Verlander, Smerlander: ALCS Preview and Rangers-Tigers Game 1 Open Thread

[Editor's note: At the request of a few regulars, we're going with a rare weekend-night open thread to celebrate the Rangers' second straight appearance in the American League Championship Series. Will we do this again tomorrow? Hard to say. Let's see how tonight goes. I'll be in and out, but tonight you're in the capable hands of the beloved Sam Merten, because this man knows his baseball ...]

Yes, it's time for the American League Championship Series, folks, but who woulda guessed the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees wouldn't be here? Seems like every prognosticator and self-proclaimed sports expert had one of the two in the World Series at the beginning of the year. (Yes, me too. I had Boston beating Philly. Whoopsie.)

But, as we know now, the Sox and Yanks weren't nearly as good as they appeared on paper. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers didn't miss a beat after losing the World Series and ace Cliff Lee, and the Detroit Tigers made key additions in the offseason (signing Victor Martinez) and at the trade deadline (landing Doug Fister in a deal with Seattle) to find themselves back in the ALCS for the first time since 2006. (Ironically, that's the last time neither Boston nor New York were there.)

There are a boatload of stats -- some of which you'll find in my position-by-position comparison after the jump -- to digest when evaluating the match-up, but the collapses of Boston, New York and Philadelphia tell us that no amount of stats can measure the heart of a team. And certainly no one player can win or lose a series.

That one player in this series is supposed to be Justin Verlander, the likely unanimous AL Cy Young winner who will also grab a some MVP votes. But I'm not scared of Verlander, and the Rangers shouldn't be either.

Verlander has been great for a while now, winning at least 17 games in five of the last six seasons, so it's not like his success this year has been a surprise. And while he definitely had a career year this season, it's not like he was Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson. In fact, just how much difference really was there between Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 K, 0.92 WHIP, 4 CG, 2 SO) and Rays ace James Shields (16-12, 2.82 ERA, 225 K, 1.04 WHIP, 11 CG, 4 SO)? Or, heck, even C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94 ERA, 206 K, 1.19 WHIP, 3 CG, 1 SO)?

To be clear, Verlander was obviously the better pitcher throughout the course of the regular season, but the question is: How much better?

When it's postseason time, aces are aces, and the regular season is rarely the best way to determine the outcome of a game or a series. If it was that easy, Roy Halladay should have beat Chris Carpenter last night. But Carpenter out-aced Halladay, and there's no reason to suggest Wilson can't do the same to Verlander.

And it's not like Verlander set the world on fire against the Yankees. Nine innings and five runs? Yikes. And that actually lowered his career postseason ERA to 5.58. Yup, that's 19 earned runs in 30 2/3 innings for those counting at home.

Even if Verlander finds his dominance against Texas, I'm still picking the Rangers in six. While you can argue that Detroit has the best player in the series in Verlander, Texas has the better team. And, call me crazy, but I'm always convinced the best team wins in a seven-game series.

Before a quick stroll through each position, here's the latest for those who missed it. The Rangers dropped Matt Treanor from the roster and added Yoshinori Tateyama. The Tigers replaced Delmon Young (oblique injury) with Danny Worth and switched Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello in the rotation. Young's absence is huge, given his three homers against New York in the ALDS.

Catcher: Mike Napoli v. Alex Avila Advantage: Rangers

While 24-year-old Avila had a breakout year offensively (.295 BA, 19 HR, 82 RBI) and defensively (tied Russ Martin with 40 runners thrown out), earning him the starting gig in the All-Star Game, Nappy was better in both areas.

Say what you want about the legitimacy of catcher's ERA as a stat, but the difference between Napoli (3.18) and Yorvit Torrealba (4.33) is too significant to overlook. And, oh, yeah. He also was one of the top offensive players in baseball. Had he played a full season, his numbers would be somewhere around a .320 batting average with 40 homers and more than 100 RBI.

A quick note on Napoli that has bothered me throughout the season and playoffs: Jon Daniels did not swindle the Angels for Napoli. He took advantage of Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos, who had done some swindling of his own to get Napoli for Vernon Wells and his ridiculous contract.

First Base: Mitch Moreland v. Miguel Cabrera Advantage: Tigers

Not even close. Cabrera is a Frank Robinson clone and one of the best players in the game.

Second Base: Ian Kinsler v. Ramon Santiago Advantage: Rangers

Not close here either. Kins has 30 homer-30 stolen base seasons in two of the last three years, while Santiago is, well, a complete spare.

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus v. Jhonny Peralta Advantage: Tigers

This one's really close, but Peralta, who had a career year with the stick (.299 BA, 21 HR 86 RBI) and the glove (second among AL shortstops in fielding percentage) is a tick better than Andrus, who's still just 23 years old and had 25 errors this year.

Third Base: Adrian Beltre v. Brandon Inge/Don Kelly Advantage: Rangers

While Beltre has been busy proving himself as the best free-agent signing, folks were surprised to know Inge is still in the league and only recently learned Kelly's name.

Left Field: David Murphy v. Ryan Raburn Advantage: Push

Young would have given the edge to Detroit, but it's a toss-up between these two fourth-outfielder types.

Center Field: Josh Hamilton v. Austin Jackson Advantage: Rangers

Another clear win for Texas here, as last year's AL MVP is light years ahead of Jackson.

Right Field: Nelson Cruz v. Magglio Ordonez Advantage: Rangers

Normally, this would be Cruz in a landslide since Ordonez isn't the player he used to be. I expect Cruz to get out of his current funk, but if he doesn't, the 37-year-old Ordonez could prove to be the better player in this series.

Designated Hitter: Michael Young v. Victor Martinez Advantage: Push

With nearly the same stat line this year (.338 BA-11 HR-106 RBI for Young, and .330-12-103 for Martinez) and reputations, this one is definitely too close to call.

Game 1/5 Starter: C.J. Wilson v. Justin Verlander Advantage: Tigers

Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown, but this one's closer than you'd think for the reasons I described above.

Game 2/6 Starter: Derek Holland v. Max Scherzer Advantage: Rangers

These two had similar statistical years (15-9, 4.43 ERA, 174 K, 1.35 WHIP for Scherzer, and 16-5, 3.95, 162, 1.35 for Holland), but I give the edge to Holland because of his playoff experience and superior performance in the second half (9-1, 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP).

Game 3/7 Starter: Colby Lewis v. Doug Fister Advantage: Rangers

OK, so Fister was incredible after leaving Seattle, posting an 8-1 record with a 1.79 ERA and microscopic 0.84 WHIP. But Lewis has been The Man in the postseason with a 4-0 record and 1.67 ERA in five career starts.

Game 4 Starter: Matt Harrison v. Rick Porcello Advantage: Rangers

Once again, very similar stat lines between these two (14-9 with a 3.39 ERA for Harrison, and 14-9 with a 4.75 ERA for Porcello), but Harrison has proved to be a much more effective hurler.

Bullpen: Mike Adams, Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver, Mike Gonzalez, Koji Uehara, Neftali Feliz and Yoshinori Tateyama v. Brad Penny, Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit, Daniel Schlereth, Ryan Perry, Jose Valverde and Phil Coke Advantage: Rangers

Sure, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara had some serious slip-ups in the ALDS, and Valverde hasn't blown a save opporuntiy all year, but I expect Adams and Uehara to be just fine. And the not-so-secret weapon for Texas is Alexi Ogando, who earned a win in all three of the Rangers victories against the Tigers this year and posted a sparkling 1.29 ERA.

Bench: Craig Gentry, Endy Chavez, Esteban German and Yorvit Torrealba v. Don Kelly, Wilson Betemit, Omir Santos, Andy Dirks, Danny Worth Advantage: Rangers

Texas has more speed and defense, which is what the bench is used for most often in the AL.

See y'all in the comments.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten