October 08, 2011
The Texas Rangers advanced to their second straight American League Championship Series by ousting the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS three games to one. As we learned in Thursday night's decisive Game 5 from Yankee Stadium, they will now hook up with Detroit Tigers at the Ballpark in Arlington beginning tonight at 8:05 ET.
Here are the five things we believe Texas needs to accomplish in this ALCS to get past Detroit, repeat as American League champions, and to take their next shot at their ultimate goal: a World Series title.
1. Avoid a slow start: Four days between games isn't the longest stretch we've seen in recent playoff history, but it's still four days. Four days to the creatures of habit known as baseball players probably feels like four weeks, especially when they're playing well and anxious to continue their trek towards that world championship.
Despite the rallies of the different teams in the LDS round, getting behind 1-0 in a seven-game series is never advantageous. That counts even more so when that Game 1 is at home and, as we'll learn later, the pitching matchups are not favorable.
It's going to be difficult to avoid that slow start going from several days of batting practice to facing Justin Verlander's(notes) 100 MPH fastball and his array of filthy pitches, so the pressure goes on C.J Wilson to give the offense an opportunity to ease in to the flow, and not immediately transition into pressing.
2. Get quality outings from Derek Holland(notes), Colby Lewis(notes) and Matt Harrison(notes): The good news is they don't have to beat Justin Verlander to win the series. The bad news is if they don't beat Verlander, like I alluded to above, the margin for error in the other games is very slim. The absolute worst news is the Rangers' scheduled Game 2, 3 and 4 starting pitchers combined for an ERA of 10.38 in four starts against Detroit this season.
Needless to say that puts extra weight on the shoulders of Holland, Lewis and Harrison to correct what went wrong in the regular season, keep the game close, and hold on long enough to let Ron Washington set up his bullpen late and get the matchups he likes.
3. Scratch and claw offensively: Once the Rangers get rolling in this series offensively, matching the four runs they averaged in the Tampa Bay series won't be a problem. However, I'm concerned for their sake that averaging four runs a game against Detroit won't be enough.
If they can tack on a couple extra runs in each game, whether it be through aggressive baserunning, sacrificing to move baserunners, or coming up with that timely run scoring single, they need to do that. The New York Yankees inability to do that or hit with RISP in Game 5 is why they aren't here now, so it shows the importance of maximizing opportunity vs. Detroit.
4. Hand Jose Valverde(notes) his first blown save in 2011: The more I look at how this series sets up for Texas, the more I believe they will need to steal at least one game in the eighth or ninth inning to win it.
Jose Valverde comes into the series a perfect 51-for-51 in save attempts this season, which is pretty astonishing, but we know he's not untouchable. Detroit's set up man Joaquin Benoit(notes) may have been the MVP of their LDS win over New York, but again, this Texas offense can get to him. And as this series moves along, the workload Benoit has taken on could begin to show.
If and when Texas falls behind early, they need to scratch and claw for seven innings. Give themselves the opportunity to steal one late. And then steal it.
5. Stay healthy: As we've seen throughout the season, Texas isn't the most durable team. Now would be a terrible time for that durability issue to pop up again. Losing an Adrian Beltre(notes) or Nelson Cruz(notes) now, as they have for extended periods this season, could prove devastating. So when I say be aggressive on the bases, I will add to do so wisely and carefully.