Miguel Cabrera reminded us of his offensive prowess with a two-run home run in Game 5 of the ALDS.
The revamped Boston Red Sox host the star-laden Detroit Tigers in a compelling ALCS matchup, beginning with Saturday's Game 1. Here, Bleacher Report presents the keys for each team to come away with a victory.
Don't underestimate the importance of series openers. Dan Hirsch, creator of The Baseball Gauge, tweeted about the historical consequences of their outcomes in best-of-seven battles like this one, saying the home team takes the series the majority of the time.
These division winners met barely a month ago, but so much has changed since then. The rosters have been trimmed and fortified with previously injured and underrated players.
Once the fun begins from Fenway Park, you'll observe the following factors influencing the final score.
In 182 innings pitched this past summer, Anibal Sanchez allowed only nine home runs. The 29-year-old was far and away the best starter in the American League when it came to limiting long balls, and that helped him lead the AL in earned run average.
We can call it fluky or credit Sanchez for making adjustments, but it's really a combination of both.
As the final stat line suggested (4.1 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 HR on 101 pitches), the right-hander wasn't locating his throws well in Game 3 of the ALDS. Tim Britton of the Providence Journal reminds us that Sanchez suffered most when he left offerings up in the strike zone.
It's going to be a forgettable evening for Sanchez if he regularly misses over the middle of the plate, but he can minimize the damage by getting the Boston Red Sox to pound pitches into the ground.
Anibal Sanchez is completely negligent of opposing baserunners. They were 25-of-26 on steal attempts against him this season, and over the course of his MLB career, fewer than 11 percent of potential thieves have been apprehended.
Advantage Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Boston Red Sox leadoff man led the majors with 52 steals in 2013, plus another four during the ALDS. Combining the regular season and postseason, he owns a 93.3 percent success rate.
Unlike typical front-line starting pitchers, Sanchez doesn't perform any better with runners in scoring position. The OPS against him has held steady under those circumstances in each of the past three seasons, while the strikeout rate actually drops.
Manufacturing runs will be key for the Red Sox in Game 1 considering how seldom Sanchez surrenders homers. That means their top athlete ought to be running whenever possible.
Austin Jackson was an awkward fit atop the Detroit Tigers batting order through the first two seasons of his major league career, as he struggled to make contact.
That began to change in 2012.
Jackson actually boasted a lower swinging strike percentage than Miguel Cabrera during the 2012 and 2013 campaigns, and he wasn't far behind Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano in that department.
Unfortunately, the 26-year-old has reverted back to bad habits so far in these playoffs.
He whiffed 13 times in 21 plate appearances against the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS, including at least once in all five games. Every type of pitch is giving him trouble, according to Brooks Baseball, but particularly off-speed pitches.
Virtually all of Jackson's offensive value hinges on his ability to make contact. From there, his agility down the first base line and the line-drive trajectory of his swing result in an extraordinary batting average on balls in play.
With their spark plug struggling, the Tigers averaged only 3.4 runs per contest in the previous round.
Sabermetricians, before sharpening your pitch forks, assembling around Bleacher Report's headquarters and demanding blood, try to see the logic behind this old-school suggestion.
The Boston Red Sox will be facing a defense that includes Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, two of the most immobile corner infielders in the sport. Laying down a decent bunt in either or their general directions gives a good chance at a hit.
Secondly, Boston starters like Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava have grown accustomed to sacrificing this season. Victorino, for example, moved a pair of runners into scoring position with his ninth-inning bunt in Game 3 of the ALDS. Executing in that situation allowed the Red Sox to score the tying run and extend the contest.
In a matchup that will probably be decided by a slim margin, it's crucial that they take advantage of one of the opposition's glaring deficiencies.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland altered Drew Smyly's role toward the end of the season.
The skipper shielded him from right-handed batters. And as a result, only five of Smyly's past 20 appearances have lasted at least a full inning.
Between now and the first pitch of Game 1, let's hope somebody slaps some sense into Leyland's aging brain.
The Boston Red Sox will presumably stack their lineup with lefties against Anibal Sanchez. Smyly would obviously have some favorable matchups if they stayed in for the entire night, as he held opponents to a .189/.225/.246 batting line when working with a platoon advantage.
Now, the tricky part is getting Leyland to understand that the 24-year-old can record huge outs regardless of handedness.
One potential pinch-hitter, rookie Xander Bogaerts, has had only two plate appearances in as many weeks. Then there's outfielder Jonny Gomes, whom the Red Sox signed specifically for platooning. However, his production has been virtually identical against right-handers and southpaws in 2013.
Closer Joaquin Benoit worked six of Detroit's final 10 regular-season games and three times during the ALDS. To keep him fresh for this entire series, Leyland would be wise to rest him on Saturday—or at least save him for the ninth inning.
You cannot take away Miguel Cabrera's superior plate discipline and hand-eye coordination, but you can sap him of his power to all fields. Nagging groin and abdominal injuries have done precisely that.
|April-August (127 Games)||.681||.323||43|
|September (21 Games)||.333||.055||1|
|Playoffs (5 Games)||.400||.150||1|
The reigning American League MVP annihilated the fastball and cutter during the regular season, two pitches that Jon Lester relied on heavily in his latest start.
However, Cabrera's 2013 stats and highlights shouldn't deter him from using those specialties.
The Boston Red Sox rotation leader needs to keep reminding himself that Miggy won't necessarily pulverize mistakes in his compromised state. By treating him like the league-average hitter he's been throughout the past month and a half, Lester can conserve energy for the rest of the deep Detroit Tigers lineup.