It's no surprise that the New York Yankees are back in the postseason for the 16th time in the last 17 years. However, it is a surprise that the Yankees not only won their 12th American League East title in that span, but that they enter this year's playoffs with more wins than any team in the American League at 97.
Their quest for an unprecedented 28th World Series title begins on Friday when they open the best-of-five American League Division Series against the AL Central champion Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
New York, which lost in six games to the Texas Rangers in last year's ALCS, is of course led by its terrific lineup, but does have some major question marks surrounding its starting rotation behind staff ace and Game 1 starter CC Sabathia.
Sabathia fell a win short of becoming the first Yankees starter to post back-to-back 20-win seasons since Tommy John back in 1979-80, but ended the year 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA.
"When I'm right," Sabathia has said, "I can beat anybody."
Sabathia is no stranger to the Tigers, having faced them 32 times over the course of his career and posting a 15-12 mark to go along with a 4.54 ERA.
There are no questions however surrounding the Tigers' staff, which is led by AL CY Young favorite Justin Verlander, who is vying to become the league's first pitcher to take home MVP honors since Roger Clemens in 1986.
Verlander put forth one of the best years ever by a Tigers starter and won the league's pitching Triple Crown, going 24-5 with a 2.40 earned run average and 250 strikeouts.
"I understand the numbers, how they worked out and where they stand," Verlander said. "But at the same time, there's so much other stuff going on, there's not really a chance to sit back and let it soak in. Once the last pitch is thrown, hopefully after we have won a World Series, I can sit down, look back at it and enjoy it. For right now, I'm focused on Game 1."
Verlander finished the year strong, winning 12 straight starts before earning a no-decision in his final outing on Friday.
The hard-throwing righty, though, earned two no-decisions against the Yankees this season and is a mere 4-3 lifetime against them with a 3.97 ERA in 10 starts. The Yanks are also the only team that Verlander faced twice and did not beat.
"Hopefully it's a good one," Sabathia said. "We've faced off a lot, me playing in that [Central] division for a long time. He's had one of the best seasons for a pitcher ever, I think. And it's going to be tough. So we just have to wait and see what happens."
Thanks to Verlander's terrific season the Tigers won their first-ever American League Central title, while claiming their first division crown since winning the 1987 AL East. They ended the year 95-67 and are back in the postseason for the first time since winning the American League pennant back in Verlander's rookie season of 2006.
That remarkable run, of course, started with a four-game series win over the Yankees in the only other previous postseason matchup between the two.
The Tigers also took four of seven from the Yanks during this season after the two teams split the eight-game season series a year ago.