Series Preview: Texas Rangers @ Detroit Tigers - On Poltergeists

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After the Rangers clinched the American League West Division Championship on Sept. 23 last season, the only question that remained was if they could overcome the Tigers for second best record in the American League. With a better record than the winners of the AL Central, the Rangers would host their opponent in the ALDS for the first time in franchise history. On the day the Rangers clinched their fifth division title in franchise history, they had the same 91-66 record as the Tigers. However, the Tigers held the tie-breaker thanks to a head-to-head 6-3 season record against the Rangers.

The next day, the Rangers beat Felix Hernandez while playing the entire bench while the Tigers lost to the Orioles in a game started by Justin Verlander. That was the last time either team would lose for the rest of the regular season. The Rangers finished 96-66, the Tigers finished 95-67. Every day Ron Washington was asked how important it was to protect the health of his team, with the postseason assured, versus trying to secure home field over the Tigers. Every day he made it pretty clear by actions that the Rangers felt avoiding as much of Comerica Park in late October as possible was a priority.

When the Rangers finished off the Tampa Bay Rays for the second consecutive year in the ALDS--forging perhaps the first franchise to sport-hate the Rangers--the Rangers returned home to Arlington to await their next opponent. The Tigers were playing the New York Yankees in a fifth and deciding game in the other ALDS. If the Yankees prevailed, the Rangers would open on the road against the team with the best record in the American League in a rematch of the previous year's ALCS. If the Tigers won, the Rangers would open at home against a team with arguably the best starting pitcher and best middle of the order hitter in the entire league.

The Tigers won. I'm sure you remember. It wasn't that long ago. At the time, there was much debate not for what was the easier path--finding the easier path really isn't how sports fans think too often--but for what would be the worst case scenario for the Rangers.

The Yankees were a really good team last season. CC Sabathia was probably the only pitcher in the American League that stacked up to Verlander. While beating the Yankees in the playoffs is always sweet, it's not like it's easy. But there were plenty who argued that the Rangers having to play the Tigers was worse, despite the hard home field advantage, simply because any games played at Comerica Park left the Rangers at a disadvantage.

As it turns out, the Rangers only had to win once at Comerica. It was in brutal, classic October style that they did so. On Oct. 12, the Rangers beat the Tigers 7-3 in 11 innings. Nelson Cruz had turned into Reggie Jackson. Scott Feldman was pretending to be Jack Morris. In a park built to beat the Texas Rangers, for one night only, the dance lasted just long enough for the sun to rise on Bald Mountain.

It feels like the curse of that stadium has been lifted because the Rangers beat the Tigers in the ALCS. But the Rangers mostly did that because they took care of business at home. The other two games at Comerica were never-ending Chernabogian nightmares. The Tigers are good again this season. They're great at home. I suppose we'll find out soon whether or not this house is clean.

Thursday, April 19 6:05: RHP Yu Darvish vs. LHP Adam Wilk

Friday, April 20 6:05: LHP Matt Harrison vs. RHP Rick Porcello

Saturday, April 21 12:05: RHP Neftali Feliz vs. RHP Justin Verlander

Sunday, April 22 12:10: RHP Colby Lewis vs. LHP Drew Smyly

Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against the team the Rangers beat for the 2011 America League Pennant:

  • Yu Darvish: 1-0, 7.15 K/9, 6.35 BB/9, .415 BABIP, 74.1% LOB, 3.96 FIP, 5.19 xFIP, 0.2 WAR
  • Adam Wilk: 0-1, 7.20 K/9, 1.80 BB/9, .083 BABIP, 100.0% LOB, 7.10 FIP, 4.13 xFIP, -0.1 WAR

Advantage: Yu Darvish hasn't been sharp against the lineups of the Twins and Mariners. The Tigers should be a challenge. Adam Wilk has never started a game against a lineup like the Texas Rangers. I believe in Yu.

  • Matt Harrison: 2-0, 4.50 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, .250 BABIP, 93.3% LOB, 2.76 FIP, 3.36 xFIP, 0.4 WAR
  • Rick Porcello: 1-0 4.91 K/9, 0.61 BB/9, .250 BABIP, 87.3% LOB, 3.11 FIP, 3.08 xFIP, 0.4 WAR

Advantage: This is a replay of Game 4 of the 2011 ALCS. The Rangers won that game. I see no reason that they won't win it again. Except, well, Comerica and all.

  • Neftali Feliz: 1-0, 5.25 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, .229 BABIP, 86.2% LOB, 3.82 FIP, 4.60 xFIP, 0.2 WAR
  • Justin Verlander: 1-1 8.17 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, .197 BABIP, 68.4% LOB, 1.80 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 1.1 WAR

Advantage: Neftali Feliz has been a success story with how he's handled starting so far this season but Justin Verlander looks as awesome as ever. And actually, Justin Verlander looks perhaps even a little more awesome than usual.

  • Colby Lewis: 2-0, 10.07 K/9, 0.46 BB/9, .340 BABIP, 93.8% LOB, 2.29 FIP, 2.96 xFIP, 0.8 WAR
  • Drew Smyly: 0-0 7.20 K/9, 3.60 BB/9, .333 BABIP, 95.9% LOB, 4.10 FIP, 4.34 xFIP, 0.1 WAR

Advantage: Colby Lewis is like 2010 Colby Lewis + October Colby Lewis combined so far this season whereas Drew Smyly's name reminds me of John Smiley.

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Detroit Tigers (9-3, 1st Place AL Central)

Rangers 2011 Record vs. Detroit: 3-6

Detroit's Recent Results: 3-0 series sweep against the Kansas City Royals

Detroit's Home Record: 5-1 (50-31 in 2011)

Comerica Park Park Factors (last season) (LHB/RHB): HR: 88/108 - wOBA: 97/103

SB Nation Tigers Blog: Bless You Boys

Match-up: (as of 04/18) Rangers Tigers Advantage
Batting (RAR) 15.9 (2nd) 5.3 (8th) Rangers (?)
Base Running (RAR) 1.1 (3rd) 0.4 (15th) Rangers
Starters (RAR) 14.6 13.3 Rangers (?)
Bullpen (RAR) 10.3 (1st) 5.6 (5th) Rangers (?)
Defense (UZR) 3.6 (5th) -1.7 (19th) Rangers
Overall (UZR + RAR) 45.5 22.9 Rangers

Questions to Answer:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how exciting does a Neftali Feliz vs. Justin Verlander matchup sound to you as a fan of baseball?
  • Who is your pick to lead the Rangers in home runs in the cavernous Comerica Park? (I am hoping to see Nelson Cruz terrorize the Tigers again.)
  • Over/Under: 3.5 walks allowed by Yu Darvish in his start today?
  • Guess the Number: How many errors will Miguel Cabrera commit at third base in this series?
  • What's your favorite Adam Wilk memory?
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