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

Astros sign Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Carlos Beltran #36 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The Astros have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent DH/outfielder Carlos Beltran for a one-year, $16 million contract, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The deal includes a complete no-trade clause, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Beltran elected to return to the Astros after fielding offers from the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. He appeared in Houston during the second half of 2004, batting .258/.368/.559 with 23 home runs in 399 PA and making his first postseason run to the tune of a .435 average and eight homers as the Astros battled their way through to a seven-game loss in the Championship Series. Beltran also played with Houston manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora in separate stints with the Royals and Mets, which the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan cited as possible influences in the Astros’ decision to pursue the free agent.

In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers after getting dealt at the deadline for a package of right-handed pitching prospects. He was stationed in right field for the majority of his time in New York, but was almost exclusively utilized as a designated hitter over 52 games in Texas. Between the two clubs, he batted an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers and earned his ninth career All-Star designation to boot.

The veteran slugger is expected to fill a similar role on the Astros, who need a full-time DH but could use some additional support in the outfield corner. Olney envisions a lineup with Beltran in the five-spot, per an earlier report:

Rays and Braves reportedly interested in Welington Castillo

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Catcher Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks on Friday, making him one of 35 additional players to enter the free agent pool. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Castillo was drawing interest from the Rays, among a bevy of major league clubs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien added that the Braves have “some interest” as well.

The Rays’ trifecta of catchers — Curt Casali, Luke Maile, and Bobby Wilson — did little to inspire confidence behind the plate in 2016, and with top free agent Wilson Ramos sidelined after suffering a torn ACL in September, it makes sense that they’d explore more affordable options. Castillo profiled well at the plate during his first full season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs in 457 PA. Behind the dish, he placed third among all qualified major league catchers with seven DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), though his league-leading 10 passed balls weren’t anything to write home about.

Unlike the Rays, the Braves have a serviceable catching platoon in Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Beyond that, their catching depth is fairly shallow despite the recent addition of former Mariners’ outfield prospect Alex Jackson. Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley, has not played behind the plate since high school, though GM John Coppolella is reportedly interested in trying him there again. A.J. Pierzynski is also rumored to be seeking a deal elsewhere in free agency, which could open the door for a multi-year deal with Castillo.