The Texas Rangers are back in the American League Championship Series for the second straight year. If they want to make it two straight trips to the World Series they will have to get past the Detroit Tigers.
That quest starts this evening with Game 1 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
After cruising to their second straight American League West crown the Rangers started their postseason in disappointing fashion, as the Tampa Bay Rays handed them a 9-0 drubbing in Game 1 of the ALDS.
However, behind a terrifically balanced lineup, the Rangers responded with three straight wins to nail down a series victory. It seemed to be a different hero every night, as five Texas batters drove in multiple runs in the series, with Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli leading the way with four RBI apiece.
Beltre also tied a postseason record by swatting three home runs in the Rangers' Game 4 clincher, while Napoli hit .357 in the series.
The Rangers lineup is loaded from 1-through-9 with former MVP Josh Hamilton leading the way, along with the likes of Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and the incredibly underrated Michael Young, who was the team's best player this season, hitting .338 with 106 RBI.
Left-hander C.J. Wilson, who will get the start tonight, absorbed the lone loss for the Rangers against the Rays. Wilson, though, had a terrific year after assuming the role as staff ace, as he went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and earned his first trip to the All-Star Game.
"One great thing about the postseason is we know how to turn the page," Young said. "If something doesn't go our way, we turn the page. I'm sure C.J. was ready to go the second after Game 1, so he'll be motivated, he'll be ready to go. He's definitely been our guy all season."
Making the series win even more impressive for the American League Central champion Tigers was the fact that they were only able to use AL Cy Young Award front-runner Justin Verlander once in the series after his Game 1 outing was cut short by rain following just an inning of work.
Verlander made the most of his Game 3 assignment, striking out 11 in eight innings, while surrendering four runs and six hits.
"We're right where we want to be," Verlander said. "We're ready to go to Texas and keep playing good baseball."
Verlander put forth one of the best years ever by a Tigers' starter, as he won the league's pitching Triple Crown, going 24-5 with a 2.40 earned run average and 250 strikeouts. One of his losses did come against the Rangers, who managed just two runs in nine innings off him. Verlander, though, is 6-2 lifetime versus Texas with a 2.31 ERA in nine starts.
He's also 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA in three career starts at Rangers Ballpark.
On the injury front Tigers outfielder Delmon Young is considered a game-time decision after suffering an oblique injury in Thursday's series-clinching win over the Yankees. Young, of course, swatted three home runs in the ALDS.
"He looks pretty good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I'd say he's probable, if this was the NFL."
These teams have never met in the playoffs, but the Tigers won six of their nine regular season matchups against the Rangers.