Andrew Perna. 8th October, 2011 - 6:26 pm
After joining together to eliminate the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees of the American League East, the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers will engage in a central time zone battle with a trip to the World Series up for grabs.
Their regular season records were virtually identical (Texas won one more game), but the Rangers had the edge in surface statistics. They score more runs (5.3 per game to 4.9 for the Tigers) and had a lower staff ERA (3.79 to 4.04).
However, Detroit won six of the nine games the two teams played in 2011, including two of three in Arlington.
Both clubs have been successful in the ALCS recently, with Texas defeating New York last season and Detroit topping Oakland back in 2006.
The Tigers were also rewarded for their decision not to start Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees on Thursday night as he is lined up to start at least twice in the series.
For the second-straight series, the dangerous Tigers are second-best in terms of hitting. The Yankees were only slightly better during the regular season, but they proved to be streaky in October. The Rangers were a little better than the Yankees, and therefore the Tigers, over the course of the year and they have gotten contributions from unlikely sources.
Texas had an OPS of .800 (second only to Boston) and hit 210 home runs (second only to New York) and they scored 68 more runs than Detroit.
The Tigers are a very good offensive team, but they were a touch below their ALCS opponent. They had an OPS of .773 and 169 home runs.
As we saw in the Detroit-New York series, what you do in the regular season does not have much bearing on what occurs in the playoffs. New York scored 19 runs in their two wins, but just nine in their three losses.
The Rangers have the more dangerous and intimidating lineup with Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz, but the Tigers have received timely hitting from those around Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
While Texas has enjoyed The Year of Napoli, Detroit got three home runs from Delmon Young (a team-record) in the ALDS and they also received a timely homer from Don Kelly in the decisive Game 5. He has a total of 16 home runs in his Major League career.
A seven-game series favors the better team more so than the shorter divisional round, which gives the Rangers a bit of an edge.
On paper, the Rangers have the superior pitching staff. They have a lower ERA, more strikeouts, they rely less on their bullpen and allow fewer stolen bases.
What Texas does not have is a combination like Verlander and Jose Valverde.
Game 1 of the ALCS will feature the ace of each team (Verlander versus C.J. Wilson), which would have favored Detroit even if Wilson had not struggled in the series-opener against the Rays.
The left-hander allowed six earned runs in five innings, taking the loss in the only win for Tampa Bay of the series. One start does not mean much, though, especially since he allowed just five earned runs in six September appearances (37 1/3 innings) and won six of his last eight decisions.
After Wilson, the Rangers will trot out Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Hairston.
Holland did not face the Tigers this season, but Lewis and Hairston each took the mound twice against Detroit and struggled. They were a combined 0-3 with just 17 1/3 total innings and 20 earned runs allowed. Lewis was especially bad, surrendering five home runs to Detroit hitters.
Wilson was not exactly great either, getting a no-decision but allowing four runs and seven hits on 6 2/3 innings.
After Verlander, Jim Leyland will start Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello.
Scherzer, who was moved from Game 4 to Game 2, started three times against the Rangers. Fister and Porcello each won in their lone start. They both had very strong starts with Fister allowing just two runs in eight innings and Porcello tossing six innings of one-run ball. One start is not a good sample size, but it is a good confidence builder for the relatively young hurlers.
Scherzer could pitch again in a potential Game 6. He had a 4.76 ERA in his three starts and allowed nine total runs in 17 innings, five of which came in a five-inning appearance on June 6. The Tigers went on to win that game and were actually 3-0 against the Rangers in his three starts.
Texas can say they dealt Verlander one of his five losses, but he tossed a gem nonetheless. In his only start against the Rangers of 2011, he allowed two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out four in a complete game. The Tigers gave him no run support as they managed just four hits against Alexei Ogando, Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz.
The difference may come at the end of games where Feliz and Valverde will face off. The former blew six saves and had a 2.74 ERA in 62 1/3 innings, while the latter went 49-for-49 in save chances and had a 2.24 ERA in 72 1/3 innings.
Feliz earned three saves in the ALDS while allowing a single run and four base runners. Valverde may have danced on the mound at Yankee Stadium, but only one of his two saves came easily. He allowed six base runners in the series and allowed a pair of runs in a close 5-4 win in Game 3 over New York.
If anything, Valverde is accustomed to working in and out of trouble.
The series may not be sexy, but there are a number of interesting storylines in play.
The Rangers have the reigning AL MVP in Josh Hamilton, but the Tigers have the soon-to-be 2011 CY Young winner on the mound in Justin Verlander.
Will Jose Valverde blow his first save at a crucial moment, which supporting cast will deliver timelier hitting and can the Rangers advance to their second-straight World Series?
It will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but the Rangers will come out on top and face either the Milwaukee Brewers or St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.
Rangers in Six
Texas has been here before and Detroit is coming off a series that took a significant emotional toll. None of their three wins against the Yankees came without tension and their two losses were blowouts.
Not "wasting" Verlander in Game 5 helps their cause, but the Rangers will hit when the time calls for it.