When the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers begin play Saturday night to determine the champions of the American League, they will be marking a shift in the balance of power.
This American League Championship Series (ALCS) marks the first time since 2006 that a team from the powerhouse AL East is not represented, Texas having dismissed the Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit having ousted the New York Yankees.
Both the Rangers and Tigers led their respective divisions for nearly the entire season, so it perhaps is fitting that they should meet for the pennant.
The Rangers won the ALCS last season, having eliminated the Yankees last October before being stopped by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
When the Rangers lost out on retaining Cliff Lee, the left-handed pitcher, it was a huge blow. But their pitching staff is talented, led by CJ Wilson, who has won 31 games over the last two seasons. The right-hander, Colby Lewis, has been bothered much of the season with a hip injury but threw a gem in the Division Series against Tampa Bay last week and beat the Yankees in the ALCS last autumn. But while the Rangers can pitch, their calling card remains their hitting. The Rangers finished in the top three in the league in nearly every significant statistic: batting average (first), home runs (second), runs (third), OPS (second) and slugging percentage (second).
The middle of the order features formidable power, though it does lean right-handed beyond the outfielder, Josh Hamilton. Mike Napoli has been a nice addition, adding 30 homers, mostly from the DH spot.
Michael Young, who has the longest tenure of anyone on the Rangers' roster, is the ultimate professional hitter and can play any of the four infield spots.
Defensively, the left side of the Texas infield is unmatched, with Adrian Beltre at third and Elvis Andrus at short. The Texas bullpen, strengthened by moving Alexi Ogando into relief, can shorten the game for Texas.
The Tigers will be trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2006 and win their first World Series since 1984.
Detroit lack the power of the Rangers. The Tigers were a middle-of-the-pack seventh in homers. But they manage to score enough runs, as they ranked fourth in the league in that category.
The Tigers are unlikely to score runs in bunches but they excel at many of the little things - such as moving runners, taking the extra base - as might be expected for a team managed by the veteran, Jim Leyland.
Verlander figures to be the focal point of the series.
Unless the weather becomes a factor, it is likely that the certain Cy Young Award winner will start only two games.
But the Tigers will be halfway to the World Series if he can win his two starts. Doug Fister seemed to be a spare part when he was obtained from Seattle at the end of July, but he has flourished since, and if he can provide the Tigers with two quality starts behind Verlander, the Tigers may be tough to stop.
Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer round out the starting rotation.
Detroit's bullpen is anchored by the animated Dominican closer, Jose Valverde, fondly known as Papa Grande for his generous girth. He famously predicted that the Yankees were finished after Game 1 of the ALDS, then went out and backed up his words by protecting a one-run lead in the decisive fifth game.
HOW THEY MATCH-UP
Detroit has the American League batting champion in Miguel Cabrera, pictured above, and reliable run-producer Victor Martinez, but that is no match for the Rangers, who have power throughout their line-up, led by Josh Hamilton, pictured below, and Adrian Beltre and very easy outs.
EDGE: Texas Rangers
Both have deep rotations. Texas boasts three hard-throwing lefties in CJ Wilson, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, along with the right-hander Colby Lewis. The Tigers have the game’s best pitcher, Justin Verlander, and their No 2 starter, Doug Fister, has come out of nowhere since being obtained from Seattle at the trade deadline.
EDGE: Detroit Tigers
Thanks to some late-season acquisitions, the Rangers have unmatched depth with Mike Gonzalez, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando handling the set-up work and Neftali Feliz in charge of the ninth inning.
EDGE: Texas Rangers
Jim Leyland, the Detroit manager, likes versatility and has plenty of it. The journeyman Don Kelly can play any position and Ramon Santiago is a valuable infield piece. The Texas manager Ron Washington has a more set line-up, but has pop off the bench in David Murphy and Mitch Moreland.
EDGE: Detroit Tigers