ALCS Game 3 Preview

NY YANKEES IN MUST-WIN SPOT TUESDAY VS. DETROIT TIGERS AND JUSTIN VERLANDER

What had been a frustrating postseason for the New York Yankees got even worse in Game One of the ALCS when Derek Jeter fractured his ankle. The Yanks and their slumping high-paid stars haven't scored since then...and enter tonight's Game Three in Detroit with their backs to the wall.

Let's quickly run through the distressing scoring totals for manager Joe Girardi and the Bronx Bombers:

7 runs in Game One at Baltimore (5 in the 9th!)
2 runs in Game Two at Baltimore
3 runs in Game Three vs. Baltimore (in a 12-inning game)
1 run in Game Four vs. Baltimore (in a 13-inning game)
3 runs in Game Five vs. Baltimore
4 runs in Game One vs. Detroit (all 4 in the 9th, in a 12-inning game)
0 runs in Game Two vs. Detroit

That's a total of 20 runs over seven games (only 13 the last six games), for a very poor 2.86 per-game average considering they were playing in hitter's parks and didn't run into any super scary pitchers. Oh, the Yanks played 10 extra innings in that sampling...which is the equivalent of an extra game! It's more like 20 runs over eight games for an even worse 2.5 average.

Let's note also that fully NINE of their 20 runs came in two ninth inning spurts when opposing ace relievers gagged under pressure! When not facing gagging ace relievers, the Yankees have scored 11 runs in their other 70 innings. You've been watching. You know it's been ugly.

Maybe horrific if the better word. Alex Rodriguez is getting most of the negative press because he's earning 27-million dollars to swing and miss over and over again. But, there are dead spots all over the roster right now...with multiple mega-millionaires flailing at the worst possible time.

AND NOW THEY HAVE TO FACE JUSTIN VERLANDER!

Things look bleak indeed for the Yanks...who must beat Verlander Tuesday Night to avoid falling behind 3-0 in the series...with the knowledge that he'll be back for a Game Seven even if they are able to rally and make it things competitive. The Tigers are prohibitive Vegas favorites to win the ALCS, and are now betting frontrunners to win the World Championship because odds favor Verlander being available early in the Fall Classic.

Is everyone penciling in the Tigers too quickly? Let's slow down a bit and run through the task at hand from a handicapping perspective. Here are the probable pitching matchups for Games 3-5 in Detroit (Game Five if necessary), with their regular season stats in key areas.

TUESDAY
Hughes: 16-13, 4.23 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.6 K-Rate
Verlander: 17-8, 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.0 K-Rate

Hughes pitched 6.2 strong innings vs. Baltimore in the last round. Though, the O's were swinging so aggressively that they made all Yankees pitchers look great. Verlander allowed only one run in 16 innings vs. Oakland in the last round with 22 strikeouts. Right now...Verlander is on the verge of being unhittable. Maybe he'll wake up on game day without his best stuff. But, if that doesn't happen, then it's hard to see anyone beating him. Hughes must go deep with a career performance to give the Yanks a chance to win this late against the bullpen. If there was ever a postseason game with no-hit or 20-strikeout potential...it's Verlander vs. this demoralized group of Yankee hitters. The temptation for so many to pencil in the Tigers for the World Series is arguably justified given his current form.

WEDNESDAY
Sabathia: 15-6, 3.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.9 K-Rate
Scherzer: 16-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 11.1 K-Rate

Sabathia pitched 17.2 innings vs. Baltimore allowing only 3 runs. He basically matched what Verlander did pitch-for-pitch in a Game Five "Carry the Team" superhero effort. It's a shame he didn't match up with Verlander in this series. It may be too late even if C.C. can keep it going. The Yanks have to be concerned with that monster K-Rate for Scherzer. He's not quite consistent enough to be an ace. But he allowed no earned runs in 5.1 innings vs. Oakland last week...with 8 strikeouts. He's better than what Baltimore was throwing at them in terms of dominating potential. Did we mention how bleak things were for the Yanks? They're striking out left and right and now must beat Verlander and Scherzer to get back in the series!

THURSDAY (if necessary)
Pettitte: 5-4, 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.2 K-Rate
Fister: 10-10, 3.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 7.6 K-Rate

This would be a rematch of Game One, which Detroit led 4-0 heading to the 9th inning before gagging under the spotlight. They did regain their balance in time to take care of business. Pettite has allowed five earned runs in 13.2 postseason innings, which isn't great by this year's playoff standards. Fister has only allowed two earned runs in 13.1 innings after rolling through the Yanks in the first meeting.

It's tempting to imagine a sweep for Detroit right now given the flow of the series. But, the Yanks only have to win once Tuesday or Wednesday to force this fifth game. Pettite's a nice veteran to have in a must-win spot. There is a chance for New York to take two of three and send things back to the Bronx. If the bats ever warm up...well, we've seen so many crazy things already in this 2012 postseason that you just can't assume anything is over until it's actually over. You're going to count out Yogi Berra's old team in an October like THIS?!

JIM HURLEY knows his clients want to win seven days a week. So, he's got the full handicapping team covering both the ALCS and NLCS from all directions. We'll preview the midweek set in St. Louis/San Francisco the next time we're together in the NOTEBOOK. If you want BIG, JUICY WINNERS in the baseball playoffs, link up online with NETWORK for our top daily plays! Make a few clicks and have your credit card handy. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Baseball can be added to any football package for a nominal charge. Don't forget that we have BONUS Tuesday Night college football this week as Louisiana-Lafayette visits North Texas in the Sun Belt on ESPN2.

Back with you tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK for notes on the NLCS. Then, it's back to big game previews throughout a HUGE weekend on the gridiron.

Thursday: Seattle at San Francisco in a critical NFC West showdown
Friday: Early notes on South Carolina/Florida in a battle of Top Ten teams
Saturday: Keys in Kansas State/West Virginia, as BCS Chaos continues
Sunday: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati from Football Night in America
Monday: Detroit at Chicago in still another big TV divisional showdown

Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY online so you know what's really happening in the world of sports. College football is really heating up...and there are so many surprises week-to-week in the NFL that it's impossible to say now how things are going to play out for many projected contenders. If you took a bath betting too many favorites last week...hook up with the man who's cleaning up! You're going to GET THE MONEY with legendary handicapper JIM HURLEY!

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