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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 12:07 AM

Even though the networks are focused on the Yankees and Red Sox this weekend, it’s the Texas Rangers matchup against the Detroit Tigers that currently showcases the two best teams in the American League. At least, that’s what the standings show heading into Saturday action. We’ll have a much better sense of that in a few days…as Texas heads home Monday to face the Yankees.

Let’s take a quick look at the two games remaining this weekend in the Rangers-Tigers battle. Then, we’ll spend a few minutes reviewing the three appearances so far for Yu Darvish. He’s off to a 3-0 start despite spotty consistency. His next outing will come against the Yankees Tuesday. Fans of pitching could be in for a real treat this weekend in Motown based on the stats you’re about to read. Of course, these offenses will have something to say about that.

TEXAS AT DETROIT: SATURDAY 1:05 P.M.

Feliz: 1-0, 2.25 ERA, 12IP, 3 ER, 7K, 4 BB

Verlander: 1-1, 2.13 ERA, 25.1 IP, 6 ER, 23K, 5 BB

You can make a very good case right now that “Detroit with Verlander” is the single most imposing betting option in the Major Leagues. Verlander is a perennial Cy Young threat who’s off to a fantastic start to the 2012 season. Detroit as a team is the clear favorite to win the AL Central thanks to their upgraded lineup. When Philadelphia’s is at full strength, “Philadelphia with Halladay” is certainly a potent combo. When C.C. Sabathia has his best stuff, “NY Yankees with Sabathia” deserves a lot of respect. We won’t go through and list all the power combo’s. Good luck finding one that’s better than the Tigers with Verlander!

Did you realize that Verlander has only allowed one earned run in the first eight innings of all three of his starts this year? His ERA is 2.13 this year because he’s been left into the ninth inning in two starts. His ERA is a stunning 1.13 if you stop every game at the eight inning mark. Of course. They did that in his first game vs. Boston and the bullpen blew his win!

Feliz has been solid so far, though you can see from the K-BB ratio that he’s been more of a pitch-to-contact guy this year. That can be dangerous against good offenses. So far, Feliz has only faced Seattle and Minnesota.

Detroit is and should be the clear favorite with that pitching matchup. Feliz certainly has a chance to keep it close. And, Verlander will be tested by this Rangers lineup. 

TEXAS AT DETROIT: SUNDAY 1:05 P.M.

Lewis: 2-0, 1.83 ERA, 19.2 IP, 4 ER, 22K, 1 BB

Smyly: 0-0, 0.90 ERA, 10 IP, 1 ER, 8K, 4 BB

Lewis is knocking on the door of that “Detroit with Verlander” with discussion with those fantastic numbers. How about 22-1 for a K-BB ratio?! We’ll likely spend a lot of time over the next several months reminding you that Texas has a great pitching staff. The media focused too much on the slugging aspects of the team last year, and may fall into that trap again.

Good start this year for Smyly. We talked in recent days about how Detroit would need pitching if they wanted to go the distance in the American League this year. So far, so very good. He’s not lasting deep, with just an average of 5 IP per start. Not a disaster with a new starter, but not something that will be tolerated long. You usually have to go at least 6 on average to stay in a rotation.

We’ll have to consider the Under in this one, particularly with it being a get-away game for one of the teams (Detroit stays home to host Seattle in a series that begins Tuesday).

Great matchups. Be sure you’re monitoring that series as closely as you can amidst all the hype about Yankees-Red Sox.

We promised a discussion of Darvish. Here are the key numbers from his three starts so far.

WHIRLING DARVISH

5.2 IP, 8 hits, 5 earned runs, 5K, 4 BB at home vs. Seattle

5.2 IP, 9 hits, 1 earned run, 4K, 4 BB on the road at Minnesota

6.1 IP, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 5K, 5 BB on the road at Detroit

There are causes for concern, and causes for optimism. That’s obviously way too many walks. Darvish has had big trouble consistently finding the strike zone. He has been able to bear down and get strikeouts when threatened. For some reason, he has to get into trouble first. You can’t argue with 14 K’s in 17.2 innings. But, a 14-13 K-BB ratio is horrible for a major leaguer, especially a guy that hitters haven’t seen before. New pitchers generally have an edge.

You’ll recall he was hit hard vs. Seattle. He flirted with disaster at Minnesota, with 14 baserunners only scoring one run in 5.2 innings (that should be impossible!). He flirted less often with disaster at Detroit because he wasn’t allowing hits. But, he did put seven guys on base in less than seven innings. Let’s focus on those parts of the picture:

17.2 IP: 19 hits and 13 walks

That’s 32 baserunners in 17.2 innings. So, he’s putting himself in trouble time and time again, and he’s not lasting long enough into the game to let the Rangers bullpen rest. The Rangers were certainly hoping for much more than this out of the gate…but they are being patient. And, you can’t say it’s hurting the team. The Rangers are on fire…and Darvish is 3-0 even with those spotty numbers.

Going forward, we’re not ready to jump on or drive the Darvish bandwagon. He’s talked about wanting to learn the US hitters. That tells you he’s less about “great stuff” than he is “baseball smarts.” Outsmarting Japanese hitters is less difficult than outsmarting the best hitters in the world. Japanese baseball is basically Double A (give or take depending on who you listen to). Keep an eye on that walk category, and the innings pitched per start. Verlander has baseball smarts, but he’s got untouchable stuff too.

JIM HURLEY may nor may not be releasing this game or Yankees-Red Sox to clients Saturday. Check the ad boxes on the home page of this website for details about what’s available for online purchase. We can tell you that major moves are scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Other matchups we’re looking at Saturday:

Miami at Washington (Sanchez at Strasburg)

Atlanta at Arizona (Hanson vs. Saunders)

Philadelphia at San Diego (Halladay vs. Luebke)

The NL East is shaping up to be a very interesting division in 2012. Four of the five teams are involved in games that are getting special attention from the elements of our exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach.

Saturday’s NBA Highlights:

Denver at Phoenix (huge game on ESPN)

Philadelphia at Indiana (Sixers trying to get into the playoffs)

Dallas at Chicago (last year’s champ vs. this year’s champ on ESPN?)

Orlando at Utah (soap opera travels to Salt Lake on ESPN)

We’ve talked about this all week…and the intensity just keeps picking every single day. We hope you join us Saturday and Sunday for game day releases. Or, check out our seasonal rankings by calling our office at 1-800-323-4453.

It’s been an AWESOME APRIL so far…and the steak isn’t even sizzling yet!

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