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ALDS Game 1: Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers

After an absolutely epic rally from 9 games back in the wild-card race as late as September and an equally epic comeback win over the New York Yankees on Wednesday night after trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth, the Tampa Bay Rays don’t have much time to celebrate as they will face AL West champion Texas in Game 1 of their American League Division Series on Friday afternoon. Texas is a -185 favorite on WagerWeb.com.

This is a rematch of last season’s ALDS, won by the Rangers in five games essentially because Cliff Lee was unhittable. But now Lee is in Philadelphia.

The Rangers are red-hot, having won six in a row and 14 of their last 16 games. They have plenty of power, with five players boasting at least 25 homers — 2B Ian Kinsler (32), ex-Ray OF Josh Hamilton (25), 3B Adrian Beltre (32), C Mike Napoli (30) and OF Nelson Cruz (29), who has been slumping since returning from a hamstring injury. And Michael Young was in the race for the batting title and finished tied for second at .338, with 11 homers and 106 RBIs for the season.

By far, September has been the Rangers’ best month hitting-wise of the season: a team batting average of .324 and 47 home runs in 24 games. The most homers they’ve hit in any other month this season was 36. After missing the last week of July and all of August, Beltre is making up for lost time. He has 12 home runs in his last 15 games, and for the month, he’s batting .379 with those 12 home runs, in only 95 at bats. Napoli is is hitting .418 with six home runs in just 67 at-bats this month.

Texas won a team-record 96 games this season. The Rangers posted easily their best run differential in franchise history, finishing the season positive by 178 runs – 49 more than the runner-up 1996 squad.

The Rangers are big favorites for the opener because they start C.J. Wilson: The staff ace was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA this season. And he’s particularly tough against the Rays, going 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 17 career appearances (four starts). Tampa Bay counters with Jeff Niemann (11-7, 4.06. In September, Niemann had two great starts where he limited the opposing team to only two runs, but he also had two starts where he lasted five innings and allowed five runs or more. Both of those bad starts were against Texas and he took the loss in both. Niemann, pulled after one inning during his last start, said the tightness in his upper back was not an issue and he is ready to pitch. Thursday would have been his normal day to start.

Texas won the season series 5-4.

ALDS Game 1: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees

For the first time since 2006, the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees will meet in the postseason as they begin the American League Division Series on Friday night in the Bronx. New York is a -135 favorite on WagerWeb.com for the opener.

Of course Detroit, the AL Central champions, is led by Justin Verlander, the cinch AL Cy Young winner who starts Game 1. Verlander, who won the American League pitching Triple Crown, was 24-5 this season with a 2.40 earned run average and 250 strikeouts. He is 12-0 with a 2.59 ERA since his last loss July 15.

However, Verlander was 0-0 in two starts against the Yankees this year, with six runs in 12 innings. The Yanks start their ace in CC Sabathia. He was 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA during the regular season and was 0-1 in two starts against the Tigers. Over his career, Sabathia is 15-12 against Detroit with a 4.55 ERA. He had quality starts in seven of his last 10 outings this season, but his ERA was 4.06, his OPS against .858. In five of those outings, he allowed 10 hits.

The Yankees and Tigers opened the season in late March at Yankee Stadium with Sabathia and Verlander on the mound. The Yankees won that game, 6-3. Verlander gave up three runs and three hits in six innings Opening Day. On May 2 in Detroit, Verlander again went six innings against the Yankees in which he gave up three runs and eight hits. He issued four walks but didn’t get a decision in a 5-3 Yankees win.

The general feeling among baseball scouts is that if the Yankees can beat Verlander in Game 1, the ALDS is theirs. That remains to be seen because there are big questions hovering over Yanks Game 2 starter Ivan Nova and Game 3 starter Freddy Garcia.

Most would give the huge lineup edge to New York. But with the addition of Delmon Young and the emergence of catcher Alex Avila, the Tigers’ lineup has the same kind of depth and strength as the Yankees’ lineup. The Yankees outscored the Tigers this season, but since Young arrived in mid-August, the Tigers have averaged more runs per game than the Yankees did for the season. Since Young arrived, the Tigers have a .305 batting average and have averaged six runs per game. The Yankees averaged 5.4 runs this season.

And Tigers relievers Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde have become an almost invincible lockdown combination in the eighth and ninth innings. The Tigers have lost one game this season they led in the eighth inning or later — and that was May 1. They haven’t lost a game they led in the ninth inning or later. The Yankees, however, have a duo just as good in David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, who is almost unhittable in his postseason career.

The Tigers don’t have a player who combines so much power with above-average speed as former Tiger Curtis Granderson does. He hit 41 homers, second-most in the league, and had 119 RBIs, most in the league. Granderson gives the Yankees the big power threat in the No. 2 spot the Tigers haven’t had since Brennan Boesch was lost for the season with thumb surgery.

The Tigers won four of the seven games the teams played this year, including three of the four games played at Comerica Park.