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3 to Watch: The Best in the AL edition

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
BOSTON -- Tiger Stadium would have been 100 years old Friday, too.

Hmmm. So that means that if the Tiger Stadium Fan Club had its way, or if the politicians in Michigan had dragged their feet on a new ballpark as effectively as the ones in Massachusetts did, I might have been in Detroit rather than Boston this weekend.

And instead of watching Yankees-Red Sox, I might have been watching the two best teams in the American League.

Too early to declare that?

It probably is, but the fact is that the Rangers and the Tigers were the last two AL teams standing last October. And they've been the best two AL teams in the early going this April.

Heading into a four-game series that begins Thursday night, the Rangers are 10-2 and lead the league in both scoring and pitching. The Tigers are 9-3, have the best pitcher in the game and maybe the best middle of the batting order, too.

The Rangers don't believe in measuring sticks, and they wisely don't believe in big series in April. In fact, they stick so closely to manager Ron Washington's "play the same every night" mantra that it was hard to find anyone who would admit to being excited about this weekend.

"It is good entertainment," general manager Jon Daniels said.

A day before the Detroit series began, Daniels hadn't even looked at the pitching matchups, and he asked hopefully whether the Rangers would miss Justin Verlander.

The good news for any neutral planning to watch the series: They won't. Verlander starts Saturday, in a fascinating matchup with Neftali Feliz.

The Tigers won six of nine regular-season games from the Rangers last year, winning two of three in each series. Then the Rangers, of course, won the series that really counted in October.

"They pushed us to the brink," Daniels said. "And they were pretty beat up then."

The Tigers appear to be a better team now than they were in October. The Rangers might be better, too.

It's a series worth celebrating.

Too bad Tiger Stadium's not around to host it.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. There was a time when the Red Sox were every bit as determined to move out of Fenway as the Tigers were to move out of Tiger Stadium. I remember coming to Boston and seeing all the diagrams and models of what the "New Fenway" was going to look like. Instead, Fenway becomes the first major-league ballpark to celebrate a 100th anniversary, in Yankees at Red Sox, Friday afternoon (3:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Two years from now, Wrigley Field will celebrate its 100th anniversary. And on April 4, 2112, Marlins Park will do the same. OK, maybe not.

2. The Rangers have a great lineup, a deep rotation and a deep bullpen. They don't, at the moment, have a Verlander. Who does? But the Rangers don't have a single starting pitcher who yet qualifies as a true ace. Can Feliz grow into that? "We've always felt the raw ingredients are there," Daniels said. Feliz makes just his third career big-league start in Rangers at Tigers, Saturday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Comerica Park.

3. Stephen Strasburg came out of his last start concerned that he might be tipping pitches. I came out of it concerned that Nationals fans aren't as excited about Strasburg as they once were. His first home start of the year, admittedly on an April Monday night against the Astros, drew just 16,245. I have to admit, I still try to watch this guy pitch, any chance I get. The next chance to see him is in Marlins at Nationals, Saturday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Nationals Park. It's an interesting matchup, too, as Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez is 7-0 against the Nationals in his career, with a 2.06 ERA. Now, is there any way we can stop the Tigers and Nationals from pitching Verlander and Strasburg on the same day, at the same time?


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