Justin Verlander

ALCS Preview: Tigers vs. Rangers

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Tigers and Rangers have in store for us during the American League Championship Series.

The Teams

Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers

The Matchups

Game 1 Saturday in Texas: Justin Verlander vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2 Sunday in Texas: Max Scherzer vs. Derek Holland
Game 3 Tuesday in Detroit: Colby Lewis vs. Doug Fister
Game 4 Wednesday in Detroit: Matt Harrison vs. Rick Porcello
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Detroit: C.J. Wilson vs. Justin Verlander
Game 6 (if necessary) next Saturday in Texas: Max Scherzer vs. Derek Holland
Game 7 (if necessary) next Sunday in Texas: Doug Fister vs. Colby Lewis 

Analysis: While the suspended Game 1 made things interesting during the ALDS, Justin Verlander could pitch two or three times during the ALCS. As of now, he is lined up to start Game 1 and (if necessary) Game 5, but the Tigers could use him on short rest if they are down 2-1 or 3-0. Derek Holland will follow C.J. Wilson in the Rangers’ rotation, which may be a bit of a surprise after Colby Lewis tossed six innings of one-run ball against the Rays during the ALDS, but the latter enjoyed more success on the road (3.43 ERA, 3.70 xFIP) than at home (5.54 ERA, 4.58 xFIP) during the regular season. I feel a lot better about the Tigers’ rotation today than I did yesterday, when initially Rick Porcello was lined up to start two games during the series. However, Max Scherzer was cleared to start Game 2 after 32 pitches in relief during Game 5 of the ALDS on Thursday night.

The Storylines

– Don’t pay too much attention to the regular season numbers. The Tigers won the season series 6-3, outscoring the Rangers 45-37 in the process, but it doesn’t tell us much about what to expect during this series. After all, both rosters have evolved somewhat since the teams first met in April. We’ll probably hear these numbers mentioned while announcers try to kill time, but seriously, forget it.

– Which C.J. Wilson will show up in Game 1? The southpaw was hammered for six runs over five innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays, but if he bounce back to outduel Justin Verlander in the series opener, it will put a lot of pressure on the Tigers.

– Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre had some impressive power displays during the ALDS, but the Rangers need some of their other bats to step it up. While they led the majors with a .283 batting average and ranked second with an .800 OPS during the regular season, they batted just .211 with a .674 OPS during the first round of the playoffs. This included underwhelming performances from some prominent names, including Nelson Cruz (1-for-15), Michael Young (2-for-15), Elvis Andrus (2-for-14) and Mitch Moreland (1-for-10).

– Delmon Young, who went 6-for-19 with three home runs against the Yankees, suffered a mild left oblique strain in Game 5. The Tigers expect him to be OK, have left him off the ALCS roster, which means Ryan Raburn should get most of the playing time in left field. Considering the Rangers’ rotation is stacked with left handers, this might not be the worst thing in the world. Raburn has an .847 career OPS against left-handed pitching, including an .807 OPS this season. As a whole, the Tigers ranked fourth in the American League in OPS against southpaws during the regular season. Not necessarily a big drop-off there.

– The Rangers won’t face any left-handed starters during the series, so we’ll likely see David Murphy, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz in the outfield while Michael Young serves as the designated and Mitch Moreland plays first base. Mike Napoli is the hottest bat the Rangers have right now, so Yorvit Torrealba will continue to serve in a backup role.

– Is there reason for concern with Alex Avila? The young backstop is dealing with a minor knee injury and went just 1-for-16 (.063) with seven strikeouts during the ALDS.

– The Tigers’ bullpen stepped up in Game 5 against the Yankees, but they had an 8.25 ERA during the series. Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit are two solid late-game options, but beyond that, the Tigers are full of question marks. The Rangers’ bullpen had a 4.15 ERA over four games against the Rays, including some disappointing performances from midseason acquisitions Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, but they have the edge in depth and talent.

Prediction

This may sound like a cop-out answer, but I think you could make a case for either team during this series. The Rangers have the best offense on paper (though that may have something to do with their home ballpark) while the Tigers have the best pitcher in the series. I was beginning to lean Rangers yesterday after it looked like Rick Porcello would make two starts during the series, but the decision to use Max Scherzer in Game 2 has a chance to be a game-changer.

TIGERS WIN THE SERIES 4-3

Study: West teams at a disadvantage due to jet lag

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JULY 14:  A Delta airlines plane is seen as it comes in for a landing at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on July 14, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Delta Air Lines Inc. reported that their second quarter earnings rose a better-than-expected 4.1%, and also announced that they decided to reduce its United States to Britian capacity on its winter schedule because of foreign currency issues and the economic uncertainty from Brexit.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Every year, when the schedules are released, we often hear about the teams that have it worst. Almost always, those teams are West teams. According to MLB.com, teams in the West division of their respective leagues had the top eight most travel-heavy schedules in 2016. The full list:

Team League Division Miles
Mariners AL West 47,704
Angels AL West 44,945
Athletics AL West 42,119
Rangers AL West 41,128
Dodgers NL West 40,294
Giants NL West 39,341
Astros AL West 38,553
Padres NL West 37,363
Rays AL East 36,916
Red Sox AL East 36,896
D-Backs NL West 35,312
Yankees AL East 35,252
Marlins NL East 35,226
Rockies NL West 33,287
Blue Jays AL East 32,895
Orioles AL East 32,322
Braves NL East 29,236
Royals AL Central 29,077
Twins AL Central 28,948
Phillies NL East 28,351
Mets NL East 26,832
White Sox AL Central 26,538
Cardinals NL Central 26,451
Pirates NL Central 26,134
Brewers NL Central 25,620
Tigers AL Central 25,450
Indians AL Central 25,176
Reds NL Central 25,108
Nationals NL East 24,664
Cubs NL Central 24,271

The averages by division:

  • AL East: 34,856 miles
  • AL Central: 25,176
  • AL West: 42,890
  • NL East: 28,862
  • NL Central: 25,517
  • NL West: 37,119

The maps aren’t up for 2017 yet, but rest assured that West teams will once again have it worst. It’s easy to see why, taking a look at the map on MLB.com. If you draw a line to split Texas in half and go straight up through North Dakota, there are only eight teams to the left of that line, leaving the other 23 condensed on the right side. When West teams aren’t playing intra-division games, they are traveling. That’s often not the case for East and Central teams. The Phillies and Pirates, for example, don’t even have to leave the state to play each other.

As Gizmodo points out, a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a link between jet lag and performance. Sleep scientist Ravi Allada of Northwestern University analyzed 4,919 games, finding that teams that traveled East performed worse than those that traveled West. Allada and his colleagues adjusted for home field advantage and park effects.

Specifically, teams that traveled from the West to the East lost more often than East teams traveling West. They gave up more runs and scored less runs. They hit for a lower batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. They gave up more home runs, accounting for most of the decline in run prevention.

There was a peculiar finding. Allada found that jet lagged home teams performed worse than jet lagged visiting teams. He hypothesizes that “teams may be more cognizant of their schedules when traveling away, thus mitigating jet lag effects,” he told Gizmodo.

The Braves ask Cobb County for $14 million more

Suntrust Park
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The Braves’ new ballpark in Cobb County Georgia is the gift that keeps on taking.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Braves have asked Cobb County for $14 million for roads, walkways and other pedestrian improvements around the stadium the team has already paid for but which it says the county is responsible. The county says it’s not responsible for them and that it has already paid nearly $70 million for transportation improvements around the ballpark, including on privately-owned property in the mixed-use development.

The reason this isn’t settled: at the time the deal between the county and the team was struck, there was a provision for the county to pay for $14 million for certain improvements. The Braves, this past September, told the county that it wants to be reimbursed for these projects under that provision and that the $70 million the county has already spent shouldn’t count. For reasons, I guess. It’s a bit complicated, but the AJC story lays it out pretty well. The upshot seems to be “why didn’t the Braves say they wanted the county to pay for these things long ago?”

The answer to that question, I suspect, is “because the Braves have been treated as entitled corporate welfare recipients since this deal was announced and they have learned that they can get away with almost anything.”