Rangers face tough test in Tigers' rotation

Rangers face tough test in Tigers' rotation

Rangers face tough test in Tigers' rotation
ARLINGTON -- Justin Verlander, a lock for the American League Cy Young Award, is coming to a Ballpark near you. He will be followed by Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello -- in that order.

They are all right-handed, and they are all talented. Verlander right now is the best pitcher in the AL, but he is not the only reason why the Tigers rotation had the second most wins and the second highest winning percentage in the AL.

Starting pitching is clearly the Tigers' strength, and the Rangers will have to find a way to get to those four guys if they plan on advancing to the World Series for a second consecutive season. Verlander, who led the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts, will be on the mound for Game 1 when the ALCS begins at 6:30 p.m. CT on FOX, with first pitch at 7:05 p.m., on Saturday at the Ballpark in Arlington.

"They have good starting pitching, without a doubt," Rangers designated hitter Michael Young said. "If you get to [the] postseason, every team is going to have good starting pitching. It all starts and ends with starting pitching. "

Tigers starters were 72-47 for a .605 winning percentage with a 4.10 ERA. Rangers starters were 74-40 with a .649 winning percentage and a 3.65 ERA. The Rangers have the better ERA, but that doesn't take into account that the Tigers acquired Fister on July 30 from the Mariners. He was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 10 starts and one relief appearance for Detroit. Brad Penny, who had a 5.30 ERA in 31 starts, will not be in the Tigers rotation for the ALCS.

"It starts with Verlander, but it's going to be a tough battle," catcher Mike Napoli said. "They've got four solid starters. The key is to stretch them out and get into their bullpen."

The Tigers took six of nine from the Rangers during the season, and their pitchers had a 3.71 ERA in those games. Their starters had a 3.92 ERA. Texas is also quite familiar with Fister from his days with the Mariners.

The Rangers have knocked him around a couple of times, but he has also pitched well against them. He threw eight scoreless innings against the Rangers on May 2 last year, and allowed one run over seven innings on Sept. 19. He faced the Rangers on Aug. 3 with the Tigers and allowed two earned runs over seven innings in a 5-4 victory.

"He's got a real high release point and moves the ball both ways," outfielder David Murphy said. "He added a cutter this year, and that's made him better. He's not overpowering, but he can pitch. He makes the most of what he has. Obviously, Verlander stands out the most, but all their guys are strong.

"Scherzer has great stuff. He can be wild at times, but in terms of stuff, he's pretty good. Porcello, if he brings his A game, he can be tough. You've got to get both of them in the strike zone because they can get the ball up and out of the zone."

The Rangers plan to start the series with the same lineup they used against right-handed starters in the AL Division Series against the Rays. That means Napoli at catcher, Young at designated hitter and Mitch Moreland at first. It also means Murphy in left and Josh Hamilton in center, although manager Ron Washington suggested that Endy Chavez could start if needed.

But right now it's Murphy, who hit .296 with a .461 slugging percentage against right-handers this season. Both he and Moreland have been in and out of the lineup all season, but this gives them a chance to play regularly and lock in against four right-handed pitchers.

"I don't look at anything as a given," Murphy said. "It's postseason and I have to produce. There are plenty of guys on this team that can produce, but I definitely want the opportunity."

Moreland hit .266 with 15 home runs, 42 RBIs and .456 slugging percentage against right-handers. The Rangers as a team were almost equal against both. They hit .283 with a .460 slugging percentage against right-handers, and .282 with a .459 slugging percentage against left-handers.

"There are a lot of guys on this team who can step up and hit right-handers and left-handers," Moreland said. "You still have to get in the box and swing the bat. We'll go out and battle like we always do."

The Rangers still have some points of emphasis when facing Tigers pitching, and one is obvious.

"We need to stay aggressive in the strike zone and not chase pitches out of the strike zone," Young said. "We've been good the last month at being aggressive in the strike zone. Don't give the pitcher a free strike by chasing something, but if we get a strike, we like to be aggressive."

Second, the Rangers need to be able to manufacture runs. The ALDS turned in the fourth inning of Game 2 because they were able to do just that. They trailed 3-0 going into the inning, but scored five runs on two hit batters, three singles, two wild pitches and an infield grounder. They had four stolen bases in Game 3, including three in the four-run seventh.

"We know we have the talent for the big inning," Young said. "But we want to make sure if there is one run out there, we get it home. If you scratch and claw and do that, before you know it, we'll get the big inning."

Finally, the Rangers can't overswing or fall into the dreaded cliché of "trying to do too much."

"You can't do that, or go up there and try to hit the ball too far," Hamilton said. "I call it 'aggressive pepper.' Just get the barrel of the bat on the ball. Their pitchers will supply the power, just get the barrel of the bat on the ball and make good contact. Try not to lift everything."

The challenge is following through with all of that. The Rangers face a big challenge against the Tigers' starting pitching, beginning with Verlander on Saturday night.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.