<
>

ALCS prediction time: Tigers-Rangers

This has the makings of a classic AL Championship Series. The Tigers have the dominant Justin Verlander, who could pitch two or even three times in the series. The Rangers have a lineup from top to bottom that can punish the ball. Both teams can pitch and both teams can score runs. This should be fun.

Verlander is clearly the headliner on the mound in this series, but don't discount C.J. Wilson, who seems to pitch his best when up against the opponent's top pitcher. This series is likely to come down to the other members of the staff -- Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison for the Rangers and Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello for the Tigers.

Offensively, the Rangers scored the third-most runs in the AL (855) in 2011 and the Tigers the fourth-most (787). Texas hit .283, top batting average in the AL. The Tigers batted .277, third in the AL. The Rangers have more power, though the Tigers aren't far behind them in extra-base hits.

Texas is a lot more active on the bases, stealing 143 bags to the Tigers' 49. But when Detroit goes, they normally make it. They are fourth in stolen base percentage (71 percent), one spot behind the Rangers (76 percent).

As for the pitching staffs, the Rangers had a 3.79 ERA (5th) to the Tigers' 4.04 (7th). Would it surprise you to know that the Rangers' starting pitching ERA was better than the Tigers, even with Verlander leading the rotation? Texas starters posted a 74-40 record with a 3.65 ERA. The Tigers were 72-47 with a 4.10 ERA. The relief numbers are very similar between the teams, though that's misleading as both teams are better now on the mound than they were earlier in the season.

Those that use the season series to say that the Tigers have a big edge here haven't paid attention. The Rangers bullpen blew two of the first three games between the teams in April. That was back when manager Ron Washington kept running pitcher after pitcher out there, uncertain if they could even get the job done. Josh Hamilton got hurt in that first series too and the Rangers had to adjust. Adrian Beltre was out with a strained hamstring as the Rangers lost two of three in August.

Look for Alexi Ogando to play another big role. All three of the Rangers' victories over Detroit were with Ogando starting on the mound.

All of this is meant to illustrate how even these two teams appear to be, signaling a long series. But the Rangers have the homefield and that could prove critical. Verlander will do his thing, but the Rangers have shown they can win the close games. And that's what this series will be about.

I'll take the Rangers in 7, even if that's Verlander on short rest on the mound. If the Rangers go with Colby Lewis in Game 3 and stay on full rest, he'd get the ball in Game 7. Hey, the guy knows how to pitch ALCS clinchers. So I'll go with the Rangers in this one and believe they advance to the World Series for the second consecutive season.

Durrett: Rangers in 7