American League Championship Series
10/8/11: Game 1 – Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers
Justin Verlander vs. C.J. Wilson
Fox is a much more enjoyable viewing experience than TBS. It helps that the Yankees and Phillies have been eliminated from the postseason. It probably helps, too, that Terry Francona is doing the color commentary for the games. If there’s one guy who won’t be talking about how great the Yankees are, it’s Terry Francona. Likewise, if you love him or hate him, A.J. Pierzynski is probably the “best” announcing help that the Tigers could ask for. Pierzynski was really sticking up for his AL Central rivals during the pregame show, even predicting that they’ll win in six. Well, they’ll have to get four of the next five if they’re going to accomplish that feat. (Note: It was also awesome that Chris Rose was just ripping on Pierzynski like nobody’s business. That alone was worth watching the pregame show.)
1. Pitching Recap—Tigers
Justin Verlander never needs to come out and make a statement early, like some pitchers do. The mere fact that he’s in the game is statement enough, and other teams know it. What must happen then, is for his opponent to come out and make a statement early. And the Rangers certainly did that. Verlander gave up two walks while trying to find his command and get some calls on the outer part of the plate. He managed to get through the first inning, though. The second inning was a different story, as the Rangers found their groove and came up with three hits and two runs against the AL Triple Crown winner.
After the second rain delay in the fifth inning, it was Rick Porcello, and not the long-relief pitcher, Brad Penny, that took over for Verlander. Porcello picked up where Verlander failed to leave off, giving two clean innings of work out of the bullpen, and hoping the Tigers could put up the runs to get back into the game. Phil Coke came in next, hoping to keep the Rangers at bay so the Tigers could put up that last run and at least tie the game. After getting one out, and giving up a hit, though, Coke was done for the night. Ryan Perry came in to clean up the seventh, and pitched again in the eighth. He threw a very good outing, not allowing any more hits by what ended up being a very lethal Rangers lineup tonight. Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn’t get the last two runs they needed in order to win the game.
a. Pitcher Final Lines—Tigers
Verlander—4 IP; 5 H; 3 ER; 5 K; 2 BB
Porcello—2 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB
Coke—1/3 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 0 BB
Perry—1 2/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB
b. Pitching Final Thoughts—Tigers
Justin Verlander was fairly sharp tonight. Yes, he gave up a couple of walks early, but he still struck out five, and probably could have gone more than four innings, if not for the rain. Unfortunately, the Rangers really had his number. By about the fourth inning, Verlander was getting extremely frustrated by not getting that outside part of the plate as part of the strike zone. When it comes down to it, though, J.V. was not as sharp tonight as he could have been. Plus, most of the Rangers’ lineup does hit him. So it was no shock that in the second inning Napoli, Murphy, and Kinsler all put up hits against him. Leyland said that Verlander will only get two starts in this series (Game 1 and Game 5), but I’d say that’s questionable now. Not that he won’t get the starts, but it seems entirely possible that he’ll start Game 4 now, given Porcello’s appearance in Game 1. Overall, it was not a good performance by Verlander (that makes two pretty lackluster performances in the postseason now), and Texas was ready to defend their American League title by jumping all over him. It’s sort of interesting that in both of the first games of the postseason thus far, Verlander has been rained out.
Rick Porcello—amazing job in relief tonight. There’s nothing better for a starting pitcher appearing in relief than to put a bunch of zeroes for your team. As I said with Scherzer in Game 5 of the ALDS, being a starter and being a reliever are two different beasts that require their own separate mindsets. If you’ve spent your career locked into one or the other, there is obviously an adjustment period if you’re suddenly thrust into the other role. So for Rick to show up in a big way like that was just spectacular. This does raise a few interesting questions though. First, what does this mean for his next start? Was he moved to the Game 4 start because they wanted him in relief tonight, so he’ll go on short rest? Or will he even be available now to pitch Game 4, or will he be pushed back to Game 5 or Game 6, should it get that far? Part of that is also what to do with Verlander now? Leyland said that Verlander would not pitch Games 1, 4, and 7, but given the fact that his start was rained out (again) and Porcello threw two innings of relief work, perhaps there will be some thought about pitching Verlander in Game 4 at Comerica Park. It’ll be something worth paying attention to, come Wednesday night.
Phil Coke was either only in the game as a situational pitcher tonight, or Leyland has lost some faith in him after the Game 4 outing. Phil has been so good out of the bullpen this season (again), so it’s hard to believe that he’d have lost the confidence of his manager after only one outing. Even Verlander hasn’t been all that great during the postseason, but you still see him getting put out there to pitch every four(ish) days. So it’s more likely that Phil was only in to get a couple of outs, but only succeeded in getting one of those outs. It wasn’t a bad outing by Phil, just too short to really show anyone whether or not he bounced back from that outing against the Yankees.
Ryan Perry has been pretty solid out of the bullpen. Granted, his appearance at the end of the 10-1 defeat at the hands of the Yankees in Game 4 was merely necessary to stop the bleeding. But given that this game was a close 3-2 contest all the way to the end, it was up to each and every pitcher on both sides to keep things close and not let either offense pull away. Ryan Perry did a great job of that, pitching 1 2/3 clean innings tonight. That’s the kind of work you need from your bullpen. It’s just a shame that no runs could have been put up to reward that effort and get the Tigers a win in Game 1. Overall, it certainly wasn’t a poor pitching performance by the Tigers. Verlander wasn’t as crisp as he needed to be, but all the big bats in the Texas lineup came in with hits against him. So it was just as likely that he got hit around a little bit as not. The bullpen was fantastic, though, and they deserved to be rewarded for that tonight. But, it just wasn’t meant to happen.
2. Pitching Recap—Rangers
As I said a couple days ago, C.J. Wilson had a pretty great season in his own right. He had 16 wins, more than 200 strikeouts, and an ERA under 3.00. Those are fantastic numbers for a pitcher in any given season. Unfortunately, you’re going to always be overshadowed by a guy with 24 wins who took home the Triple Crown, and likely the Cy Young (and even potentially the MVP). Tonight, however, was to be C.J. Wilson’s night. After some trouble with singles in the first and second innings, Wilson settled in. Thanks to a couple of double plays, the Tigers were kept off the board through the first four innings, and Wilson easily outpitched Justin Verlander. The fifth inning, however, brought rain delays and a little more pop for the Tiger bats, as a lead off double and a one-out double scored the Tigers’ first run. A wild pitch later in the inning would plate the second run, and the out obtained after the wild pitch would be the end of the night for Wilson. An intentional walk to load up the bases was met with a second rain delay, ending the night of both starters.
Gonzalez came in to relieve Wilson after the rain delay and finished off the fifth inning with no more damage. Alexi Ogando started the sixth inning in relief of Gonzalez. Ogando spent the season in the Rangers’ rotation, and had the Tigers’ number all season long. That just kept going tonight, as he matched Rick Porcello’s relief appearance with two scoreless innings of his own (with the only blemish being a walk). Oliver and Adams followed up Ogando’s outing with a clean eighth inning before turning the ball over to the dangerous closer, Neftali Feliz. Feliz gave up a hit and struck out the side in the ninth to close out the Tigers’ hope, and bring Texas a Game 1 win.
a. Pitcher Final Lines—Rangers
Wilson—4 2/3 IP; 6 H; 2 ER; 6 K; 5 BB
Gonzalez—1/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 0 BB
Ogando—2 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 3 K; 1 BB
Oliver—2/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB
Adams—1/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB
Feliz—1 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 3 K; 0 BB
b. Pitching Final Thoughts—Rangers
We knew going in that this game had the makings of a pitching duel between Verlander and Wilson. Verlander played the Rangers a little better than Wilson played the Tigers this season, but it was Wilson that came out the winner of this duel. Wilson was far from sharp, giving up five walks, two of which loaded the bases before the second rain delay. He was one bad pitch away from totally blowing the game. But he didn’t get that chance. When he did pitch, however, he was pretty great. The Tigers put up six hits on him, but they couldn’t do anything with it until the fifth inning. Wilson even struck out the side in the fourth inning, giving the Tigers absolutely nothing to work with. That’s not how you win games. So kudos to Wilson for keeping the hitters down, getting out of some jams, and beating Justin Verlander in a pitching duel.
Alexi Ogando has been the biggest pain for the Tigers all season long. The Tigers played nine games against the Rangers in the regular season (not 10, as I for some reason thought when I was looking back through the schedule the other day), and only lost three of them. Those three losses, however, were all to Alexi Ogando. He has just destroyed this offense during the regular season, and he did it again tonight with two scoreless innings of work. He didn’t even give them a chance. That does not bode well for the remainder of the ALCS, because with Ogando pitching out of the pen instead of in the rotation, there’s always a possibility that the Tigers will see him in three of the first four games. Considering how well he does against them, the Tigers will need to get to the starters early in these coming games if they want to avoid being owned by the bullpen.
Neftali Feliz is only in his second full season in the major leagues, and he’s already defining himself as one of the best closers in the game. His pitching is wicked. While he’s certainly not infallible, he’s pretty darn close. Like I said a couple days ago, if his “sophomore slump” is only converting 32 of 38 save opportunities, then he’s is just going to be so dangerous for years to come. Hell, he struck out the side in the ninth in this game, putting that final nail in the coffin that was the Tigers’ lackluster evening and adding yet another save to his growing postseason number.
The Rangers have a great pitching staff, and that’s part of the reason why they’re the defending AL Champs, and looking for a second straight title. They completely outplayed the Tigers, and earned the win for their team.
3. Hitting Recap—Tigers
Both teams did a good job hitting in this game. It was just a matter of how many hits could be converted into runs. The Tigers came out of the gate tonight with back-to-back singles by Raburn and Cabrera in the first, followed by a walk to Victor Martinez to load the bases. Unfortunately, Magglio Ordonez bounced into a double play that ended the threat. The Tigers came right back in the second inning, though, with back-to-back singles by Peralta and Santiago. But nothing came of those either. The Tigers didn’t get on the board until the fifth inning, when Wilson gave up a double to Santiago and an RBI double to Austin Jackson. Walks to Raburn and Cabrera loaded the bases, allowing Jackson to score from third on a wild pitch. A walk to Ordonez would reload the bases, but the rain ended Wilson’s night from there.
After the delay, the Rangers’ bullpen came in and shut down the offense, not giving up another hit until the ninth inning on a Santiago bunt single. The Tigers would only scratch out two runs, even though they had seven hits, and those two runs would not be enough to win the game.
a. Hitting Final Thoughts—Tigers
Oh Delmon Young, you are going to be so missed. I knew that Raburn would be playing in this game, and I figured he’d bat second, but I did not think for a second that Young would be scratched entirely for this series. Although, it makes sense, because I guess if he were replaced in the middle of the ALCS due to injury, he would become ineligible for the World Series, even if he were healthy by then (assuming the Tigers get that far). So better to scratch him now than lose him for possibly two whole series.
There was no way that I could have foreseen Leyland slotting Cabrera in the three-spot, though. That just baffles me. Yes, the big bat in the lineup is usually third (so as to get more at bats, and potentially come into the game with men on base, as opposed to starting an inning with no one on), but Cabrera has held his clean up spot in the lineup for the last four years without even a second thought by anyone about moving him up. Why do that now? Even if Young isn’t going to play in the ALCS, and you need someone to bat third, there are other options. Ordonez has had something of a resurgence, and he could be slotted into that three-spot again. Ryan Raburn hits Wilson pretty well, so Santiago could easily set the table in front of him in the two-hole, giving Raburn the three spot. There were other options, so it was surprising to see Cabrera out of his normal spot. Whether that played a role in anything, or whether Cabrera is just struggling to find his groove still in this post season, he did not look comfortable batting tonight. Which is a shame, because considering the pitching the Rangers threw at the Tigers tonight, they’re going to need his bat to come alive in a hurry.
Alex Avila is still struggling, but it looked like he got some better swings off of Wilson tonight. He hit a long flyout to left-center field, but it was hit with authority. Maybe it’s something of a sign that his bat is at least getting warmed up and will be coming around sooner, rather than later.
The Tigers put up a fair amount of hits tonight, they just didn’t do anything with them. Wilson really kept the big hits at bay through four innings, and the bullpen did a stellar job from there. If the Tigers are going to take Game 2 and bring it back to Detroit, they need to really start knocking these starting pitchers around a little bit more.
4. Hitting Recap—Rangers
The Rangers put up their fair share of hits tonight, too. They really knocked around Verlander early. Walks to Kinsler and Young, along with an error in between, loaded the bases in the first inning before Verlander was able to get out of trouble. The second inning was even better for the Rangers, as they put up a single by Napoli, an RBI triple by Murphy, and an RBI single by Kinsler. The hit parade continued through the third and fourth, with a Beltre single and a Nelson Cruz solo home run. Verlander’s night was done after that. The Tigers’ bullpen did an admirable job shutting down the hits for the remainder of the game, with only a seventh inning single by Mitch Moreland. The Rangers didn’t outhit the Tigers, but they did more with their hits to come away with the 3-2 victory.
a. Hitting Final Thoughts—Rangers
The big bats in the Rangers’ lineup all came in with hits against Verlander. It was certainly unlikely that he would come out of the game unscathed, but no one could have expected this performance. The Rangers really came to play against the best pitcher in baseball (this season), and knocked Verlander around to the tune of five hits and three runs. Everyone chipped in to. It wasn’t just one home run or one guy with multiple hits. Six different Rangers had hits, and they made the most of it. Bravo to the Rangers for really doing the only thing they could do to win—get to Verlander as early as possible. If not for the rain, you have to imagine that Verlander would have settled in a bit more for a couple more innings. But the way the Rangers were owning him tonight, it may have just created an even messier final line for the Tigers’ ace. Excellent work by the Rangers in this game.
Ron Washington did indeed stay with the lineup he’s used all postseason long. He decided to go with the Murphy part of the Murphy/Gentry platoon tonight instead, which, as I said, meant Murphy batted eighth and Moreland was pushed to the nine-spot. But it was otherwise the exact same lineup. And it worked, yet again, giving the Rangers the early lead in the ALCS. An excellent job by the Rangers tonight. If there was such a thing as a “sure win” for the Tigers, a Verlander start would have been it. That’s one start down, and one loss for Detroit.
5. Fielding Recap
The Tigers were the fielding disappointment tonight. The Rangers played the way a baseball team should play, and even better by turning two double plays behind C.J. Wilson. The Tigers set the tone in the first inning with a very uncharacteristic error by Austin Jackson that loaded the bases. Fortunately, Verlander was able to get out of that jam. But when Jackson misses an easy fly ball like that, you know it’s going to be a long night for that team. There were no spectacular plays, and no further errors by either side, but that dropped ball set the tone: Almost, but not quite.
6. ALCS Game 1—Final Thoughts
The Tigers were outplayed by the Rangers, and the Rangers 100% deserved to win this game. Wilson and the Rangers’ bullpen were the better group tonight, and there wasn’t much that the Tigers could do about that. Verlander did not have the outing that Detroit has come to expect from him, and it’s a bit worrisome that this is now his second start in the postseason in which he’s been touched up for multiple earned runs. That puts a lot of pressure on Fister, Scherzer, and Porcello to come up big to get the Tigers to the World Series. On the other side, C.J. Wilson wasn’t perfect either, but he certainly bounced back from his ugly start in the ALDS against Tampa Bay. So neither ace was all that spectacular tonight. Still both did just enough to keep the game close. Texas just came out on top.
Time to move on to Game 2, and watch Max Scherzer and Derek Holland duke it out for the win.