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CC-Verlander, Part Deux: Previewing Yanks-Tigers Game 3

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With the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers currently all knotted up after two games, many in Detroit are calling this past weekend a success. Despite the rain and the pressure of potentially going down two-games-to-none, the Tigers pulled out yesterday's game by a score of 5-3 thanks to a dominant outing from Max Scherzer.

And with probable AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander on the mound tonight for the Tigers, there's confidence abound within Detroit's clubhouse right now. Just ask closer Jose Valverde- he told Enrique Rojas of ESPN last night, "I think the series will finish in our house. They have a good team, but the series is not (coming) back to New York."

At first glance, you have to admit that Valverde sounds a tad silly. Within a three-game series between these two teams, which is essentially what we're looking at now, the only thing that I feel comfortable guaranteeing is that somebody will win. Over the course of the season, they won nearly the same number of games. The Yankees crush the Tigers in run differential, but no team finished the season with more momentum than Detroit; the Tigers won 30 of their final 39 games to run away with the AL Central. And then there are the first two games of this series. In general, you'd be pressing to commit to saying that one team is better than the other right now.

Which is basically to say that neither team should be worried. The Tigers might have a little more momentum after last night, and certainly that's what Jose Valverde would like to tell you. But the Yankees have won a whole lot of games, and they haven't forgotten what it takes to do so. Detroit has a stunningly good ace, but so does New York. The Yankees boast a bunch of exceptional hitters, but the Tigers have quite the offensive core as well.

In the end, I come away from this entire thing thinking like Dennis Green: "They are who we thought they were."

We expected the Tigers and Yankees to have a hard-fought series, because that's most often what happens when two teams have such similar levels of talent. And through two games, we've really learned very little new information about how this series might play out. In the end, what we know is basically what we already knew: the Yankees probably have a bit more offense, but they should be seriously worried about Detroit's advantage in starting pitching.

In Game 1, we saw New York's offensive prowess take hold. They scored runs, they did the do. But in Game 2, we saw what Detroit's superior starting pitching could do; the Yankees might hold a small advantage when both teams trot out similar pitching, but Detroit will always hold the cards when it's Max Scherzer v. Freddy Garcia.

Which gets us all the way back to tonight. For tonight, these two teams are incredibly even. Verlander and Sabathia are so good that it's hard to differentiate which one might be better. This season it was Verlander, but from a true talent perspective you're talking about a very, very even match-up.

And frankly, this has me thinking that there's more pressure on New York than you'd think. Tonight's game is absolutely pivotal; if the Yankees lose tonight, they're banking on A.J. Burnett to put up a quality outing on the road. Ask any Yankee fan, or ask just about anybody; the sight of Burnett on the mound in a high-pressure situation on the road won't make anyone but Tigers fans feel good.

If the Yankees can win tonight, though, that will likely send a serious message to the Tigers. How many people in that organization honestly believe that they can win a series where the club loses both of Verlander's starts? If the Tigers lose tonight, they're depending on Rick Porcello and Doug Fister to win consecutive games.

Tonight's a game that everybody should be watching, beyond the fact that you'll be treated to some very good pitching. This game is likely to be a key turning point in the series; if the Tigers win tonight, don't be surprised if Valverde's guarantee proves to be awfully prophetic.