Rangers vs. Tigers: What Did We Learn from Game 4?

Daniel GrossmanContributor IIOctober 13, 2011

Rangers vs. Tigers: What Did We Learn from Game 4?

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    After another lengthy rain delay in the 2011 ALCS between the Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers, Game 4 is now in the books.

    The Rangers pulled off another extra-inning victory and now have a 3-1 series lead in the most exciting series of the postseason so far—not that FOX wants you to know this with their day games—after all, the X-Factor is some pretty important television.

    Every game of this series has been closely contested, filled with dramatic, edge-of-your-seat moments that have entertained baseball fans and general sports fans alike.

    Games 1 through 3 have revealed many interesting plot lines, and Game 4 left us with even more to be examined.

    So with this in mind, let's take a look at what we can take away from Game 4 of the ALCS.

What Godzilla Is to Japan, Nelson Cruz Is to Detroit

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    After his performances in Games 1 and 2 of the series, which included a walk-off grand slam in Game 2, many felt that Nelson Cruz was starting to shake off the dust and return to the dangerous form we recognize.

    They were correct.

    Cruz went only 1-for-4 from the plate, but that one hit definitely left a mark. His three-run homer in the top of the 11th—the same inning as his walk-off slam—helped solidify the Texas victory, but his most important contribution came in the bottom of the eighth when he threw out the not-so-fast Miguel Cabrera from the right field corner.

    Cruz sent an absolute bullet to catcher Mike Napoli, who applied the tag and held on to the ball to get the Rangers out of a serious jam.

    That was only Cruz's seventh assist all year, but that's because teams know "Don't run on Cruz."

    If Cruz keeps up this kind of play both in the field and at the dish, Texas has a serious shot to take the series in Game 5.

Jose Valverde Can Save Games, Not Preserve Them

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    Jose Valverde was 49-for-49 in saves during the regular season and was lights-out against the New York Yankees in the ALDS.

    But in the ALCS, it's been quite a different story. Game 2 saw him load the bases in the bottom of the ninth with nobody out, which he luckily got out of.

    Game 3 saw Valverde collect the save, which is par for the course.

    Game 4 showed us that he's a closer and only a closer. I'm not about to say that he's not a quality pitcher; his work speaks for itself.

    But when Valverde isn't in a save situation, he's not the same pitcher—and as we all saw, he is capable of giving up big hits at the worst time.

Mike Napoli Is a Top 5 Catcher in the MLB

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    If Cruz was the No. 1 player in Game 4, Mike Napoli was 1B.

    He went 2-for-5 with the game-winning RBI single in the top of the 11th, but much like Cruz, what he did in the field was the most crucial part of his performance.

    When Cruz threw home to nab Cabrera, Napoli had to stare down the 6'4", 240-pound first baseman and take the hit. He did a textbook job in doing so and casually showed the ball to the umpire, who made the easy out call.

    One thing Napoli did better than any other Rangers batter was make the pitchers work.

    He faced a total of 24 pitches and had an especially notable and important at-bat against Detroit reliever Joaquin Benoit that lasted nine pitches. And although Napoli eventually struck out, Benoit threw 34 pitches in his third consecutive appearance, which means, in all likelihood, he will not be available for Game 5 in case Justin Verlander cannot make it seven or eight innings.

    Mike Scioscia must be shaking his head every time he watches Napoli play. 

Miguel Cabrera Is Detroit's Last Hope

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    With Victor Martinez playing at 60 percent, Jhonny Peralta playing rocky at best and Alex Avila doing what he's doing (nothing), the weight of the series is sitting on the shoulders of the AL Batting Champion.

    But that's not a death sentence for the Tigers.

    Cabrera has the ability to turn an entire game around on a single swing and if his teammates can string together hits before the walks to the plate, he can easily collect four RBI in any given game.

    Ramon Santiago has been the best hitter outside of Cabrera, but he hits near the bottom of the order. Perhaps Detroit manager Jim Leyland should make some adjustments to work around Cabrera—if he doesn't, this series may not make it back to Arlington.

Josh Hamilton Acts Now and Asks Questions Later

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    You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn't say that Josh Hamilton is one of the most naturally gifted players in the league.

    So you would have to believe that he's a patient hitter who waits for his pitch.

    Well, you're wrong.

    In five at-bats, Hamilton saw a grand total of 10 pitches. The reigning AL MVP should know better than to do that.

    It's got to be frustrating for the players in the dugout to see their superstar (one of them, at least) be out of the batter's box just as quickly as he entered it.

    Now obviously Hamilton isn't going to be thrown a great pitch every at-bat, but swinging at the first pitch he thinks he can get lumber on isn't the best approach.

    If Hamilton takes more time at the plate, it would benefit the team greatly throughout the rest of the playoffs.

Rain Delays Suck

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    The Tigers have already had three games affected by rain, while the Rangers have had two.

    Do rain delays really affect the game once it gets underway? Maybe, but just the fact that day games (in the ALCS!?) are being pushed back to awkward 5:30 p.m. starts is annoying from a fan perspective.

Fool Me Once, Shame on Me. Fool Me Twice, Well, You Won't.

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    It's common knowledge that Texas has one of the most potent offenses in the game.

    They can bust out runs seemingly at will. Young Rick Porcello learned this the hard way in the top of the sixth.

    For what it's worth, Porcello pitched a heck of a game, especially when you consider he's all of 22 years old.

    Through the first five innings of the game, it looked as if Porcello was doing his Doug Fister impression, shutting down the Rangers' bats save for two David Murphy hits.

    But in the sixth, the Rangers had seen enough of Porcello that they began to take him apart. They pushed across three runs on four hits, taking a 3-2 lead in the process.

    This is how the Texas lineup works. Unless you're pitching at the top of your game, the Rangers will find a way to dissect you and put runs on the board.

    Justin Verlander certainly saw this in Game 1, so now the question is:

    What adjustments will he make before Game 5?

Alexi Ogando Is Human!

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    For the first time this postseason, Alexi Ogando gave up an earned run.

    Brandon Inge cranked an 0-2 fastball to left field to tie the game at three and—wait, Brandon Inge? The guy who spent considerable time down in AAA? The guy who hit three homers all year? Wow.

    But the bottom line is that if you make a mistake against a major league hitter, they'll make you pay. Ogando missed Napoli's target by about a foot and Inge took advantage, ending Ogando's scoreless streak.

    Note: I do like Brandon Inge as a player but you have to admit that he was not the guy you expected to homer in that situation.

Justin Verlander Is Going to Have to Be at His Best in Game 5

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    Game 5 will see Justin Verlander face off against C.J. Wilson in what could be the deciding game of the series.

    A game that could end Detroit's season.

    For that reason, Verlander will have to be nothing short of Cy Young himself to extend the series.

    The Rangers have shown that they can win by scoring only three or four runs a game. Their bullpen has been nothing short of amazing (except for Koji Uehara), enabling them to clamp down on their opponents.

    Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball and will have to remind all of us why in Game 5, or we won't see him until his near-sure Cy Young Award and possible AL MVP presentations after the postseason.

    In the rain delay-filled Game 1, Texas was able to make Verlander throw a lot of pitches (even though the umpire's strike zone was ridiculous). If they can do that again, it will be tough for him to stay in the game past the sixth inning.  

    That means the Tigers would have to go to a bullpen that doesn't have Benoit or Valverde available. I don't like those odds if I'm Detroit. 

    Also keep in mind that Verlander has yet to take down Texas this year; this will be the most pressure he's faced yet this season, maybe in his career. It will be interesting to see how he responds.

It's Not a Matter of If but When

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    Any level-headed baseball fan should be able to see the writing on the wall. Texas is the better team and will win this series.

    Last year, Texas was just happy to be in the World Series. This year, they're on a mission—and if they have a chance to put a stake in the Tigers, they won't hesitate.

    Even if the Tigers pull out Game 5, history tells us that a Detroit series win is incredibly unlikely. Add in the likelihood that Verlander won't be available for any games in Texas, and the chances of winning go down even further.

    But the Tigers are a grind 'em out type of team. They certainly won't make it easy on the Rangers, but it doesn't appear they have the tools to overtake Texas. The Tigers' injuries are mounting and their bullpen is tiring more and more every game.

    Texas is in the driver's seat—it's just a matter of when they want to put the pedal to the metal and drive off with their second consecutive AL Pennant.