Verlander and Wilson open Detroit-Texas series

By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - On paper, the Texas Rangers look to have some advantages in their American League Championship Series (ALCS) against the Detroit Tigers, but playoffs are won and lost on the field as the New York Yankees would attest.

The defending American League champion Rangers have out-homered, outscored and out-run the AL Central champion Tigers, who have shown a knack for winning the close games and feature the most dominant pitcher in the series in Justin Verlander.

Game One of the best-of-seven series is Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

The Rangers eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays in four games, while the Tigers ousted the Yankees in a deciding Game Five in the Bronx, advancing Thursday with a tense 3-2 victory.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he was not sure about the status of left-fielder Delmon Young, who belted three home runs in the series against the Yankees but left Friday's game with a strained muscle in his side. Yet the Detroit skipper was keen for the next challenge for his ballclub.

"I love the competition. That's what sports is all about," Leyland told reporters in Texas on Friday. "We're going to be playing the defending American League champion, a team that beat the team that we beat last night. They beat them last year. They're really good. It will be great competition."

Texas, second in the league in home runs with 210, have power threats throughout the lineup, led by third baseman Adrian Beltre and second baseman Ian Kinsler with 32, catcher Mike Napoli (30), Nelson Cruz (29) and Josh Hamilton (25).


Detroit, who hit 41 fewer homers than Texas, was led in virtually all offensive categories by first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who slugged 30 home runs, led the league in batting at .344, drove in 105 runs, and had 197 hits in a sublime season.

Designated hitter Victor Martinez, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and catcher Alex Avila also provided support for the pitchers.

The Rangers also use their speed on the basepaths to advantage, stealing 147 bases this season to just 49 for Detroit, who ranked last in the league in that category.

Texas pitchers posted a 3.79 earned run average (ERA) versus Detroit's mark of 4.04, but the Tigers have consistently found a way to win, relying on a nearly infallible formula at the end of games, in set-up man Joaquin Benoit and animated closer Jose Valverde, who converted 49-of-49 save tries.

The Rangers, who fell in five games to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 World Series, won the AL West again with a 96-66 record, claiming home field advantage over the Tigers, who won the Central with a 95-67 mark.

Both teams will be going with their best on the mound in Saturday's opener, with Verlander going against C.J. Wilson.

That could weigh in Detroit's favor right from the start.

Verlander, who was 24-5 with a 2.40 earned run average, completed the pitching Triple Crown by leading the American league in wins, ERA and strikeouts (250), while issuing just 57 walks in 251 innings with a fastball that often hits 100 mph.

Wilson, who left the bullpen to join the starting rotation last season, was not exactly shabby himself, posting a 16-7 record, 2.94 ERA, 206 strikeouts and 74 walks in 223 innings.

Leyland said he had decided on his starting rotation, following Verlander with Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer before returning to the top of the rotation.

Detroit won the season-series between the clubs by taking six of their nine meetings, winning two-of-three in all three series between the clubs.

The first two games of the series are in Texas, with the next three slated for Detroit. If needed, the series that sends the survivor to the World Series will return to Texas for a sixth and seventh game.

(Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry)