Thursday night showdown in Texas offers Yu vs. Verlander

Rarely has Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander gone into another ballpark where he wasn’t the odds-on favorite in a pitching matchup.

Certainly that’s been the case whenever Verlander and the Tigers visited Arlington, Texas, where the 2011 AL Cy Young winner is 3-0 lifetime in four regular-season starts with a 1.29 ERA.

But now that the Rangers have an ace of their own in Yu Darvish, things have changed.
Instead of Thursday night’s series opener between the Tigers and Rangers being a showcase for Verlander, it’s now a matchup of two of the best pitchers in baseball as Darvish squares off against the Tigers right-hander for the first time.

What makes Thursday’s game more remarkable is that it puts pitching in the spotlight — in homer-happy Arlington of all places. Detroit leads the world in just about every offensive category and has the best hitter in baseball in Miguel Cabrera. The Rangers aren’t too shabby with the sticks either. They lead the majors in home runs.

Both teams are off to good starts. The Rangers have matched the 1996 team for the best 40-game record in franchise history and the Tigers are the reigning AL champs. But the initial focus of the four-game series is Thursday night’s first meeting between the two aces.

Darvish faced the Tigers three times last year but instead of opposing Verlander, he went up against the likes of Adam Wilk, Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello.

That doesn’t have the same cache as Yu vs. Verlander.

The games for Darvish last year against Detroit were also before Darvish ascended to ace status. Even though he went 3-0 with a 3.60 ERA in the those three starts, the Tigers were facing a different Darvish than they’ll meet Thursday night.

But now that Darvish has elevated himself to the Verlander level of pitching, it’s the focus of the game. Every game Darvish pitches is must-see TV or must-buy ticket, although the 12,000 tickets that remain for Thursday’s game is surprising.

Darvish (6-1) is doing things that haven’t been done in Arlington since Nolan Ryan pitched for the Rangers. Darvish leads the major leagues in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings. Verlander (4-3) is a paltry eighth in the AL in strikeouts and sixth in strikeouts per nine.

While Verlander has a better ERA than Darvish (2.73 to 1.93), no one in the AL has won more games since the start of last year than Darvish’s 22. He also leads the majors in strikeouts since that time and his 301 strikeouts through 37 starts are second only to Dwight Gooden.

There are other gaudy Darvish numbers too that make him Verlander-like. Opponents are hitting just .163 against Darvish. His WHIP is wonderful too.

Of course as good as Darvish has been since the middle of last season, he still has some work to do to build a Verlander-type resume. Before Darvish was dominating in strikeouts, there was Verlander. Verlander has led the majors in strikeouts in three of the last four seasons.

Darvish has faced legit aces already this year. When the Angels came to Arlington, he was opposed by Jered Weaver. But Darvish was dealing with a blister and Weaver got hurt, taking some of the luster off that nationally televised meeting.

But all systems are go for a doozy Thursday night.