After frustrating loss to Yankees, Tigers face tough bats of Rangers

90 feet away. Man on third. Runner in scoring position. No outs. Yesterday was a very frustrating one for Tigers fans, ending with a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

The Tigers dropped a second game to the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon, losing 4-3 despite some late rallies. Unlike Wednesday, when both teams scored seemingly at will, Thursday’s game was the opposite, as Detroit kept leaving runners on base, squandering runners in scoring position during the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. It seemed like all of the hits fell on Wednesday night, using up any potential luck for Thursday.

A loss is still a loss, but this wasn’t that bad of one. In the larger sense, the Tigers split four games with the Yankees, gained a half-game on the White Sox for the division hunt, and had four strong games. The Tigers hung with the Yankees as if they were equals. Frankly, I wasn’t that impressed with the Yankees.

At this point, every Tiger fan (and baseball fan, for that matter) has the healthy fear of the New York Yankees in the back of their minds. However, the Yankees aren’t the Bronx Bombers of Ruth and Gehrig in the ’20s, Mantle and Maris in the ’60s, or even Jeter and Rivera just a dozen years ago. Times have changed, for worse in New York.

As a Tigers fan, I’m not scared of these Yankees. New York still has a lot of great players, from Jeter to Granderson to Sabathia But, there’s so many holes in their lineup that big names and big money can’t solve. Alex Rodriguez is hurt at the moment, and who knows where he’ll be in September or October. Raul Ibanez, Chris Stewart, Eric Chavez, and Casey McGahee aren’t exactly inspiring fear, no matter what uniform they wear. And sadly, Ichiro is simply an old Ichiro, not the Ichiro of old. When it comes to the pitching staff, the Yankees have a great starter in CC Sabathia, a great reliever in Rafael Soriano, and many question marks. Simply put, the Yankees are not a world-beating juggernaut, they’re just like most every other contender…despite the brand name. The Yankees have a 63-44 record, but the pressures of management typically result in high-win regular seasons, and playoff struggles when everyone increases their day-to-day intensity.

The Texas Rangers are a different story.

I’m legitimately worried about playing Texas in the playoffs, especially if it’s a shorter, 5-game series. Texas has been stacked from top to bottom, building a strong roster from within, augmenting it with trades, and adding more intimidating players during this season. Here’s Texas’ typical starting nine, in no particular order: Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Michael Young. Here’s Texas’ starting rotation, in no particular order: Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman. Texas has former Twins closer Joe Nathan anchoring their bullpen. Oh, and they are the two-time defending American League Champions. Texas is the true super team to be afraid of.

After all of that, how can the Tigers dethrone them, this weekend and in the weeks to come?

On defense, the Tigers will have to keep Texas from stringing together big innings. While the Rangers’ offense is an incredible one, they only lead the American League in runs scored (also the ML leader), hits, and average. Everything else is mixed in with the other top contenders. Texas has been a team that has not necessarily relied on the big hit, but has chipped away to create the maximum amount of runs. Those big hitters are still there, but everyone can be a singles hitter when needed. If the Tigers’ pitchers can keep their focus and stop big rallies, Texas is beatable.

If that doesn’t happen, Game 6 of the ALCS is reenacted. Nine runs in the 3rd inning for Texas as Max Scherzer couldn’t get anyone out, combined with six runs off of the bullpen. 17 hits, because the Tigers couldn’t stop Texas from stringing together hits, with the occasional big blast to clear the bases. That’s the worst case scenario for the Tigers. On the other hand, the Tigers did have some success earlier in the year with keeping Texas’ runs down, and have won two games against them so far this season.

On offense, the Tigers need to continue to do what they’ve been doing, as the hits and rallies are coming together. Texas has slightly-above average pitching and fielding, and the Tigers can exploit that. Despite some excellent starters, most of them can be shaken up, as long as the Rangers don’t turn the game into a slugfest. Texas’ stadium is the 7th-best in the major leagues for offenses, and an intimidating double-decker setup (much like Tiger Stadium) can make things worse. Both teams are playing in the same stadium though. If the Tigers can hit well in Texas, the Rangers can be beaten.

Lastly, the Tigers need to win their division. MLB has changed their playoff setup, as the wild-card is now a one-game playoff between the two best non-division champions. With the way things look now, the Rangers will play whoever wins the wild-card game, and the Yankees will play the AL Central champion, in five-game series. Given that the best available pitcher will go for that wild-card game, the Rangers could be playing a weakened wild-card for their divisional series matchup, and the Tigers need to make sure that it isn’t them. The Rangers and Yankees are tied and ahead of Detroit in the standings, but the Yankees are trending downward. Odds are, Texas will have the wild-card team. And like last year, a Tigers-Yankees series could be a great one for Detroiters.

Here are the pitching matchups and other notes for this weekend.

As a whole, the scheduled starters favor the Tigers. Detroit will avoid the Rangers’ ace, Matt Harrison, entirely, and will instead face Texas’ 2nd, 3rd, and 4th starters.

Tonight, the Tigers will send Max Scherzer (10-6, 4.72 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) to the mound, against Texas’ Scott Feldman (6-6, 4,52 ERA, 1.30 WHIP). Feldman, like the Tigers’ Doug Fister, has been on fire lately, winning six of his last seven starts, after starting 2012 at 0-6. He can give the Tigers some issues, but is almost completely neutral with no remarkable tendencies. Feldman strikes out 4 or 5 per game, gives up an even number of groundball outs to flyball outs, gives up a couple runs per game, and barely walks anyone. Feldman pitches to put balls in play, and the defense takes care of the rest. With the Tigers’ hitters as they’ve been lately, this could be a good matchup for the Tigers.

On Saturday, Justin Verlander starts for the Tigers (12-7, 2.51 ERA, 0.98 WHIP). Verlander has had another amazing year, and has already beaten Texas once this year. He will square off against Derek Holland, a Rangers starter who has struggled lately with two straight losses. Holland’s stats are 7-6, with a 5.18 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP, but the Angels and Royals hit him hard in three of his last four starts. This is a game that the Tigers have to win.

Sunday’s game features Rick Porcello for the Tigers and Yu Darvish for the Rangers.
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Both pitchers have turned their seasons around with recent starts, for better or worse. With the Tigers’ Rick Porcello, he has gone 5-1 in his last eight starts, overcoming a rough start to 2012. He’s bumped his record to 9-6 (with a 4.62 ERA and 1.51 WHIP), but has had frequently solid starts, with many hits but few runs scored. Porcello has been pitching just well enough to win in recent starts, improving enough to play a big part in the Tigers’ recent successes. With the Rangers’ Yu Darvish, his 11-8 record is tempered by four losses in his last six starts, with his lone no-decision coming in a slugfest that Texas ultimately won. Darvish is new to the American major leagues this year, and the longer schedule, the Texas heat, and other adjustments might be wearing out Darvish. If Porcello has a good start, Darvish is very vulnerable.

This weekend’s games start a bit later than usual. Friday and Saturday’s game have 8:05 starts, with Texas being one time zone west of us. Sunday’s game has a 3:05 start, as the hot Texas summers require the Rangers to start their games later on the day. The Rangers regularly have 110-degree weather in Arlington (outside of Dallas), and the late start times try to cool things off. All games are on FS Detroit and 97.1, with Saturday’s game on MLB Network for those outside of Detroit and Dallas.

Gordie Fall

Gordon Fall has been around the Detroit sports scene for his entire life and even entered the world with a Red Wings hockey stick in hand. With a variety of connections around the Detroit area, Fall will be presenting the unspoken, yet optimistic truth of our city’s sports scene.

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