Previewing Game 6 of the ALCS
The American League Championship Series returns to Arlington Saturday night for its final act, in which the Rangers need to win just one of the next two games to claim their second consecutive American League pennant, while the Tigers continue their quest to become just the 12th of the 76 teams in baseball history to fall behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven series to comeback to win that series.
Already, the Tigers have escaped the fate of the 38 teams down 3-1 who were eliminated in Game 5, but of the 37 teams to force a Game 6, more than half, 21 to be exact, made it no further, and 13 of those 21 played Game 6 on the road, as the Tigers will do Saturday night. However, of the 16 teams down 3-1 to force a Game 7, 11 completed their comeback with a series win.
Of the 22 teams with home-field advantage in a best-of-seven series to jump out to a 3-1 lead then lose Game 5, as the Rangers did, just six of them failed to win one of the final two games at home to take the series. Those six were: the 2004 Yankees, 2003 Cubs and 1985 Blue Jays in the LCS, and the 1979 Orioles, 1968 Cardinals, and 1958 Braves in the World Series.
• The Tigers got the better end of this pitching matchup in Game 2, also played in Arlington, but the Rangers won that game anyway thanks to 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief from Scott Feldman and Nelson Cruz's walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 11th. That and the fact that both starters gave up three runs made it easy to overlook how well Scherzer pitched (6 IP, 1 BB, 6 K, 91 pitches) and how poorly Holland pitched (2 2/3 IP, 4 BB, 0 K, 76 pitches).
• Coming into the postseason, Scherzer's road splits looked frightening (5.23 ERA, 1.9 HR/9), but he has excelled in his three postseason road outings (two Game 2 starts and one relief appearance), allowing just one home run, a solo shot by the red-hot Cruz, in 13 1/3 innings while striking out 13 and posting a 2.70 ERA. Still, the Cruz home run was a crucial one as it tied up Game 2 of this series, setting up Cruz's game-winner off Ryan Perry in the 11th.
• Cruz is now 6-for-18 in this series. Five of those six hits are home runs (the other is a double), and he remains the only Ranger to go deep in this series. He has also driven in 11 of the Rangers' 24 runs, a whopping 46 percent. The rest of the Rangers' lineup is hitting a collective .248/.299/.335 with no home runs and 13 RBIs in almost exactly 10 times as many at-bats. The Tigers may lose the platoon advantage by pitching around the right-handed Cruz to get to the left-handed David Murphy, but at this point, Cruz is the Rangers hitter they can't let beat them.
• It's worth noting that Murphy and fellow lefty Josh Hamilton are the only Rangers other than Cruz with an OPS over .800 in this series, and neither has drawn a walk (Cruz has one). Murphy is 5-for-15 with two doubles and a triple. Hamilton is 7-for-22 with four doubles.
• Holland struck out 58 men in 57 1/3 innings over his final nine starts of the regular season, but has just two strikeouts in his nine innings of work in this postseason. Meanwhile, he has walked six, hit one batter, and surrendered two home runs, including one to Ryan Raburn in Game 2 of this series. Holland has faced Rayburn five times in his career and retired him just once.
• Among the good signs for the Tigers in their season-saving Game 5 victory was the fact that Delmon Young and Victor Martinez, two players who had been battling injuries in this series (left oblique and right intercostals strains, respectively) contributed big hits. Together, they went 3-for-7 with an RBI triple by Martinez and a pair of home runs by Young, all off left-handed Texas starter C.J. Wilson. That's significant on its own, but also should help keep Rangers pitching honest against Miguel Cabrera, who walked twice in Game 5 but was not overtly intentionally passed. What's more, with Young now hitting fifth behind Cabrera and Martinez and Raburn (6-for-19 in this series with two home runs, a double, and four walks) hitting second, the structure of the top of the Tigers' lineup is vastly improved over the previous order, which had Young hitting ahead of Cabrera and Martinez in the three-hole and what was left of Magglio Ordoñez hitting second.
• Now, if only Tigers manager Jim Leyland would get strikeout machine Austin Jackson out of the leadoff spot in favor of, well, almost anyone, but let's go with second baseman Ramon Santiago, who is 8-for-21 in this series and has hit .316/.374/.419 in 135 plate appearances against left-handed pitching over the past two seasons with fewer strikeouts than Jackson has in 46 PA in this postseason.
• Thanks in part to the Rangers' parade of left-handed starters, a group that includes Holland, the Tigers are getting great work from some of their part-time bats including the switch-hitting Santiago, and righties Raburn, Ordoñez's injury replacement in right-field, and Brandon Inge, the team's platoon third baseman. Those three have hit a combined .333/.414/.549 with three home runs in 51 at-bats in this series while lefty bench bats Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, and Wilson Betemit, who would have been pressed into service had Young and Martinez not been able to play through their injuries, have combined for just three hits in 15 at-bats.
• The Tigers won Game 5 without using Joaquin Benoit or Jose Valverde as both had pitched in each of the previous three games, and poorly in Valverde's case. Both will now enter this game on two full day's rest. The same is true of the Rangers' top relievers, closer Neftali Feliz, righties Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams, long-man Feldman, and lefty Darren Oliver, all of whom pitched in Game 4's 11-inning Texas win but not in the losing effort in Game 5.
• Rangers reliever Koji Uehara has allowed a home run in each of his three appearances in the postseason, with Cabrera and Raburn doing the honors in his two appearances in this series, both of which came in Rangers losses. Meanwhile, Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque has retired just two of the six batters he has faced this postseason, has appeared in just one game in this series, and has yet to pitch in a game the Tigers have won in this postseason. Uehara and Alburquerque were both dominant in the regular season, but neither has been or appears likely to be a factor in October.