The 2011 ALCS is set, and it begins on Saturday when the Detroit Tigers make the trip south to Arlington, Tex., to take on the Texas Rangers.
Since the Rangers wrapped up the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, the fans have taken to Twitter and other social media to give their predictions and who they wanted to face. Surprisingly, most wanted the Detroit Tigers.
Justin Verlander will get the start in game one, while the Texas Rangers will counter with their ace, C.J. Wilson. Most would say this match-up isn’t fair, especially after seeing the struggles Wilson went through in game one of the ALDS against the Rays.
While the pitching match-up may not be a fair fight, at least not on paper, the Tigers will face a very potent Rangers offense that can hit the long ball better than most teams in baseball. They aren’t the Yankees — they’re better.
So, with the first game of the American League Championship Series just over 24 hours away, we take a look at some of the things we will be watching for. Pitching match-ups, players to watch, the key player for each team and who will be heading into game two with a one-game lead.
The biggest question of all will be how the Rangers handle the Tigers ace, arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now. Handle him, and the momentum, and this series, could be squarely in the hands of the Texas Rangers.
Wilson has his biggest start of the year
If you don’t think the Texas Rangers are a little nervous about C.J. Wilson starting game one, especially after his lackluster start against Tampa Bay, you are sorely mistaken. Wilson has everyone on edge and most wondering which pitcher is going to show up on Saturday.
Will it be the guy who gave up six runs just over a week ago or will it be the guy who’s been every bit the ace the Rangers hoped he would be after Cliff Lee’s departure?
That’s the question a lot of people are going to be asking right up to first pitch on Saturday. In seven career appearances against Detroit, only one start, Wilson has a 5.56 ERA, giving up 10 runs over 11.1 innings pitched.
A game-one win would go a long way for the Rangers to make a return trip to the World Series. Sure, one win doesn’t get them there, but it’s a good start, especially against the great Justin Verlander.
What will Napoli do for an encore?
Mike Napoli has been nothing short of, well, ridiculous. This is a guy who single-handedly kept his team in the ALDS series against Tampa Bay. Without his clutch home runs, the radio stations around Dallas and Fort Worth might be talking about next season instead of the next series.
He’s struggled against Verlander through his career, only able to knock out three hits in 15 career at bats. The one guy he can’t wait to face, however, is former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brad Penny. In 11 career at-bats against him, Napoli has five hits, and three of them have left the park.
There’s no question he has been the key to this team getting to where they are at this point, at least during the playoffs. While he may not be the biggest key during the ALCS, the Rangers will absolutely need his bat to stay as hot as it’s been over the last few months of the season.
One player the Texas Rangers desperately need during this series is outfielder Nelson Cruz. He has been a no-show through the playoffs thus far and, luckily for Texas, other players have picked up the slack.
However, if they are going to do any damage at all to the Detroit Tigers, Cruz needs to become a bigger factor. Otherwise, their pitchers will elect not to pitch to guys like Josh Hamilton and Napoli in order to face a guy who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Cruz has just one hit in his first 11 at bats this postseason with five strikeouts. They can not afford for Cruz to stay cold, otherwise they could be in a world of hurt.
Will the real Lewis please stand up?
Coming in to the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, I wondered if Colby Lewis should even be on the playoff roster. He had been struggling down the stretch and there looked to be no end in sight.
He took the ball in a pivotal game three and promptly shut the Rays down, giving up just one run on a single hit. Now, it looked as if Lewis was regaining his playoff form from last season.
Now the question becomes, can he keep it up against Detroit, a team he has struggled against his entire career.
Through six career appearances (five starts), Lewis holds a 2-2 record and a whopping 7.48 ERA against the Tigers. Those numbers are enough to make you begin to wonder which pitcher will show up when he’s handed the ball. The one who’s struggled against them his entire career or the one who has been the post-season ace since last season.
When the answer to that question is realized, it will mean the difference in the Rangers going back to the World Series or ending another season in disappointing fashion.
Win game one … win the series?
Though there have been those who believe if the Rangers win game one of the ALCS they will eventually take the series. I’m not so sure about that.
This is a talented Detroit Tigers team with good pitching, good bullpen and a strong offense. One win against the best pitcher in baseball is one thing, but a win against a solid team that’s beaten you most of the regular season is quite another.
One win goes a long way. But I’m not ready to say it goes that far.