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

Michael Pineda hopes to reach 200-inning mark for first time

New York Yankees' Michael Pineda delivers a pitch during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger
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It was reported on Friday that Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka isn’t sure if he’ll be ready for Opening Day as he makes his way back from arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. His health will be crucial to the Yankees’ chances this season, but the same goes for rotation-mate Michael Pineda, who hopes that this is the year he’ll be able to take on the workload of a frontline starter.

Pineda was on pace for a career-high in innings last season, but he landed on the disabled list in late July with a right flexor forearm muscle strain and missed a month. He struggled upon his return and ended up with 160 2/3 innings, so he fell short of his career-high of 171 innings as a rookie with the Mariners way back in 2011. Now going into his age-27 season, Pineda told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com that his goal for 2016 is to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career.

“For me, this year, I’m coming here early to be strong and working hard to pitch 200 innings this year,” Pineda said at the club’s Minor League complex. “I want to throw 200 innings this year. This is my goal, and help my team.”

Pineda had a mediocre 4.37 ERA (90 ERA+) last season despite impressive peripherals with 8.7 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9. Among pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched, only Bartolo Colon of the Mets had a lower walk percentage. Pineda managed to increase his ground ball rate to 48.2 percent and also saw an uptick in velocity from 2014, so there’s reason to believe in improvement if he can stay healthy.

Brewers GM: Acquiring Jacob Nottingham doesn’t change Jonathan Lucroy’s status

Jonathan Lucroy
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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The Brewers acquired prospects Jake Nottingham and Bubba Derby from the Athletics on Friday in exchange for slugging outfielder Khris Davis. The hope is that Nottingham will develop into the Brewers’ catcher of the future, so you could say that the club is planning for life after Jonathan Lucroy. However, Brewers general manager David Stearns said today that the trade doesn’t change Lucroy’s immediate status.

The Brewers are in rebuild-mode and Lucroy is an excellent trade chip if healthy, as his contract includes a $5.25 million club option for 2017. It’s likely just a matter of time before he’s shipped elsewhere, but yesterday’s trade shouldn’t change the timeline for a potential deal. Nottingham doesn’t turn 21 until April and has yet to play in Double-A, so he’s still a ways off from the majors. The Brewers can afford to wait on the right offer for Lucroy, whether it’s in spring training or at the trade deadline or perhaps later.

Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Nottingham batted .316/.372/.505 with 17 home runs over 109 games last season between Class A and High-A. He was traded from the Astros to the Athletics as part of the Scott Kazmir deal last July. It’s worth noting that Stearns was the assistant GM for Houston when Nottingham was drafted in the sixth round back in 2013, so he’s clearly a fan.

Joe Panik says he’s “100 percent” recovered from back injury

San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik follows through on a single off Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Scott Oberg in the eighth inning of Game 1 of a baseball doubleheader Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Denver. The Giants won 10-8. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Giants second baseman Joe Panik missed nearly all of August and September last season due to a nagging back injury, but he told Alex Pavlovic of CSNBayArea.com on Friday that he’s feeling “100 percent.”

Panik, who earned his first All-Star selection last season, originally landed on the disabled list in early August due to what was described as lower back inflammation. He made his return in September, but appeared in just three games before being shut down. The good news is that he was cleared by doctors in mid-December and considers himself “back to normal.”

“It was right around the time of all the signings,” he said, smiling. “I was able to fly under the radar. I got tested and everything had healed up. I got cleared and was able to have my full offseason workouts. I’m good to go. I’m happy to be feeling good and going back out on the field to show that I’m healthy. My swing feels strong.”

Panik altered his offseason workout routine and plans to spend less time in his spikes in the early part of spring training. The hope is that these changes will prevent future issues.

After a strong showing as a rookie in 2014, the 25-year-old Panik proved to be one of the best second baseman in the majors last season by batting .312/.378/.455 with eight home runs and 37 RBI over 100 games while playing solid defense.

Baseball America names Corey Seager as baseball’s top prospect

Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager follows through a single that scored Austin Barnes, in front of Colorado Rockies' Wilin Rosario during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
AP Photo/Danny Moloshok
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Baseball America unveiled their top 100 prospect list Friday night during a special on MLB Network. It should come as no surprise that Dodgers infielder Corey Seager came in at No. 1.

This makes Seager the consensus top prospect in the game. He was also ranked first by MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN’s Keith Law. Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was ranked second on all four lists.

Baseball America has the most aggressive ranking of Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada from the Red Sox, who checked in at No. 3. He was followed by pitching prospects Lucas Giolito from the Nationals and Julio Urias from the Dodgers to round out the top five.

You can see Baseball America’s full top 100 list here.