No matter NL foe, Tigers face formidable challenge
No matter NL foe, Tigers face formidable challenge
By Lyle Spencer
DETROIT -- As they clear their heads, relax for a few days and check out the National League Championship Series to discover where they will open the 2012 World Series, the American League champion Detroit Tigers have no reason to express any preference in the afterglow of their sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS.
Antagonizing your preferred opponent never is good form. Besides, the Cardinals and Giants warrant sincere respect from the Tigers, who know how difficult it is to get this far.
"We're going to celebrate for the team tonight," ALCS Most Valuable Player Delmon Young, the Tigers' slugging outfielder/designated hitter, said amid the customary post-triumph party on Thursday at Comerica Park. "I don't know what's next for us, but we're going to stay focused and get our work in."
In terms of matchups, Detroit has the advantage offensively over the Giants and the pitching edge against the Cardinals, based on the historic performance of the Justin Verlander-led rotation in league series against the A's and Yankees.
The team these Tigers call to mind at the moment are the 2010 World Series champion Giants with their dominant rotation and a great hitter, Buster Posey, anchoring the attack. That man in Detroit is Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who has succeeded Albert Pujols as the game's premier hitter.
If familiarity really does breed contempt, the Tigers would rather play San Francisco. On the other hand, they've had uncommon success against the Cardinals with considerably more Central exposure to St. Louis than the road less traveled out West.
In nine series against the Tigers, dating to 1998, the Cards have claimed only one, in 2009, dropping 19 of 29 games. Detroit swept three-game series against St. Louis in 2007 and 2006, the Cards avenging that latter mistreatment by taking out the Tigers in five in the 2006 World Series.
World Series bound
The Tigers won their 11th AL pennant with their sweep of the Yankees and they will go for their fifth World Series championship.
The Giants have won seven of 12 games in four Interleague series with the Tigers. San Francisco took the most recent series, in 2011 at Detroit, pounding Game 4 ALCS star Max Scherzer in a 15-3 decision in the middle game. The Tigers averted a sweep with a 6-3 comeback win in the finale.
Detroit is 3-3 vs. the Giants at home and 2-4 in San Francisco.
The Tigers are 13-5 against the Cards at home and hold a 6-5 edge in St. Louis.
When they got together for an Interleague series in June, there was very little to suggest that the Tigers and Cardinals could meet again four months later in Major League Baseball's showcase event.
Verlander, who is 3-1 with a 4.32 ERA in four career starts against St. Louis, prevailed, 6-3, in the series opener at Comerica Park. Only one of the three runs the ace surrendered through seven innings was earned.
Cabrera doubled and singled, Young had two hits and two RBIs, and Jhonny Peralta also had two hits. Lance Lynn lasted five innings for the Cards, giving up five runs on nine hits.
In the middle game of the series, Jake Westbrook used his sinker to hold Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Young to a combined 1-for-12. Rick Porcello threw seven strong innings but was tagged with the loss.
The Tigers claimed the rubber match, 2-1, in 10 innings on June 21 at Comerica Park on Quintin Berry's walk-off hit. Rookie Jacob Turner, dealt to the Marlins in July in the Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante swap, gave Detroit five strong innings. Kyle Lohse was on his game for the Cards, giving up one run on four hits across seven innings.
As the series wrapped, the teams' records were almost identical.
Detroit: 34-35, third in the AL Central, but just 2 1/2 games behind front-running Cleveland.
St. Louis: 35-35, third in the NL Central, four games behind Cincinnati and two behind Pittsburgh.
Both clubs had their best baseball waiting on the late summer horizon. The Tigers and Cardinals finished strong, carrying momentum into the postseason. This is a familiar formula for October success, St. Louis having experienced it 12 months earlier in ways known by few teams in history.
The Tigers would hardly recognize the Giants, who have undergone a major makeover. Only Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford are playing regularly off the club that took two of three from the Tigers in Detroit. Posey was recovering from ankle surgery.
One San Franciscan well known to the Tigers is former A's lefty Barry Zito. In 16 career starts against Detroit, he's 8-6 with a 2.91 ERA. Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner each faced Detroit once, pitching capably without a decision, while Matt Cain has not had a start against the Tigers.
If the Redbirds hold home-field advantage, courtesy of the NL's All-Star Game explosion in Kansas City, they'll have the team they just dispatched in the NLCS to thank. The Giants were a dominant force in the NL's Midsummer Classic romp, with Melky Cabrera claiming the game's MVP award.
Melky would be dishonored with a 50-game PED ban not long after playing a major role in the All-Star Game. Detroit's Cabrera was just getting warmed up on his way to the Triple Crown.
Miguel Cabrera has another crown in mind now.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.