I was a rainstorm and a Chris Carpenter three-hitter away from sweeping the opening round of the MLB playoffs. Instead, another .500 showing, with my pick for the World Series – the Philadelphia Phillies – not among the winners. Oh well, always move forward. Here are my picks for the ALCS and NLCS (home-field team second).
ALCS: Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers
Tigers coach Jim Leyland rolled the dice in Game 5 of the ALDS by keeping out Justin Verlander. The gambit paid off, because now the Tigers start the best pitcher in the majors in Game 1. Verlander is 6-2 lifetime against the Rangers, and he’s never lost in Arlington (3-0, 1.29 ERA). C.J. Wilson is a great pitcher, but Verlander is just better. Tigers take Game 1 on the road.
Not helping matters is the Rangers’ offense. More specifically: there lack thereof. The Rangers are the weakest-hitting team left in the playoffs. They hit the worst, they get on base the least, and they drive the ball the least often. They’ve hit as many home runs as any remaining team, but that’s where the offense stops. And while Doug Holland may beat Max Scherzer at Rangers Ballpark – a hitter’s park – in Game 2, that lack of offense is sure to influence Games 3 through 5 at Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park.
The Rangers sport a mediocre .278 combined average against Doug Fister, who will start game 3 for the Tigers. Fister will still be amped from his ALDS Game 5 win over the Yankees, and that’s bad news for a Rangers team with such paltry on-base (.303) and slugging (.406) against him. If Fister can stay on top of Nelson Cruz (.500 avg, 1.390 OPS, home run), he should hold the Rangers in check long enough for the Tigers to get the better of Colby Lewis. The Tigers bat a combined .356 against Lewis, and everyone but backups Brandon Inge and Omir Santos has driven in at least one run.
After a final two weeks of baseball so wild and crazy Nickelodeon would want to make a game show out of it, we’re finally down to eight teams. Structurally flawed teams like the Red Sox and Braves petered out, while teams built around strong starting pitching and consistent offense have survived. Starting Friday, four best-of-five divisional series will begin. On the line: the chance for an AL or NL pennant. Who’s moving on and who’s moving home? Here’s my take (home-field team first).
New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander will win the Cy Young and has won the AL’s pitching triple crown, but he won’t be starting at home: he’ll be starting at Yankee Stadium, where he’s 0-2 with a 4.00 ERA in three starts. Verlander’s never really dominated the Yankees. CC Sabathia, meanwhile, will make both his starts at home, where he’s 26-7. Sabathia beats Verlander in Game 1 in front of a fired-up Yankees stadium.
Sabathia will start Game 4 on short rest while Verlander would start Game 5 on regular rest. Sabathia can probably beat Rick Porcello – a B+ pitcher (14-9, 4.75 ERA) at best – in Game 4. The Yankees are a statistically stronger and much faster lineup (almost 100 more stolen bases than the Tigers). Combined with the better bullpen, the Yankees have the edge in close games.
With the Yankees’ three-man rotation, rookie Ivan Nova will have to pitch twice, including once on the road. Nova has proven he’s the real deal this season, but there’s no way Verlander loses twice. Which means that to beat the Yankees, the Tigers need Doug Fister (11-13, 2.58 ERA) to beat Nova in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. I don’t see it happening. Fister has a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees, and he’s never won at Yankee Stadium.
Max Scherzer could very easily beat slow-throwing, 34-year old Freddy Garcia in Game 3 at Comerica Park, but it’s won’t be enough. Verlander might be the best pitcher in the majors, but the Yankees’ rotation runs much deeper. Prediction: Yankees in 4.
Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander leads the American Leauge in wins (24), strikeouts (244) and ERA (2.29), making him a virtual lock for the AL Cy Young award (I’d be surprised if he wasn’t chosen unanimously). While these numbers make Verlander the front-runner for the AL Triple Crown for pitchers (first since then-Minnesota Twin Johan Santana in 2006), they also put him in front for the MLB triple crown, which Santana was also the last to win.
Verlander’s main competition is Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw. What’s curious about Kershaw is he is the front-runner (currently 19/236/2.30) to win the NL Triple Crown (first since then-San Diego Padre Jake Peavy in 2007).
Should both Verlander’s and Kershaw’s positions at the top of their leagues hold up, and Verlander remains on top of Kershaw overall, it will be the first time in 87 years that a pitcher has won the MLB triple crown and another has won a league triple crown. Dazzy Vance of the NL’s Brooklyn Robins (a precursor to the Brooklyn and then LA Dodgers) won the 1924 MLB triple crown in the same season that Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators (a precursor to the Twins) won the AL’s triple crown.
The last time an AL pitcher won the MLB triple crown and an NL pitcher won his league triple crown was 1918, when that same Walter Johnson won the MLB triple crown and Hippo Vaughn (seriously) of the NL’s Chicago Cubs won his league triple crown.
Only two other times have two triple crowns been won in the same year. Christy Mathewson of the NL’s New York Giants (now in San Francisco) and Rube Waddell of the AL’s Philadelphia Athletics (later to moved Kansas City before their current home in Oakland) both won their league triple crowns in 1905, but neither won the MLB triple crown.
Charles Radbourn of the NL’s Providence Grays (defunct since 1885) won a league triple crown in 1894 in the same year that Guy Hecker of the Louisville Colonels won in the American Association (which later merged with the NL before folding in 1891).