Yankees: This was no walk in Monument Park. The Yankees, who went 19-8 down the stretch, finished two games ahead of Baltimore for their 13th division crown in 17 years, earning home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. They then needed five games to eliminate the Orioles, hitting just .211 with 47 Ks in their series. Now they'll try to advance to the World Series against one of baseball's best staffs. ... The aging Yankees (95-67) looked old and tired at times throughout a mediocre second half. Rodriguez's hitting woes carried over into the postseason and he was pinch hit for twice and he didn't play in Game 5. ... Injuries took their toll, too. In addition to A-Rod and Mariano Rivera, Sabathia had two stints on the disabled list, Pettitte missed nearly three months with a broken ankle and speedy LF Brett Gardner (elbow) sat out almost the entire season. Teixeira (calf) was sidelined for all but one game between Aug. 28 and Sept. 30, so he and Rodriguez were in the lineup together only once during August and September. Teixeira returned in time for the Boston series and New York now has its thunder back in the middle of a powerful lineup. Cano ended the season on a torrid hitting streak and the Bronx Bombers led the majors with a club-record 245 home runs. They often struggled with runners in scoring position, though, and were criticized for being too reliant on the long ball. New York was 0-58 when trailing after eight innings before a big comeback in the penultimate game of the season. It was a lack of clutch hitting that cost the Yankees in their division series loss to Detroit last year. ... Jeter did an excellent job setting the table all season and Suzuki, also 38, provided strong defense and a much-needed stolen-base threat after he was obtained in late July. Seeking his first trip to the World Series, Suzuki even hit his way up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup against right-handers with a late surge. ... Many of the biggest hits all season came from the 40-year-old Ibanez. ... Sabathia didn't have his best season but was dominant against the Orioles in the first round. The rest of the rotation is a question mark. Back in the playoffs after a one-year retirement, Pettitte is baseball's career leader in postseason wins (19) and starts (43). Can he still be clutch at age 40 after only 12 regular-season outings? Kuroda was strong and dependable during his first year with New York, but he piled up plenty of innings and struggled in September before throwing well in the season finale. ... Even without Rivera, there are late-inning answers and effective specialists in the capable bullpen. Girardi added Eppley to the championship series roster and removed Eduardo Nunez. With Detroit using four righty starters, Nunez would have seen little playing time.
— Sit Rod. Rodriguez was benched for Game 5 in the division series after being pinch hit for in each of the previous two games. Will he become a distraction the more he sits? And he will. A-Rod was 2 for 16 with nine strikeouts against Baltimore, looking fooled by breaking pitches and hardly able to catch up to fastballs. The Tigers have four right-handers so he may be relegated to a pinch-hitter role.
— Missing Mo. This marks the Yankees' 17th playoff appearance in 18 years — but the first one during that stretch without Rivera in the bullpen. The career saves leader and postseason stalwart tore a knee ligament while shagging flies in early May. Soriano stepped in and did a fantastic job, but now the pressure on him intensifies. All it takes is one blown save in October, especially when you're replacing Mr. Automatic.
Grandy Can, Can He? Granderson homered in his last at-bat of the division series but was 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts before Game 5. Girardi has been batting his slugger eighth but he'll need to produce more like a middle of the order player for the Yankees to win.
— Starting Strong: Detroit's rotation went 2-1 with a 1.30 ERA in the division series, enabling the Tigers to advance despite a relatively quiet showing from Cabrera and Fielder. Detroit's pitchers can strike out a lot of hitters, which is important since the Tigers haven't been good defensively.
— Bullpen Blues?: Valverde and Benoit have been a lot shakier than they were a year ago, and that's a potential concern for the Tigers. Benoit allowed a big home run in Game 2 of the ALDS, and Valverde blew a lead in Detroit's Game 4 loss.