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

Cincinnati Reds fire Bryan Price

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The Cincinnati Reds have fired manager Bryan Price. He’ll be replaced on an interim basis by bench coach Jim Riggleman. The team also fired pitching coach Mack Jenkins. The club also added Louisville manager Pat Kelly to the staff as the new bench coach and Double-A pitching coach Danny Darwin as the new big league pitching coach.

It was only a matter of time for Price, whose Reds have begun the season 3-15. This was Price’s fifth season at the helm and the Reds never won more than 76 games in any of his previous seasons, doing so in his first year, in 2014. They won 68 games in both 2016 and 2017 and 64 games in 2015. While that’s far more attributable to the Reds talent level than anything Price ever did or did not do, at some point the manager will take the fall for a team that makes no progress.

Price’s tenure will likely be considered largely forgettable in the view of history, but he did have a pretty memorable moment as Reds manager in April of 2015, when he went on a profanity-laced tirade at the media because they reported the availability or lack thereof of certain players for an upcoming game. Which is part of the media’s job, even if Price didn’t fully grok that at the time. The tirade itself was pretty epic, though, with then Cincinnati Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans reporting that “there were 77 uses of the “F” word or a variant and 11 uses of a vulgar term for feces (two bovine, one equine).” 

Taking over will be Jim Riggleman, who last managed in the big leagues with the Washington Nationals, resigning in June of 2011 because he was unhappy that he did not get a contract extension. It was a weird episode, the sort of which a lot of guys couldn’t have come back from, perhaps being considered quitters. Riggleman took a job managing the Reds’ Double-A team, however, then moved on to Triple-A and then the Reds’ big league coaching staff. There’s something to be said for persistence. And for being a big league lifer.

Anyway, Price’s exit is not likely to change the Reds’ course too much in 2018. But, as it is so often said in baseball, sometimes you gotta make a change all the same.