October 08, 2011
The Detroit Tigers defeated the New York Yankees in a five-game ALDS and now the Texas Rangers lay in wait. Texas went 3-6 versus Detroit during the regular season. Does that apply to the postseason? Perhaps not. Especially when six of the nine games were played at Comerica Park and the Rangers hold home-field advantage in the ALCS.
But the Tigers were obviously able to win the season series decisively for a few reasons. Here are five things Detroit will need to keep doing well against the Rangers to dethrone the defending American League champions.
1. Keep hitting lefties: As a team, the Tigers hit .281/.348/.436 against left-handed pitching during the regular season. The Rangers could be helping them out by starting three lefties in their rotation. C.J. Wilson(notes), Derek Holland(notes) and Matt Harrison(notes) allowed four runs in each of their starts against Detroit this season.
However, one of the Tigers' best hitters against left-handers is Delmon Young(notes). He is not on the ALCS roster (he suffered a left oblique strain in Game 5), which takes his .301/.338/.421 slash average against southpaws out of Detroit's lineup. Could they still get by, though? Likely replacement Ryan Raburn(notes) posted an .807 OPS in 157 plate appearances against lefties this season.
2. Score at least five runs per game: In five of their wins against the Rangers, Detroit scored five or more runs. In their three losses, they scored three runs or fewer. The formula seems pretty clear: The Tigers need to score at least five runs to beat the Rangers.
One of the pitchers who held the Tigers to three runs or less was Alexi Ogando(notes), who will pitch out of the bullpen in this series. Though it's not a surprise that Ron Washington won't tinker drastically with his staff, he should have at least considered putting Ogando in his ALCS rotation. Ogando owned the Tigers this year, with a 3-0 record and 1.29 ERA in three starts.
3. Pitch deep into ballgames: Obviously, the Tigers won't stand much of a chance in the ALCS if they don't get good starting pitching. But Detroit's starters will also need to pitch at least six or seven innings to avoid exposing the soft underbelly of their middle relief.
Al Alburquerque(notes) might not see the mound again this postseason, unless the Tigers have a huge lead. In two ALDS appearances against the Yankees, Al-Al compiled an 81.00 ERA. Daniel Schlereth(notes) has a 10.80 ERA. Phil Coke(notes) allowed three runs in his one outing.
The Tigers got five innings of work from Doug Fister(notes) in the Game 5 clincher over the Yankees, but Max Scherzer(notes) chipped in with 1 1/3 innings of relief before handing the ball over to Joaquin Benoit(notes). Ideally, they won't need a bridge from their starter to Benoit and Jose Valverde(notes) at the back end of the bullpen.
4. Get production from the top of the order: Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson(notes) had an awful ALDS, batting .125 (2-for-16) in the series. Smacking a few hits and getting on base would certainly help the Tigers' cause.
But in each of Detroit's three wins over the Yankees, the No. 2 hitter came through with key hits. That's probably not a coincidence. Magglio Ordonez(notes) went 3-for-3 in Game 2. Ramon Santiago(notes) hit 2-for-4 with two RBI in Game 3. And Don Kelly(notes) hit the home run that shocked the world in the first inning of the decisive Game 5.
Neither of the Tigers' big bats did much in the ALDS, but contributions from unexpected sources was a big reason for their series win. That will have to continue against Texas. But making the Rangers' pitchers work a little more and giving Miguel Cabrera(notes) and Victor Martinez(notes) some runners to drive in could provide a major boost.
5. Keep handcuffing Mike Napoli(notes): Perhaps one reason for the Tigers' success against the Rangers is that they were able to get Mike Napoli out. Napoli was one of the hottest hitters in the first round of the playoffs, batting .357 (5-for-14) with four RBI. But in 24 plate appearances versus Detroit pitching, Napoli hit only .182/.250/.455.
The big bats in the Rangers' lineup hit well against the Tigers this season. Michael Young(notes) (.324), Adrian Beltre(notes) (.381) and Nelson Cruz(notes) (.314) were each tough outs for Detroit pitching. But keeping Napoli, Ian Kinsler(notes) (.226) and Josh Hamilton(notes) (.290) in check helped prevent major damage from occurring.