ALCS Preview: Rangers – Tigers
By: Mike Asti
After months and months of action, the American League final stage is set. I’m not surprised by the two combatants by any means, both teams are more than deserving, but the squad that will climb the latter and grab the pennant in this steel catch match of a series will not do so without a fight. The Rangers return to the ALCS for the second consecutive season, their first two such appearances in franchise history following a wire to wire division title and another playoff matchup with the Rays. Last year Cliff Lee put the powerful Texas bats on his back. This season Mr. Lee is no longer around, he’s too busy licking his wounds with the rest of the Phillies “dream team,” that hasn’t stopped the Rangers effort. Texas still brings a potent punch and can rack up a 4 run inning without even blinking. That pop, coupled with a balanced rotation and arguably the best closer going, gives Ranger fans a reason to dream of not only another pennant, maybe that first ring.
Detroit concluded a slug fest in the Bronx to reach their first ALCS since 2006. The AL Central champion Tigers know they have the talent, yet never make things easy on their biggest supporters. The major factor in Detroit’s favor, the stopper of all stoppers resides in the Motor City. Justin Verlander went from elite ace to potential legend this season. Opponents began just hoping for a moral victory by avoiding a no hitter. Verlander was not no hit dominant against the Yankees, he got the job done. Aside from their ace, the 5 game series with New York gave the younger Tiger throwers the experience that can only be learned by trial and error. Doug Fister entered every home in America with his care free demeanor and ability to do just enough. Fister has exemplified Detroit all year. They will bend but never break. Lead by a potential Hall of Fame manager (a HOF debate for another day) and a batting champion, the 2011 Tigers are primed to party like it’s 1984.
Offense – Split
I know splitting is kind of the bitch way out. I’m sorry, lucky for me I can make my own rules here. On one side you have Texas. The Rangers are a pitchers worst nightmare. From Ian Kinsler, to Josh Hamilton, to Michael Young, to Mike Napoli, all the way down to Nelson Cruz and David Murphy this team can flat out rake. Literally every man in the Ranger order goes to the plate fully prepared to make the pitcher sweat. Texas has some speed at the top, however, at the end of day is the typical AL offense. Luckily for Texas, sitting back and waiting for the three run homer is perfectly fine when you have a band box for a ball park and a derby fit lineup. Either that or just let one guy blast some solo shots. Adrien Beltre became only the 6th player ever to record a 3 home run post-season game (only the second since Reggie Jackson earned the Mr. October moniker).
The Tigers offense is nothing to sneeze at. Detroit owns a man with a .330 clip that finished 14 points off the batting crown for his own team, let alone the league. Victor Martinez’s arrival gave Miguel Cabrera the protection he never had before. The Tiger offense is far more than two deep. Jhonny Peralta jacked 20 bombs for the first time in years and Alex Avila emergence rounds things out perfectly. Austin Jackson and Delmon Young may vey well be the fastest guys on the field any given day and ensure there are always men aboard for the big poppers rocking the old English D. Don’t forget about Brandon Inge or the hero of the last championship series Detroit took part in, Magglio Ordonez. These two vets have dealt with numerous injuries and done nothing but continue to decline. The ability is not gone and I wouldn’t be shocked if one of, or both, turn back the clock when it all matters most.
Pitching – Rangers
If I wanted to be THAT guy, I could argue placing a split on the mound as well. The edge goes to Texas. This is widely, and semi unfairly, due to their playoff performance thus far. Now of course facing New York is a whole different animal than taking on Tampa. However, I have to go by what I’ve seen and what I know. Detroit is still relying heavily on one man to carry the load. JV might be up for the task but he has not exactly busted out unbeatable type outings. Fister, mentioned above, Mark Sherzer, and Rick Porcello just don’t bring the swag necessary to spark fear in a veteran well oiled machine like Texas.
CJ Wilson has matured into a premiere ace. His cocky mentality is contagious. Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Matt Harrison together are an underrated supporting cast. Verlander out ranks Wilson but the Texas final trio beats Detroit’s by TKO easily.
Bullpen – Rangers
Texas wins this one in a land slide. All I should have to say is the name Neftali Feliz. His 32 saves may have been a drop off from his rookie record 40, the only number that counts right now is 3. That’s 3 saves out of 3 chances so far in the 2011 playoffs. Feliz is crazy. I don’t want my closer sane. He has a cannon for an arm and blows away hitters with his fastball and off speed arsenal. The bridge to Feliz is built on rock solid ground. Alexi Ogando is one of the top set-up men in baseball. Mike Adams and Darren Oliver make it an up hill battle for any club planning a comeback.
Jose Verlarde has the skill set and resume to prove he can finish a big game. My only concern, does he have the mental strength? We all witnessed the look of complete relief and anxiety on the Dominican flame thrower, as he tossed the last pitch to seal up game 5 at Yankee Stadium. It wasn’t a guy celebrating a big win. It was more a man thinking to himself, “man I got away with one.” That image has to scare Tiger fans. Oh and despite two saves Verlarde is walking around with an even 6.00 post-season ERA. Joaquin Benoit is the 8th inning guy and the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reliever. One day Benoit’s looking like a future closer, the next he’s chucking kerosene on already burning fire. Win or lose Texas’ bullpen won’t blow it. There is always the chance Detroit’s may.
Defense – Tigers
In no way is this a knock on Texas. Michael Young can flash leather all over the diamond and the double play combo of Kinsler and Elvis Andrus is perhaps the best young pairing in all of MLB. Josh Hamilton has been known to appear on a web gem from time to time. With all that said, Detroit can make any ballpark seem small and I don’t just mean with their bats. Miguel Cabrera might be in Cooperstown one day for his hitting stroke but is no hazard on defense. Alex Avila is the Buster Posey of the American League, as a young all around asset behind the plate. Austin Jackson and Delmon Young won’t let anything by them and unlike Hamilton are less cautious diving head first for every fly ball.
The Pick – Tigers
I went with a Detroit pennant on my talk show (The Howitzer and Buzz-saw Show) so I can’t hoop off the wagon now. This Tigers team has that special “it” destiny feel to them. Texas had their time in 2010, this new year will not see history repeat itself. Leyland helps to carve his plaque by reaching his third career World Series, second in “The D” and Miguel Cabrera continues to etch his name in stone as well. The Detroit Tigers win the American League pennant in 6 games.