MLB Playoff Predictions: Breaking Down Texas Rangers vs. Detroit Tigers
It seems like only yesterday we sat on the edge of our seats with mouths open, palms sweaty and eyes wide as the Boston Red Sox were eliminated from playoff contention, and the Tampa Bay Rays proved to us that heroes can exist outside of comic books.
What's so wonderful about October baseball, though, is its ability to turn regular season heroes into mere mortals.
In October, Evan Longoria and Alex Rodriguez-type superstars have no edge over Brandon Inge and Adam Goldschmidt.
In October, cliche or not, anything can happen.
We're now eight days into baseball's final month, and the postseason landscape that was intact only a week ago has drastically changed.
The division series' have reached their conclusions, leaving only four clubs to compete for baseball's holy grail.
With each league's championship series set to get underway, here is a breakdown of the two juggernauts who will butt heads for the American League crown, with a prediction of the last man standing.
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The Rangers may have been the first team to solidify a spot in the league championship series but don't let the offensive clinic put on by Adrian Beltre in the final game of the series fool you. Texas is struggling a little more than they lead on.
During the regular season, the Rangers ranked among the top three in league batting average, runs scored and home runs.
In October, the .283 team batting average that lifted them to the top of the standings in the American League has shrunk to a worrisome .211.
What caused the 72-point drop?
While there are four players who got at least 10 at-bats in the series that are represented by batting averages below .150, the postseason plummet is due to team-wide shortcomings at the plate.
Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton, who hit .296 and .298 in the regular season, respectively, have been markedly less patient at the plate in the postseason. Their averages that were once on the cusp of .300 now sit together at .267.
The power production from Texas' two reliable sluggers has diminished as well. Aside from the three home runs Adrian Beltre tallied in the last game of the series, the duo haven't taken a ball out of the park in the postseason.
This being said, it isn't all dark and gloomy in Arlington.
Ian Kinsler, while still seemingly unable to boost his batting average to a respectable number greater than .260, has been a godsend for the Rangers all season.
Kinsler's career has been filled with trips to and from the disabled list. A healthy 2011 season proved just how much talent had been wasting away on the bench in each of those trips. Batting from the leadoff spot, Kinsler led the team in home runs with 32 and finished behind only Michael Young with 34 doubles on the year.
In four games in October, Kinsler has compiled four hits, three RBI and a home run, while maintaining a batting average only five points less than his .255 season average (you gotta give him points for consistency).
Perhaps the most valuable player in a Rangers uniform in the postseason thus far, though, is the hot hitting catcher Mike Napoli. In 15 at-bats in the ALDS, Napoli hit .357, while slugging .571 with a home run and four RBI.
The ALCS will not be as quick and easy as the Rangers made the ALDS seem, though.
Texas will look to receive some production from key players whose bats were absent in the opening series.
Elvis Andrus, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz will need to bring their batting averages up if they want to manufacture runs against tough Detroit pitching; as it stands, they are hitting .143, .133 and .067, respectively.
Verlander and Co. will surely carve up the Rangers lineup if these key regular season players don't start putting the ball in play.
Detroit comes into the ALCS with a lot of momentum on both sides of the ball.
After a tight five-game series that left the Yankees packing their suitcases, the Tigers will look to bring the same strategy to the ALCS that led them past the Bombers: hit, hit, hit.
Magglio Ordonez, Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge have led the way for the Tigers this postseason, and are all hitting above .400, while Don Kelly and Delmon Young are hitting at a .300-plus clip.
Detroit received a great deal of production from the guys you least expected it from, which will be the key for them to advance to the World Series.
With the five of them putting the ball in play like they have been, many didn't notice the shortcomings of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
Cabrera, the AL batting champion, is hitting a flat .200 in October, only 22 points below Martinez. If both bounce back to regular season form in the ALCS like expected, run production will certainly skyrocket for the Tigers.
Even though the two Tiger stars are underachieving with regards to batting average, their power dynamic hasn't gone anywhere. The two have combined for six RBI and two home runs in 33 at-bats in October, a number sure to improve with the deflated batting averages.
The biggest question marks in the Tigers lineup heading into the ALCS are over the heads of Alex Avila and Austin Jackson. These two were staples in the Tigers lineup throughout the regular season and they will need to start performing at the level Detroit was accustomed to soon or the Tigers will find themselves chasing a series lead rather than holding it.
The duo is hitting extremely poorly (.063 and .125, respectively), and while it's nice to see the little guys putting up big numbers, Texas has already shown what they think of Cinderella stories.
With the break before the start of the ALCS, expect Jackson and Avila to straighten out the kinks in their offense. If they can hit above .260 the rest of the way, they'll be more than the questionable Texas rotation can handle.
Advantage: Detroit Tigers
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What did we learn from the Rangers' pitching in the ALDS?
They can bring red hot momentum to a screaming halt.
Tampa Bay entered the series coming off of one of the biggest Septembers in recent memory, taking out arguably the most talented team in baseball along the way.
Texas must have missed the memo, because they took the Rays' momentum and shoved it down their throats with a one-way ticket back to Florida.
The veteran Colby Lewis was excellent in his start and if Texas is smart, he will take the mound in Game 1 against Detroit.
This has nothing to do with regular season ups, downs, or what have you and everything to do with the 1.50 ERA he posted in his first postseason start of 2011.
Keeping Rays batters to a minuscule .053 batting average is what makes Lewis deserving of the matchup with Verlander in Game 1.
The four starters who took the mound for Texas in the ALDS (Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, C.J. Wilson) struck out 23 batters in 23 innings.
As the last slide noted, Detroit's lineup will be hard to stop if they start producing from all spots in the batting order, and it will bode well for the Rangers starters to continue commanding the strike zone and approach the Tigers' bats aggressively.
The lone area for concern in Texas' rotation is the reliability of regular season ace C.J. Wilson. His ERA over 10 speaks volumes.
My proposal? Put Wilson on a timeout, and give the ball to Alexi Ogando.
But October baseball begs all of its participants to take risks, and this risk happens to have a very high upside.
Ogando didn't start a game in the ALDS, but in 2.2 innings of relief (he's still got it), he whiffed two batters, allowed a single hit and kept opposing batting averages and OBP to .111 while not surrendering a run.
Call me crazy, but I think Ogando tips the scale against the numbers of C.J. Wilson.
It is really interesting to look at the stats of Detroit's rotation through the first series of the postseason.
With the exception of Doug Fister, none of the Tigers' four starters let the opposition hit at a better clip than .227.
Here's the kicker, though.
With the exception of Max Scherzer, none of the Tigers' four starters posted an ERA under five.
Where is the inefficiency?
Walks, walks, walks.
On paper, the only reason for the close series with New York was their ability to draw walks, or the Tigers rotation's tendency to miss the strike zone.
Tiger starters walked 14 batters in the ALDS, almost double the amount of Texas starters.
It's difficult to assess where Detroit's starters can improve, though.
It seems silly to ask guys like Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, who combined for nine walks, to command the strike zone more efficiently because they also combined for 22 strikeouts—more than a strikeout per inning.
Hopefully for the Tigers, it was the patience of the Yankees batting order that caused the walks and not their inability to pound the strike zone.
This seems to be the case, as New York's lineup walked 21 times in the ALDS, compared to only 12 by Texas hitters.
Two very talented rotations will face off in this year's ALCS, but the edge will go to Detroit.
Justin Verlander just won't lose, and over everything else, I feel strongly that he will be the difference in a Tigers World Series appearance and an entrance into the offseason.
Advantage: Detroit Tigers
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Texas enjoyed some excellent performances by their bench players in the ALDS.
Craig Gentry was great for the Rangers in the regular season, providing a .271 batting average in 113 at-bats.
He took his bench duties to a new level against Tampa Bay in the ALDS, lighting up Rays pitchers for a .400 batting average and an astronomical .571 on base percentage in five at-bats.
Texas cannot hope for much more out of the center fielder in the upcoming series against Detroit.
The same can be said for left fielder David Murphy.
In one more at-bat, Murphy hit .333 against the Rays with a .429 OBP.
Texas has been blessed with this outfield duo, and they will certainly utilize them to the full extent in pinch-hit situations against Detroit.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, they don't have an edge in this category either.
In fact, they have a deficit.
While Texas has enjoyed the production from their two hot-hitting bench players, Detroit has enjoyed even better performances from two of the guys manning their bench.
The veteran Brandon Inge showed us all that he is good for more than defense in the twilight years of his career.
Seven at-bats for No. 15 yielded a .429 batting average with a .571 slugging percentage and three runs.
Combine this with his stellar defensive prowess and the Tigers have quite the versatile bench batter in the ol' timer.
Ryan Raburn joins Inge on the bench with a .400 batting average and OBP and an RBI in five at-bats.
Wilson Betemit was about as useless in the ALDS as you can get, failing to get a single hit in three at-bats.
The Tigers likely won't lose any sleep over it, though, as Inge and Raburn have provided all of the spark Detroit needs off the bench, and will look to terrorize Rangers pitchers in pinch situations.
Advantage: Detroit Tigers
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Equipped with one of the best eighth and ninth inning pitchers in baseball, Texas has dominating potential at the end of ballgames from the mound.
Although he kept opposing hitters to a .167 batting average, midseason acquisition Mike Adams has been shaky, at best, in his setup opportunities in the postseason thus far.
In two innings, Adams has walked three, allowed a home run and posted a 4.50 ERA.
He has not been credited with a loss, however, and has done the job setting up the ninth inning for Neftali Feliz, even if in a unconvincing manner.
Speaking of former Rookie of the Year closers, Feliz has not slumped as a sophomore. In his second postseason in as many years, he has been perfect in three save opportunities.
Keeping opponents to a .182 batting average, Feliz posted a 2.70 ERA in the ALDS, allowing only a single run in his three save opportunities.
Texas will rely very heavily on the performances of the late inning tandem in the coming series, as their other options are questionable at best.
Aside from Scott Feldman's scoreless three innings of work, Texas has not enjoyed very good performances from the rest of their bullpen.
Darren Oliver allowed opponents to hit an unacceptable .429 while posting a 6.75 ERA in one and one-third inning.
Mike Gonzalez hasn't been much better, allowing a .333 batting average to opponents in only two-thirds of an inning.
Texas starters will need to work deep into ballgames to limit the amount of relief pitchers Ron Washington has to call to the mound.
I'm going to start by saying I'm giving the edge to Texas on this one.
Sure, Jose Valverde is one of the best closers in the game today.
Sure, their starters have the ability to work into the sixth inning and Joaquin Benoit can lock down the eighth inning with the best of them.
I give Texas the edge because I believe Valverde's actions in the ALDS will come back to bite him where the sun don't shine.
But that's just me.
Let's get down to brass tacks.
Valverde converted on both of his save opportunities against New York, but he only just scraped by.
In three innings, he walked four batters, allowed two hits, two runs and posted a 6.00 ERA.
I'm not the most conservative individual on the planet, but I don't think you can perform a patented celebration after barely saving a game against a team you called out publicly.
Valverde isn't the only weak link in the Tigers bullpen, though.
Al Alburquerque has been dreadful this postseason.
The guy who went 6-1 with a 1.87 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 43.1 innings has been absent in the Detroit dugout this October.
His 81.00 ERA in one-third of an inning says enough, but just to rub it in a little more let's see what else he's done for the Tigers this offseason.
In his third of an inning, Alburquerque allowed two hits, a walk, a home run and three runs before being pulled.
I could discuss the other options for Detroit in relief situations but there really aren't any.
Not viable ones anyways.
Between Daniel Schlereth and his 10.80 ERA and Phil Coke and his 27.00 ERA, neither have shown that they deserve the ball in late game situations.
Advantage: Texas Rangers
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I'm going to stick with the Managers for this one because, let's face it, in the ALCS the manager is responsible for 100 percent of the decision making process.
Ron Washington is becoming synonymous with the Texas Rangers as his tenure there lengthens.
He's deserving of all of the credit he gets too.
In 2010, Wash led his Rangers to the World Series, where they lost to the mystical powers of the San Francisco Giants (okay, maybe it wasn't mystical powers, but with a batting lineup like that, you gotta think some voodoo or witchcraft was involved).
2010 also marked the team's first division title in 11 years.
He's 11-9 in the postseason, and after getting a taste of the World Series last year, there's no doubt he is hungry for redemption in 2011.
Washington is going to be on point for the remainder of the playoffs, and you can be certain he'll be thinking about the World Series every time he makes a call from the dugout.
The Rangers can't seem to catch a break in this series breakdown.
While Washington is a great manager, his accomplishments fall very short of those belonging to Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
He's a three-time Manager of the Year recipient, and has experienced his fair share of postseason appearances.
Leyland is 29-23 in the postseason for his career and is making the league championship series for the fourth time.
Like Washington, he has lost a World Series.
Unlike Washington, he has won one too.
Leyland's managerial acumen far outweighs that of Washington's, and you can bet he's seen just about everything in his 3,000 plus games; a benefit that will give him the edge in making the calls from his spot in the dugout.
Advantage: Detroit Tigers
Home Field Advantage
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Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is known for its small dimensions.
The fans know it, and the players know it.
Especially the Texas players.
The Rangers had five players with 25 or more home runs in 2011, and you can bet your bottom dollar that a great deal of these long balls came in Arlington.
Conversely, Detroit's lineup had only one player with over 25 home runs.
Detroit starters are going to have to be mindful of the strike zone when they play in Texas, being careful not to leave many pitches over the plate.
If they're careless with their pitches, or unable to command their pitches on a given night, expect the Rangers to capitalize on the opportunity.
They know how to hit in Arlington better than anyone else, and they'll make sure the Tigers know who's house they're playing in.
Detroit does not have the luxury of a small ballpark.
Comerica Park has one of the deepest center field walls in baseball, stretching out to 420 feet at the farthest part.
This should be beneficial for the Tigers, as they take away much of Texas' ability to hit home runs; the park is just too deep.
Depending on who is manning center field for Texas, Detroit may be able to exploit defensive inabilities by utilizing the depth and essentially putting the ball where the fielder isn't
They weren't able to do this against the Yankees, as Granderson knows his way around Comerica Park as well as anyone, but given that Josh Hamilton or whoever is playing center field didn't spend a large chunk of their career in Detroit, the Tigers may be able to use their big park to their advantage.
And then there are the fans...
The Tigers are a storied franchise in baseball.
They've boasted two of the best managers in the history of the game and had more than a fair helping of success.
Four World Series titles and 10 American League pennants far outnumber the zero World Series titles and ONE American League pennant for the Rangers.
With success comes popularity.
It was hard to tell which of the two stadiums was louder in the ALDS between Detroit and New York, which says a lot about the tenacity, energy, and intensity of the Detroit faithful.
While the Rangers may be able to put on a mini home run derby in their home park, the Tigers get the edge here for their fans and ability to use unfavorable park dimensions to their advantage.
Advantage: Detroit Tigers
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Both teams are extremely talented, but I just couldn't give the edge to Texas in good conscience.
Between the pitching, hitting, and fact that Detroit just beat the best team of the regular season, I am predicting an 11th American League pennant for the Tigers in 2011.
I was wrong in predicting the Yankees to take out the Tigers in five in the ALDS, and after the strength and composure they demonstrated through the end of the fifth game, I'll be damned if I make that mistake again.
Winner: Tigers in five