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

Video: Jake Arrieta hits a 465-foot home run off of Zack Greinke

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Jake Arrieta‘s bat is in midseason form already. The Cubs’ ace swatted a solo home run to center field off of Zack Greinke in Thursday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition game, his first homer of the spring.

The blast went 465 feet, according to MLB.com’s Daren Willman.

Arrieta has hit two home runs in each of the past two seasons. Madison Bumgarner (eight) and Noah Syndergaard (four) are the only other pitchers to match or exceed his output in that department.

Greinke, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back after a miserable 2016 season. He finished with an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA in 26 starts in his first year with the Diamondbacks.

Luis Valbuena to miss four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring

Kent Horner/Getty Images
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Angels first baseman Luis Valbuena will miss the next four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring, Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Valbuena, 31, signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels in January and was on track to get the lion’s share of the playing time at first base. While he’s out, however, C.J. Cron will handle first base on a regular basis. When Valbeuna returns, the two will likely form a platoon.

Last year with the Astros, Valbuena hit a solid .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances.