees will call on Chien-Ming Wang (19-6, 3.63 ERA), a crafty right-hander, as their Game 1 starter, followed by postseason vet Mike Mussina (15-7, 3.51). If Johnson can't make Game 3, the Yankees probably will choose either Jaret Wright or midseason pickup Cory Lidle. With the Tigers' righty-dominated lineup, the Yanks won't be hurt by throwing righties anyway.
DETROIT:Joel Zumaya, a 21-year-old fastball fanatic, is the real deal, and he might have been better since the All-Star break than he was before it. He sets up steady Todd Jones, who won't blow a lot of people away, but he does get them out (37 saves). Fernando Rodney is another flamethrower, and the Tigers have a few lefties to choose from: Jamie Walker, Wilfredo Ledezma and rookie Andrew Miller. They'll all be needed against the New York lineup.
NEW YORK: He missed the first three weeks in September with a sore elbow, but the closer's closer, the postseason's best reliever ever, Mariano Rivera, seems fit and back to form. That spells trouble for the Tigers. Manager Joe Torre hasn't been shy about using Scott Proctor or lefties Ron Villone and Mike Myers, and Kyle Farnsworth is a setup guy who can throw heat. A potential problem: Torre uses his pen a lot, and he'll do it in the postseason, too.
DETROIT: With a lot of swinging (second in strikeouts) and not a lot of walking (only the Mariners walked less), the Tigers are a team that probably relies too much on the homer. To be at their best, the Tigers have to get leadoff man Curtis Granderson on, and he had a miserable second half doing that. That leaves it up to Placido Polanco and Ivan Rodriguez to set the table for Magglio Ordoņez, Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge.
NEW YORK: Where to start? The leadoff man, Johnny Damon, has scored more than 100 runs and has power, too (24 homers). Derek Jeter scored 100, drove in 100, hit .345 and might be the MVP. With DH Jason Giambi (37 homers), Alex Rodriguez (35 homers, 121 RBIs), Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano (.341), a lot would have to go wrong at one time for the Yankees not to score five or six runs a night.
DETROIT: It's been a difficult year for Carlos Guillen, who has 28 errors, the most by any shortstop in the league. The rest of the infield is passable. Third baseman Inge is a converted catcher. The outfield of Monroe, Granderson and Ordoņez isn't particularly rangy, but they're capable. The heart of the defense remains behind the plate with perennial Gold Glove winner Rodriguez.
NEW YORK: Jeter gets grief for his defense, but in the postseason, if you need someone diving into the stands or making a play, he's your man. We'll see how Sheffield adapts to going back to the infield; he's just begun to play first base. And we'll see if A-Rod's defense at third -- problematic at times this season -- is affected by any postseason jitters. The outfield (Matsui, Damon, Abreu) is fine, not great. If the Tigers could run, they'd run on catcher Jorge Posada.
Any team that faces the Yankees this postseason will have to tame a patient New York lineup that is capable of exploding at any time. That task seems particularly ill-suited for Detroit pitchers, who, despite some young fastballers, are not a good strikeout staff. The Detroit staff clearly regressed as the season wore on, and its leader, the veteran Rogers, is 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in five playoff starts. Yikes! With a hot streak from Ordoņez and the middle of the Detroit lineup, the Tigers can make a series of this. But it won't be much of one.