By Evan Brunell
The Tigers and Rangers share one thing in common -- both teams have AL pennants to their name in recent seasons, but fell short in the World Series. Jim Leyland took Detroit to the World Series in 2006, his first season with the club, winning 95 after the Tigers registered five straight seasons of at least 90 losses, including 119 in 2003. It's taken them some time to return to the postseason, but they're here after downing the Yankees in five games. Detroit will be leaning on the electric arm of Justin Verlander, who won Rookie of the Year in '05 but gave up 17 runs in 21 2/3 innings across the 2005 postseason. He'll get a chance at redemption against Texas, who appeared in the Fall Classic a mere season ago.
The revamped Rangers may have lost Cliff Lee, but their offense is as potent as its ever been in franchise history, adding Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli to its monstrous lineup. Seeking to become the first consecutive AL pennant champion since the 1998-2001 Yankees, Texas will be relying on C.J. Wilson and its formidable bullpen to keep the Tiger offense in check. However, Texas' own offense needs to play up to its billing, as the team scored just 16 runs in the LDS, least among any team. (Granted, Texas was the only advancing club to play a series in less than five games, bouncing Tampa Bay in four.)
Detroit Tigers (host games 3, 4, 5*)
95-67, AL Central champions
ALDS: Defeated Yankees in 5 games -- View coverage of ALDS Tigers-Yankees
Manager: Jim Leyland
Regular-season batting statistics: .277 batting average (3rd in AL), .340 on-base percentage (3rd), .434 slugging percentage (4th)
Regular-season pitching statistics: 4.04 ERA (7th), 1.32 WHIP (8th), 2.27 K/BB (6th)
Star player: SP Justin Verlander -- 24-5, 2.41 ERA, 251 IP, 0.92 WHIP, 250 K
Texas Rangers (host games 1, 2, 6*, 7*)
96-66, AL West champions
ALDS: Defeated Rays in 4 games -- View coverage of ALDS Rangers-Rays
Manager: Ron Washington
Regular-season batting statistics: .283 batting average (1st), .340 on-base percentage (5th), .460 slugging percentage (2nd)
Regular-season pitching statistics: 3.79 ERA (13th), 1.24 WHIP (5th), 2.56 K/BB (5th)
Star player: C Mike Napoli -- .320/.414/.631, 432 plate appearances, 30 HR, 75 RBI
*if necessaryWHO HAS THE EDGE? (Click player name for statistics)
Let's break each position down and see which team has the edge...
Catcher: Alex Avila vs. Mike Napoli, Yorvit Torrealba
Being a quality catcher is difficult to do. You have to be able to call a game, develop a rapport with pitchers, block balls effectively, have a gun for an arm... and oh yeah, hit too. The latter category is what Avila and Napoli excel at, as both rank 1-2 in baseball in catcher offense. Napoli of course, blows away Avila in offense, but the Ranger also has 28 less games at the position, in large part due to another capable catcher also on the roster in Torrealba -- but the Tigers have Victor Martinez, too. Defensively, Avila holds the edge, and this is just too close to call.
First base: Miguel Cabrera vs. Mitch Moreland, Michael Young
Moreland could feasibly be at first base the entire series, as he's a favorite of the club and all of Detroit's starters are right-handed, but Young could steal a couple games if the team wants to get Torrealba or Craig Gentry into the lineup. Either way, both these players pale in comparison to Miguel Cabrera who, if it wasn't for Justin Verlander lucking into 24 wins (to be clear, he's a very good pitcher, but win-loss records have nothing to do with player quality), he could very well be the favorite for the MVP award. Cabrera led all of baseball in doubles, batting average, OBP and decided to swat 30 homers too. Moreland is still scrapping to be a full-time player and Young just can't field.
Second base: Ramon Santiago vs. Ian Kinsler
This isn't even close. The Tigers have cycled through six second basemen this season, with five of them receiving at least 17 starts. Santiago won the job basically by default, as Carlos Guillen can't stay healthy, Ryan Raburn split his time between left and second then lost his job for a complete inability to hit and Scott Sizemore was traded. Santiago is like Raburn in that he can't hit, but can flash a solid glove. Kinsler, meanwhile, was one of the most valuable second basemen in the game.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta vs. Elvis Andrus
Andrus can pick the ball, get on base and steal bases. Peralta can't steal any bases and can only play a passable short. But boy, can Peralta hit. Here's the thing, though -- people tend to overvalue offense because it's easily quantified, and you can see with your eyes the impact a bat can have. Stolen bases and defense, not so much. But they are important facets of the game as well, and when you factor everything in, this is a dead-even.
Third base: Wilson Betemit, Brandon Inge vs. Adrian Beltre
Adrian Beltre is an awesome player, there is no doubt about that. He posted the second-best season of his career and slugged three home runs to pace the narrative of Texas winning the ALDS. However, the gap between Beltre and the Tigers' crew isn't as large as one might think. Betemit rakes against righties, while Inge is capable against left-handers. But don't ask them to face the opposite-handed pitcher. Inge also has excellent defense at the hot corner and is a great late-inning replacement for Betemit. All told, the duo combines into a pretty good player. Good enough that the difference between Detroit and Texas at the spot is not significant.
Left field: Delmon Young vs. David Murphy, Craig Gentry
Young injured himself in Game 5 of the ALDS, but reports are that he should be fine for the ALCS. If not, Raburn will start in his place. Young has played his way into a 2012 role with the Tigers, but he's doing so on the backing of a hot streak that might not be sustainable long-term. He's a statue in left field and his value is tied up completely in swatting home runs. Murphy, meanwhile, parlayed a hot September into more playing time and has been sharing time with Gentry, with Murphy getting PT against right-handers and Gentry mostly playing against lefties. If Young wasn't performing well as of late, this would probably be a slight edge to the Rangers, but as long as Young's hot streak is carrying him, we'll call this even.
Center field: Austin Jackson vs. Josh Hamilton
This isn't a difficult decision at all. Hamilton is one of the best hitters in the game and is the reigning AL MVP. Austin Jackson, meanwhile, rode a lot of luck to a .293 batting average last season that sank to .249 this year. He has strong defense, but is miscast as the leadoff hitter.
Right field: Magglio Ordonez vs. Nelson Cruz
At one point this season, Ordonez contemplated hanging his spikes up. Good thing he didn't, for he hit .365 from Aug. 21 to the end of the year and finished the ALDS with five hits in 11 at-bats, including a 3-for-3 effort in Game 2. When Ordonez is hot, he can still beat any pitcher, regardless of his advanced age. But his defense is questionable, and Nelson Cruz is a better hitter at this point. Although Cruz is slumping significantly, gathering just one hit in 15 trips to the plate during the ALDS against the Rays, he remains the better player.
Designated hitter: Victor Martinez vs. Young
A certain three-year-old, I'm sure, would pick Young here with an edge. But both Martinez and Young are remarkably similar in production at the DH spot, and the numbers are uncannily similar even though Young has played in 14 more games. Take a look:
Martinez: .330/.380/.470, 12 HR, 103 RBI
Young: .338/.380/.474, 11 HR, 106 RBI
How can you not call this even?
Starting pitching: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello vs. C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison
The order listed here is the order that both teams have announced will go in the ALCS, so let's judge it on these parameters. For one, the Tigers clearly lose by not being able to set up their rotation they way they wanted. Rick Porcello, obviously the lesser member of the quartet, will start twice while Max Scherzer only draws Game 4 after appearing in relief during Game 5 of the ALDS. Regardless, the Tigers still hold an overall edge here. You don't need me to throw more platitudes Verlander's way, and Fister has been a revelation since coming over from Seattle (although he's veering fast into overrated territory) and Scherzer is a quality pitcher whose potential breakout has been tantalizing pitchers for quite some time.
Over in Texas, C.J. Wilson is a great pitcher, but doesn't quite stack up to Verlander. Porcello matching up against Derek Holland pits a battle of proming young pitchers, especially Holland, who is showing signs of emerging into an ace but is lacks consistency and is prone to the wild inning if he lets the game get away from him. Lewis has an incredible postseason record, but his propensity to give up the long ball held him back in the regular season. Harrison impressed against the Rays by punching out nine but could only last five innings and the jury is still out on just how good a picher he is.
All told, yet another matchup where both teams look even -- but not quite, as Verlander is the man that tips the scales in the Tigers' favor.
Relief pitching: Jose Valverde and co. vs. Neftali Feliz and co.
Both Valverde and Feliz are good pitchers when on, but both can also be maddeningly inconsistent. The Tigers closer can point to his 49 of 49 record in saves, but he walks way too much to be reliable. Feliz, meanwhile, took a clear step back from last season when he closed 40 games as a rookie and lost his strong command. He's been much better since the All-Star break, though, and if I had to pick one closer, I'd take Feliz. Texas also has a vaunted setup corps, boasting Mike Adams (who is still one of the best relievers in the game despite a spike in home runs allowed), Koji Uehara, Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez and Darrell Oliver most notably.
Texas' 3.79 bullpen ERA during the regular season was fifth-best in the AL and would have been even better with full years of all relievers mentioned sans Feliz and Oliver, who have been with the club all year. By comparison, the Tigers' two best relievers are Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit, but Alburquerque only pitched 14 1/3 innings in the second half and did not look good in Games 1 and 4 of the ALDS. The Tigers pen has a chance to be a good one, but Texas is the better bet to come out on top in the war of bullpens.
Defensive statistics are getting a bum rap these days, and it's understandable. Quantifying defense is a very difficult thing to do and no defensive metric out there can be relied on. However, when you have a large sample to draw from, multiple numbers to look at and enough of a disparity in the numbers, it becomes obvious which defense holds up. And that's the Rangers, who score well in defensive metrics, largely on the strength of Andrus, Kinsler and Beltre, while the Tigers are affected by the tin gloves of Betemit, Cabrera, and Young the most.
Both teams shape up to be remarkably even all across the board -- even though both teams are the last two standing in the AL and it makes sense that they would be equals, it's not often you see such a balanced division. It will come down to the postseason mantra of good pitching always beating good hitting, and given the presence of Verlander, I'll give the nod to Detroit vanquishing Texas in six games, while Daniel Knobler likes Detroit too, but in seven.
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