On Deck will be here all season to provide you with everything you need to know (and a few things you don't) about every Rangers series during the 2011 season. On Deck will be here all season to provide you with everything you need to know (and a few things you don't) about every Rangers series during the 2011 season. For the ALCS, we'll do things a bit differently to increase the focus on each set of games.
The Series So Far: The Rangers head to Detroit with a 2-0 lead thanks to Nelson Cruz's walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning on Monday. There have been plenty of teams to come back from such a deficit to win a series, but everything has gone the Rangers' way through the first two games. The rain on Saturday cost the Tigers a full start from Justin Verlander, injuries have robbed the Detroit lineup of some strong bats and five straight wins has the Rangers looking as good as they've looked all season. Not a bad time to be peaking, is it?
Past 2011 Meetings: The Tigers won six of nine during the regular season, but that doesn't seem to matter all that much. It's worth noting that Comerica Park has been a haunted house for the Rangers, but there was once a time when the bullpen was a weakness so clearly things can change.
Pitching Matchups: Game Three - Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40 ERA in regular season, 1-0, 1.50 in playoffs) vs. Doug Fister (11-13, 2.83; 1-1, 6.82); Game Four - Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39; 1-0, 4.76) vs. Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.75; 0-1, 4.50); Game Five (if necessary) - C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94; 0-1, 7.45) vs. Verlander (24-5, 2.40; 1-1, 5.54)
What's Hot: Cruz struggled down the stretch after returning from the disabled list and he didn't do anything against the Rays, but he's come to life in a pretty major way. His three homers in the first two games of the series have been the biggest offensive reason why the Rangers are up 2-0. If you don't believe he's leading a charmed life, he even got up and was fine after getting hit by a pitch on Monday. For a player as fragile as Cruz, that's gotta be a sign.
The Rangers can't win with Cruz alone, so give the bullpen a lot of credit for the power position the Rangers find themselves in right now. They have thrown 12.2 shutout innings across the two games, with Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman tying for most impressive honors for their work in getting the ball deep into games without Detroit sniffing the scoreboard.
Everyone around baseball has been waiting for Jose Valverde to revert to form and blow a game in the late innings. We may be waiting a while. Valverde went two innings on Monday, got himself into trouble and came out smelling sweet on the other side. It is hard to watch him and understand how he avoids huge innings, but at some point you just have to accept that he does it and applaud the man's effort.
What's Not: The rainout on Sunday eliminated the travel day and could make for a mess in both bullpens over the next two days. Valverde and Neftali Feliz each threw 23 pitches, Ogando's pitched a ton in the first two games and there's only so far you can push key set-up men like Mike Adams and Joaquin Benoit over the next three days. That might mean a game coming down to Koji Uehara and Al Alburquerque which doesn't really give either side an advantage.
The Rangers certainly benefit from the injuries to Tigers outfielders Magglio Ordonez and Delmon Young, but that doesn't mean you should be too happy that they happened. The playoffs is about the best of baseball, see Game Two for example, and a shorthanded team isn't really one that you feel good about beating up on in a short series.
Michael Young spent the entire season making us feel foolish about writing him off as a hitter. He's spending the postseason reminding us of why we did it in the first place. Ron Washington probably won't change the lineup at this point, which could come back to haunt him if Young keeps giving away outs.
The X-Factor: We usually talk about familiar faces at this point in the proceedings, but you know the Tigers well enough. So instead we'll focus on one player that could swing this thing back Detroit's way in the next couple of days. Obviously good starts can change the face of the series, but so could Miguel Cabrera. He hasn't gotten many chances to swing the bat with runners on base, but one at-bat in that situation could swing a game and the series right back to being a dogfight. The Rangers haven't exactly run away with these games, so it won't take much to put the Tigers back into the mix.