Justin Verlander and CJ Wilson match up in Saturday’s ALCS opener.
Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise. With neither the New York Yankees nor Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will have little to talk about.
Nah, who am I kidding? Having no knowledge of their subjects has never stopped the FOX duo before, and they can always point out their network's sitcom series stars in the stands or drone on and on and on about the teams that are not playing as opposed to the teams that are. It's worked for FOX baseball broadcasts before.
My soapbox put away for now, let's discuss the teams that are in the 2011 ALCS and specifically Game 1 on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET). The Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers might not have the same Madison Avenue appeal as other clubs, but don't mistake either as being unworthy of battling for the American League pennant.
Detroit knocked out the mighty Yankees in the Bronx Thursday night to win Game 5 of their ALDS. The Tigers finished fourth in the AL in scoring (4.86 RPG) during the regular season despite manager Jim Leyland's lineup not being overly powerful (169 HR, 7th) or fast (49 SB, 14th).
Leyland's pitching staff also didn't knock the socks off stat geeks in 2011. Detroit hurlers were seventh in ERA (4.04), eighth in WHIP (1.31), eighth in strikeouts (1,115) and fifth in homers allowed (149).
The Tigers did have one very, very good pitcher, however, and Justin Verlander will start against the Rangers on Saturday. MLB odds opened with the Detroit ace a small favorite in the 110-120 range.
Verlander claimed the pitching Triple Crown in the AL with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, and there's really no reason for him not be the unanimous selection for Cy Young honors. He added another win in Game 3 of the ALDS vs. New York, working eight innings and striking out 11 two days after starting the rain-interrupted Game 1.
The fireballer has held the Rangers in check the past few seasons, Detroit winning three of his five assignments vs. Texas with Verlander sporting a 2.25 ERA over 36 innings. One of the five losses on his scorecard this season was to the Rangers in Detroit, but it was hardly Verlander's fault. The April 11 outing was one of his four complete games in 2011, Verlander allowing just a pair of runs in the Tigers' 2-0 loss on a -135 line.
Texas coasted to a second-straight AL West crown and a second consecutive appearance in the ALCS behind a very balanced effort. Ron Washington's lineup ranked third in scoring (5.28 RPG) in the AL, second in homers (210), fourth in steals (143) and second in OPS (.800). And though you won't find a household name on the pitching staff, Rangers arms ranked in the AL's top 5 in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, and posted those stats working their home games in a far less pitcher-friendly park than Detroit.
CJ Wilson has become the No. 1 hurler in Texas' ace-less rotation, and will begin a Rangers playoff series for the third time in the past two Octobers. The southpaw has had plenty of rest, last pitching more than a week ago in Game 1 of the ALDS vs. Tampa Bay. That start no doubt left a sour taste in Wilson's mouth – 5 IP, 8 R, 3 HR – and he should be itching to get to the hill Saturday in front of the home fans.
It will be just the third lifetime start against the Tigers for the converted reliever. Wilson's lone outing vs. their lineup this campaign came in Detroit on April 12 with the lefty not figuring into the decision of Texas' 5-4 loss. Wilson and the Rangers were laying -135 in the contest, and his linescore included 6 2/3-innings pitched with the Tigers scoring four times on seven hits.
Saturday's total is 7½, well below the closing numbers of the three games between the two clubs played in Texas during the regular season that ranged from 9-10. Two of those three did finish 'over' the number, and all three finished above 7½. But then, Verlander and Wilson didn't pitch in that series.
The weather forecast for Saturday in the Arlington area isn't all that great. There's a 30 percent chance of isolated storms during the day, and those chances increase after nightfall. Expect a muggy 83ºF at first pitch with SSE winds in the 12-15 mph range. Don't expect those winds in from right-center to necessarily knock down fly balls.