MLB Playoffs - ALCS Q&A With Rangers And Tigers Writers
Check out Aaron's NLCS Q&A here.
The American League Championship series is set. The Texas Rangers are back for the second straight year, but this time around, they'll be facing a new opponent in the form of the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers upset the New York Yankees by stealing Game 5 in the Bronx behind clutch pitching from Doug Fister, Joaquin Benoit, and Jose Valverde, as well as much-needed power provided by Delmon Young and little-known utility player Don Kelly.
The best of seven series begins Saturday at 8:05 EST, featuring a stellar pitching match-up between Cy Young front-runner Justin Verlander and Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson. Each starter struck out more than 200 batters this season and boasted an ERA of under 3.
1. How do the 2011 Rangers compare to last year's team that made it to the World Series?
Newberg: The absence of pitcher Cliff Lee changes the top of the rotation, though the balance of the starting five is stronger this year. The additions of 3B Adrian Beltre and C Mike Napoli proved to be massive both offensively and in the field, and the bullpen is significantly better. There's also a sense that the team, having come off a World Series season that fell just short, is extremely focused on taking the final step.
2. Tigers manager Jim Leyland decided to let Don Kelly bat second and was rewarded with a key home run in the first inning of Detroit's Game 5 win. Who is Don Kelly, and where did he come from?
Casselberry: Up until last year, Kelly was basically a career minor leaguer. A utility player in the majors, at best. But his versatility and willingness to accept any role impressed Leyland. A decent left-handed bat didn't hurt, either.
Slumps and injuries made Kelly a vital player this year. He helped out in the outfield when Magglio Ordoñez got hurt and filled in at third base when Brandon Inge was sent to the minors. Anything he can contribute with the bat is helpful too, and as you saw in Game 5 of the ALDS, he has some sneaky power.
3. Adrian Beltre was 1 for 11 through the first three games of the ALDS, but recovered to launch three home runs in the Rangers' series clinching win over the Rays. What does Beltre mean to this team, both offensively and defensively?
Several Rangers officials knew Beltre from his Dodger days and believed in his makeup and tenacious work ethic, and felt his lack of career playoff success would be a motivator. His defense was as expected and his offense probably exceeded expectations.
4. Delmon Young hit .316 with three home runs against the Yankees in the ALDS. What has the mid-August acquisition of Young meant to the Tigers offense?
Casselberry: Young provided some much-needed punch in the outfield, with Ordoñez slumping and Ryan Raburn struggling with consistency. The Tigers needed someone to man that No. 3 spot in the lineup in front of Miguel Cabrera, and no one filled the role capably until Young was acquired. He'll be missed during the ALCS, especially against the Rangers' left-handed starting pitchers.
5. From top to bottom, the Ranger batting order must be pretty daunting for opponents to face. Talk a little about the Rangers' stacked lineup.
Newberg: The team has cut its strikeouts dramatically in recent years and the lineup is full of players capable of getting hot and putting the team on its back. Texas has always hit for power, but this is now a team that runs well, has several players who work pitch counts and draws walks, and is more versatile than it has been in the past.
6. Many analysts believe the Rangers boast a deeper offensive lineup, but the Tigers have the superior 1-2-3 punch with their starting rotation. Do you agree with this assessment?
On the pitching side, Detroit has the most dominant pitcher in Verlander. Fister and Scherzer could pitch a gem, as well. Maybe the Texas rotation doesn't get the credit it should, but none of their starters are really a shutdown pitcher. Any of them could pitch a great game, but could also get lit up. I would say, however, that the Rangers have a decided advantage in the bullpen, which could end up being the difference in this series.
7. With the exception of Games 1 and 4, how were the Tiger pitchers able to hold the mighty Yankees in check, offensively?
Casselberry: The Tigers were successful against the Yankees by staying aggressive in the strike zone. The Yankees love to take pitches, foul them off, and make opposing starters work. But Tigers pitchers threw strikes and made them swing the bat. Limiting walks was also important. The Yankees will get their home runs, but if no one is on base, the damage is limited. When Detroit got into trouble, they walked batters and extra base hits ended up scoring a lot of runs.
8. Starting pitcher Doug Fister was another key August acquisition for this ball club. Talk about what he has done for the team in his short time donning a Tiger uniform.
Casselberry: The Tigers needed another starting pitcher who could be a reliable presence in the rotation behind Justin Verlander. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello showed flashes of dominance, but were inconsistent throughout the season.
More than anything, they needed someone who could throw strikes and pitch deep into ballgames. Fister accomplished both objectives for the Tigers. But he's been even better than the Tigers expected, striking out more batters than he has throughout his career while developing into the team's second-best starter.
Newberg: Everyone behind Wilson is capable of getting deep into games and shutting down the opposition on occasion – in fact, Wilson threw the only subpar game in the Rangers' series against the Rays. Colby Lewis had a disappointing season but has been a sensational postseason pitcher these last two years, and Derek Holland and Matt Harrison have matured dramatically in 2011.
10. How do you rate the Rangers bullpen?
Newberg: It's a weapon. Neftali Feliz had a terrific second half, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando give the team two dependable power set-up arms, and Darren Oliver and Mike Gonzalez allow the club to match up against big left-handed bats in big spots. Koji Uehara had a fantastic September, but in the space of three Tampa Bay hitters in Game One of the ALDS, he might have cost himself a bit in terms of the team's trust in him in the short term.
11. Tell us a little about Tiger Al Alburquerque, a rookie relief pitcher, who has dominated opposing batters.
Casselberry: Al Alburquerque was kind of a lucky find by general manager Dave Dombrowski before the season. Both the Cubs and Rockies gave Alburquerque a shot in the minors, but his control problems kept him from getting a call-up. The Tigers could afford to take a chance on a live arm, and when some of their reliever prospects didn't work out as planned, Alburquerque and his nasty slider became the strikeout man in the bullpen. However, Leyland might not quite trust him anymore after his struggles in the ALDS.
12. Many key offensive players have had to go on the disabled list this season. Has Ron Washington taken any special precautions to protect an injury-prone guy like Josh Hamilton, for example?
Newberg: Hamilton played more left field this year in an effort to protect him physically, and Josh has acknowledged that he has tried toning down his kamikaze style of play in games in which the team may be four or five runs ahead or behind. But he's always going to be an injury risk.
13. With Detroit dead last (30th) in the big leagues in stolen bases and the Rangers ranking fifth in that department, should the Tigers be worried about that speed disparity or is that not too big of a concern?
The Rangers' aggressiveness on the basepaths should be a concern for the Tigers, but I think they can control an opponent's running game pretty well. Avila was one of the league's top catchers in throwing out baserunners this season, and most of Detroit's starting pitchers do a decent job of holding runners. However, the Tigers aren't the strongest defensive team and Texas might be able to take advantage of that and force Detroit into some mistakes by frequently trying for the extra base.
14. From Texas' perspective, what are the keys to defeating the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS to earn a second straight trip to the World Series?
Newberg: Hope that Wilson goes toe to toe with Justin Verlander, and make the rest of the Tigers' starters throw strikes. Catch the ball, make some noise on the bases, and hope that Hamilton and Nelson Cruz can find a rhythm while others in the Texas lineup continue to produce.
15. From Detroit's perspective, what are the keys to winning the American League pennant?
Casselberry: Above all, Detroit has to get good starting pitching to beat the Rangers. Obviously the Tigers have to prevent Texas from scoring a bunch of runs, but they also need their starters to pitch deep into ballgames and keep their mediocre middle relief off the field. Ideally, the starters would pitch six or seven innings and hand the ball off to Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.
On the offensive side, Tigers batters have to be patient and look for good pitches to hit. Unfortunately, they haven't always shown that sort of discipline, which is how a wild pitcher like A.J. Burnett can hold them to one run. But the Rangers' starters like to pound the strike zone, which means the Tigers won't have to chase many pitches.
16. Who do you think will win the series? In how many games?
Casselberry: The Rangers look like the better overall team, but I think the Tigers' superior starting pitching will ultimately push them through to the World Series. Detroit beat the Yankees despite Verlander only being able to pitch one game, and he'll pitch twice in the ALCS. (I doubt he pitches three times.) If Fister and Scherzer pitch as well as they did against the Yankees, that's a formidable threesome. I'll take Detroit in six.
Newberg: Give me Texas in six.
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