All the action in the sports world is in Middle America right now, as the League Championship Series continue today with Detroit-Texas and Milwaukee-St. Louis and then tonight in the NFL it's Chicago-Detroit. Here's a look…
Milwaukee & Texas got their League Championship Series started with home wins over the weekend, as both teams take a 1-0 series lead into the Game 2 action that begins today in both leagues. But all wins aren’t created equal, and while no game in a best-of-seven can be dismissed, one team’s early triumph was much bigger than the other’s.
Texas’ 3-2 win over Detroit on Saturday night was nothing short of enormous and the rain delay that pushed Game 2 back to this afternoon (4 ET, Fox) didn’t hurt either. The Rangers were able to beat Justin Verlander, who went only 4-plus innings due to the rain, but gave up all three runs. Verlander’s got to dislike this whole postseason thing by now, with both of his Game 1 starts this October being disrupted by rain. The Rangers now hold a pitching edge in each game going forward and an opportunity is there to close this out in four or five games. The rain delay means there will be no travel day and the teams will now play four straight days (Detroit hosts the middle trio from Tuesday to Thursday). Teams do this all year long, so it’s no big deal, but it does given an edge to the team with the deeper bullpen. Right now that’s Texas and Alexi Ogando continues to give great work in middle relief, delivering two shutout innings on Saturday night.
This afternoon’s game features Detroit’s Max Scherzer on the mound, a hero in the Yankee series, against Derek Holland, who got a clutch Game 2 win over Tampa Bay in the Division Series that saved his team’s season. And is if Texas didn’t have enough going for them right now, Magglio Ordonez is out for the series with an ankle injury and his counterpart rightfielder Nelson Cruz hit a home run that may indicate a hot streak is about to kick in.
Milwaukee’s 9-6 slugfest win over St. Louis was important, but more in the form of holding serve. The Brewers simply can’t lose when either Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo takes the mound, and even though Greinke was not effective yesterday, Milwaukee’s offense still picked him up. It’s strange to look at the Cardinal trio of Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday having a 7-for-12 day and say that wasn’t good enough. But all seven hits were singles, and with Brewer counterparts Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder delivering the longball, Milwaukee outmuscled their division rival.
This series has all the earmarks of one where a brawl is on the way. There’s bad blood spilling over from the season and when Braun hit a first-inning home run, Fielder was immediately plunked with the next pitch. Then after Fielder’s home run, his grandstanding after crossing home plate was surely noticed in the Cardinal dugout. In Sunday’s preview of this series, I said these teams reminded me of the 2003-05 Red Sox-Yankee battles because of their deep offensive attacks. The Brewers-Cards may imitate the brawling aspect of that rivalry in the not-to-distant future. Game 2 is tonight in Milwaukee. Edwin Jackson, who won a must-win game against the Phillies in the Division Series, gets the ball for St. Louis, while the slumping Shawn Marcum takes the mound for Milwaukee.
Detroit puts its unbeaten record on the line tonight when they face the Chicago Bears at Ford Field (8:30 ET, ESPN). The Lions have to keep pace with the Packers in the NFC North, while the Bears need this win to make sure they don’t dig an early hole in the race for the playoffs. This matchup is less about talent and matchups and more about focus. Are the Lions ready for prime-time?
It’s been a long time since Detroit took the field in a game on national television and tonight they do it against a team who’s very familiar with the spotlight and big games. From a personnel standpoint, the Lions are in very good shape here. I don’t believe Chicago corners, Chris Tillman and Eric Wright have any shot with matching up against Calvin Johnson, and even if they double up, Matthew Stafford can go to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. On the other side of the ball, the Detroit defensive front is very solid, especially at rushing the passer and get pressure from the edge, along as up the gut with Ndamakong Suh. Chicago’s pass protection leaves something to be desired, to put it mildly. If the Bear defense can’t keep this from becoming a shootout and Jay Cutler can’t be kept upright, it will be a long night and that’s through nothing more than Detroit playing to its strengths.
There’s another side to the coin though, and Detroit has already shown a tendency to fall behind early in games. They’re also not running the ball well, a circumstance that gives the Bears’ own ends, Julius Pepper and Israel Idonjie carte blanche to tee off on quarterback Matthew Stafford. And how will Stafford respond to this pressure? I’m not talking about what the Bears bring, but what the bright lights of ESPN bring. Will he tighten up or go to the other extreme and try and do too much? That’s the issue for Stafford and for the Lions as a whole. If they play their game, they’ll win. If they aren’t ready for prime-time, they’ll lose. I’d rather predict based on tangibles rather than intangibles and am looking for a decisive Detroit victory tonight.