The Texas Rangers will be making their second trip to the ALCS in as many years. After never winning a playoff series before last season, they sure are getting a hang of this playoff thing. With the longest break out of any playoff team heading into the second round, the Rangers should be well rested and ready to defend their American League pennant. Much like the first round, the Rangers’ fate will be decided by their pitching.
Impending free agent C.J. Wilson is setting himself up for quite the pay day this off-season. After being out-dueled by Matt Moore in game one of the ALDS, Wilson will look to bounce back in order to give the Rangers a leg up in the ALCS. A strong performance also hopes to set the tone for Alexi Ogando who will follow suit in game two. Derek Holland has exhibited stretches of brilliance this season and he will need to at least keep game three competitive so that the bullpen can be readily available games four through seven, if neccesary. Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz are both work horses at the end of the game, but it is imperative that they are not overworked if the Rangers want to hold on to any chance of winning the World Series.
Luckily for Nolan Ryan’s club, they possess one of the deepest lineups, ever. Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli, and Mitch Moreland. This offense can hang ten on a good pitcher, let alone a mediocre arm.
While they can post gaudy statistics on offense, if their pitching falters the pressure mounts on the lineup. If they can’t handle the pressure in close games, they may not pull out victories. They do, however, possess so much offensive fire power, that it is impossible to count them out of every conceivable scenario they could find themselves in. Every opposing pitcher has to grind out each and every inning, because there are no breaks in the Rangers lineup. Every batter – yes even Torrealba and Gentry – represents another run. If you score ten, you have to assume Texas will hang 11 in zero time to take the lead.
While their pitching is seemingly thin, this may be the year for the Texas Rangers. Especially with home field advantage on their side.
Jim Leyland’s decision to hold Justin Verlander out of game five may pay immediate dividends as he should now be able to start game one against Wilson. With Fister getting the win in game five in New York, Rick Porcello or Max Scherzer will pitch game two. (By the way, in Spring Training for the Mariners this year, do you think Doug Fister thought to himself, “I’m going to pitch my ass off in New York in a deciding playoff game this October.” Yeah, me neither.) The way Leyland has been playing it, he will probably bring Fister in for game three so that he will be available for game six, if the series gets to that point. Since the trade, Fister has been as impressive as Verlander. And after the way he handled himself on the mound last night, there is no reason to not trust him in a pivotal game six in Texas.
Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde have been sharp all season for the Tigers at the back end of the bullpen. If they are given a lead, it is imperative that they are ready with their A game. While the Yankees have an impressive lineup, the Rangers are second to none when it comes to offensive fire power. Any squandered leads could not only be detrimental to a single game, but it could sway the momentum of the entire series.
No matter how effective the Tigers’ pitching is, they cannot win this series without a boost from their lineup. When Verlander takes the hill, in Arlington, Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez have to be ready to strike early on in the game. Not only do they need to knock out the Rangers best starter for their own immediate benefit, but the need to wear out the Rangers bullpen early in the series to gain a slight, late game advantage. The key to the Tigers’ success will be grinding out wins. Their offense needs to take advantage of mistake pitches and run the Rangers starters out of the game early. Austin Jackson needs to do his best Curtis Granderson impression this series to give the Tigers a little extra pop at the top of the lineup.
Is it impossible to imagine Miguel Cabrera beating up on mediocre pitching over a short series? Not at all. Can I picture Justin Verlander winning games one, four and seven to get the Tigers into the World Series? After the season he’s had, of course I can. Do I think that over the past three months, Doug Fister has established himself as a legitimate number two in a championship contending rotation? Given what I’ve seen, it’s hard to argue.
But something has to give, right? Tampa Bay seemed like a team of destiny after sneaking into the playoffs, and even held a 1-0 series lead against these very same Rangers. The next thing you know, their season is over and the silent assassin Rangers advanced. Now the Tigers take down the Big Bad Bronx Bombers. In New York. 3-2. With two outs. In the bottom of the ninth. And Alex Rodriguez at the plate. Verlander may very well win MVP and the Cy Young. Valverde has been the best closer in baseball this season from beginning to end. And Delmon Young and Fister were the best mid-season acquisitions in years. The Tigers have the support, but it remains to be seen if they have what it takes to take down the defending American League Champs.
At the end of the day, I think they do. I love what the Rangers have on offense. They must give most opposing starters nightmares. But not these guys. Not this year. Last season the Rangers had the terrible misfortune of running into the Giants pitching staff at the wrong time. This season may be a bit of deja vu for Nolan Ryan’s club. Justin Verlander has been impressive all year long. No lineup has proven to be too tall of a task. Ditto for Fister since his arrival in Detroit. Scherzer and Porcello, well, they’re toss-ups. If Verlander an Fister can win at least three games, the Tigers will find themselves representing the American League in the World Series for the first time since 2006 (when they lost to the Cardinals).
Prediction: Tigers in 7