Series Preview – Texas Rangers vs. Detroit Tigers
After a rough start to the road trip in Chicago, the Tigers make it out of Kansas City with a series win, ending the trip with a 4-2 record, including a sweep of the Royals at home. (I was so very wrong about that series.) Justin Verlander was his incredible self in Game 1, out-pitching Danny Duffy and getting his first complete game win of the season. Drew Smyly proved that he does, in fact, belong in the major leagues, after a pitching duel with Bruce Chen ended with a Tigers win. Max Scherzer had a decent outing very similar to his game against the White Sox (but without the exorbitant amount of strikeouts). He’s not quite pitching up to his fullest potential just yet this season, but with two quality starts in a row, he’s certainly on his way to getting to his best midseason form.
The Tigers head back to Comerica Park, where we will get our first glimpse of the ALCS 2011 matchup in the 2012 season, as the Texas Rangers begin a four-game series in Detroit. Both pitching staffs will have their aces and top rookie pitchers showcased, and with both teams having such potent offenses, you’d better believe that we’re in for quite a treat over the next four days. Not to mention that the Rangers are on a mission right now, with a 10-2 record over their first twelve games. So let’s take a look at the alleged pitching matchups, and see what we can expect out of the weekend ahead.
Thursday – 4/19/12
Yu Darvish vs. Adam Wilk
Here’s the first interesting matchup. I wish it was Drew Smyly going against Darvish in this game, just so we can see the real rookies go head-to-head. (Wilk has already pitched two innings against Texas in his career.) Alas, such a pitching duel was not to be. It’ll still be great to see what Darvish can do. With all the money and bidding that was going on for him this past offseason, one can only hope that he’s going to pay off for Ron Washington and Nolan Ryan. What has been seen so far of Darvish is that he has pretty solid command, can easily pitch into the sixth inning, and gives up a lot of hits and walks. He’s given up four walks in each of his two starts, eight hits in the first one, and nine hits in the second. While five of those hits and walks turned into runs in Game 1, only one crossed the plate in Game 2. Either way, that’s a lot of hits and walks for only 5 2/3 innings worth of work. Yet he’s been able to work out of a lot of jams. I guess the point here is that Darvish is doing a good job, even if he’s not having very clean innings yet. The only hope for the Tigers would be for the big bats to figure him out early and teach him a lesson in managing the base paths.
Adam Wilk will still be starting in Doug Fister’s place. Wilk was knocked out of his first start after only five innings, when a foul ball from Prince Fielder whistled back into the dugout and hit him in the shoulder. At least it’s a better way to leave than after giving up seven earned runs. We still don’t know what to expect from Wilk. Yes, there are some Rangers who are hitting 1.000 against him. But they’ve also only had one at-bat. Wilk pitched very well in his five innings last weekend, but it’s still too early to know for sure what the kid’s got, or how he’ll pitch in a second start. Will he pitch like Smyly did two days ago? Or will he get jittery in front of the hometown crowd? Only time will tell.
Friday – 4/20/12
Matt Harrison vs. Rick Porcello
Harrison has not pitched well against Detroit in his career. In 31 innings of work, he has an ERA of almost seven. Which means that, despite his good start to this year, he’ll be looking at some serious trouble Friday night. Five players in the lineup (Jackson, Avila, Cabrera, Inge, and Raburn) are hitting .400 or better against Harrison. This is especially true of Raburn, who has a .667 average, two home runs, and seven RsBI. This game could be exactly the jumpstart Raburn needs for his current offensive woes. And these very good averages aren’t just using a small sample size of two or three at-bats. Most have 10-15 looks at Harrison. The players have to be licking their chops at a chance like this to pad their offensive stats a little for the foreseeable future.
Rick Porcello has had similar success against the Rangers, boasting a 6.30 ERA of his own against the team. But he’s only pitched 10 total innings (probably about two games worth) against the Rangers in the last three years. So his numbers are a little lopsided to be taken too seriously. Add in the fact that Porcello has already had two spectacular starts this year, and he could considerably reduce that ERA. Of course, the way that the Rangers’ offense has been clicking thus far this season, it’s almost guaranteed that Rick will give up some runs. He may not end up with a third spectacular start in as many games, but he should still pitch a pretty good game.
Saturday – 4/21/12
Neftali Feliz vs. Justin Verlander
Neftali Feliz spent the last two years in the Rangers’ bullpen as the closer. In 2010, Feliz won Rookie of the Year, after posting 40/43 in saves as a rookie. He just barely beat out Austin Jackson for that award in that particular season. Feliz has been lights out in the bullpen, and started the season in the rotation this year with eleven scoreless innings. It was always an option to convert him to the rotation, and it finally happened this season. So far, it’s paying dividends. On the other hand, he’s only pitched a total of 7 2/3 innings against the Tigers, and still has an ERA of almost five against them. He’s had some quick innings, but the question will be whether or not he can keep up his lights-out pitching against this team when he has to face each batter two and three times. Cabrera, Jackson, Inge, Laird, Young, and Peralta all have at least one hit in three at-bats. So with (most likely) three chances against him in a single game, the Tigers’ offense could stand a pretty good chance of driving in some runs.
Feliz got a pretty bad draw in Justin Verlander. Against the Rangers, Verlander is 6-2 with an ERA of 2.31. Plus, given what we’ve seen thus far from him this season, he’s not likely to start giving up heaps of runs to them now (no matter how good their offense is performing at the moment). A lot of the Rangers’ best players have had a fair amount of at-bats against Justin, too, and barely any of them are hitting over .200 against him. The Rangers better hope that they get a win or two in the first couple games, because the odds are in favor of the Tigers for this third game.
Sunday – 4/22/12
Colby Lewis vs. TBD
Colby Lewis (like the rest of the Rangers’ starting rotation) has started this season with wins and a very low ERA. But he’d better be on his “A” game on Sunday, because with a career ERA of 7.48 against the Tigers, he could stand to be thoroughly beat up by this Tigers’ offense. No one who is most likely to start against him is hitting less than .267. And only two are hitting below .300. This is as much as an issue now as it was in the ALCS. Like with Matt Harrison, Lewis may be pitching well, but a game against the Tigers could be the worst thing to happen to him this early in the season (when stats are still easily influenced). He has to make every pitch count, especially since his only support in Detroit will come from pitcher-friendly Comerica Park.
While it is unknown as of now whom Lewis will pitch against, it’s most likely going to be Drew Smyly. After pitching amazingly in his first two starts, Smyly will go searching for his first win of the season against the Rangers. Which is not an easy task at all. While the Rangers have never seen Smyly pitch live in his career, Kinsler, Young, Andrus, Cruz, Hamilton, and others are very good hitters, and could easily jump on the young pitcher. Not to mention that, given the way that the Rangers tend to piece together runs with doubles and singles, it requires a fair amount of confidence, poise, and experience to work out of those kind of two- or three-hit innings without giving up many (if any) runs. If Smyly is on tap to pitch in this game, he’s going to face a real challenge here, and needs to be up for it against this ridiculously good offense.
Series Final Picks
Game 1: Rangers
Game 2: Tigers
Game 3: Tigers
Game 4: Tigers
Final: Tigers win series 3-1
I think Yu Darvish has what it takes to beat Adam Wilk and confuse the Tigers’ offense long enough to get the Rangers a win in game one. But I think Matt Harrison will drop game two, and Verlander will just overwhelm the Rangers’ offense in game three. Game four is harder to predict. I’m not going to put all my money on Smyly just yet (despite how good he’s been in his first two starts), but I think the Tigers’ offense can out-hit the Rangers’ offense against Colby Lewis, giving the Tigers a series win at home this weekend.