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Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers: Crucial X-Factors for the 2013 ALCS

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2013

Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers: Crucial X-Factors for the 2013 ALCS

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The ALCS matchup is officially set, as the Detroit Tigers eliminated the Oakland A's on Thursday night behind a gem from Justin Verlander and will now meet up with the Boston Red Sox for a chance to play in the World Series.

    That series begins on Saturday in Boston and promises to be a good one as it pits what were the top two offenses in baseball during the regular season against one another.

    Looking beyond the obvious contributors for each team, here is a look at some guys who could wind up being the X-factor in the ALCS, whether it's a struggling star or second-tier player capable of stepping up on the biggest of stages.

     

    *For those of you who missed it, here is a look at the crucial X-factors for the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals NLCS matchup.

SS/3B Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

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    Winslow Townson/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    18 G, .250/.320/.364, 11 H, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 7 R, 5 BB, 13 K

     

    ALDS Stats

    2 G, .000/1.000/.000, 0 H, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB, 0 K

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    One of the top prospects in all of baseball entering the season, Xander Bogaerts did not disappoint, as the 21-year-old hit .297/.388/.477 with 15 home runs and 67 RBI in the minors before earning a late-season call-up.

    Bogaerts didn't earn a start in the ALDS, with Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks manning the left side of the infield for each of the team's four games. He did have a solid Game 4 though, entering in the seventh as a pinch hitter for Drew and drawing a pair of walks. He scored the tying run in the seventh and a key insurance run in the ninth in the process.

    Drew was just 2-for-15 in the ALDS, and he hit just .196/.246/.340 against left-handed pitching on the season. While the Tigers don't have any left-handed starters, it wouldn't be surprising to see Bogaerts pinch hit in a key situation against Detroit setup man Drew Smyly in the ALCS.

SP John Lackey, Boston Red Sox

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    29 GS, 10-13, 3.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 40 BB, 161 K, 189.1 IP

     

    ALDS Stats

    1 GS, 1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 3 BB, 6 K, 5.1 IP

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    The 2013 season has been a nice bounce-back campaign for Red Sox right-hander John Lackey, as he suffered through a rough first two seasons in Boston before missing all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

    Though his 10-13 record was not great, he turned in his best year since 2007 as far as peripheral numbers are concerned, and he gave the Red Sox rotation a nice boost all season.

    Lackey drew the Game 2 start in the ALDS, due in large part to his drastic home-road splits. The 34-year-old was 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA at Fenway, compared to just 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA on the road. He didn't have his best stuff in that game but still managed to come away with the win, and the Red Sox will be looking for him to regain that dominant form at home as he'll likely get the call in Game 2 once again.

1B Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    139 G, .259/.360/.482, 129 H, 23 HR, 92 RBI, 79 R, 73 BB, 187 K

     

    ALDS Stats

    4 G, .154/.353/.231, 2 H, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 4 BB, 4 K

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    The Red Sox piled up 26 runs in their four-game ALDS series with the Rays, thanks in part to a 12-2 drubbing in Game 1, and for the most part they got production from up and down their high-powered offense.

    One player who didn't provide much, however, was first baseman Mike Napoli, as he was limited to just two hits and one RBI in the series.

    Always among the streakiest hitters in the game, Napoli is someone who is capable of carrying an offense when he's hot. Look no further than his 2011 World Series performance, when he was 7-for-20 with two home runs and 10 RBI in seven games. If he gets things going, the Red Sox are that much more dangerous.

RP Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    73 G, 4-1, 21-of-24 SV, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 9 BB, 101 K, 74.1 IP

     

    ALDS Stats

    3 G, 0-1, 2-of-2 SV, 3.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP, 0 BB, 4 K, 3 IP

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    The Red Sox bullpen was a mess early on this season, with Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both spending time in the closer's role and both going down with injuries, but it immediately became a strength of the team when Koji Uehara assumed ninth inning duties.

    He allowed just 12 hits and one earned run over 40.1 innings of work from July 1 until the end of the season, converting 17 of 18 saves and retiring 37 straight batters at one point.

    He nailed down both save chances he saw in the ALDS and allowed just one hit, but it was a big one. He entered Game 3 with the score tied up, and after getting two quick outs, surrendered a walk-off home run to pinch hitter Jose Lobaton. It was the first home run he'd allowed since June 30, proving he is in fact human, and the Red Sox will need him to be dominant once again in the ALCS.

CF Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    129 G, .272/.337/.417, 150 H, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 99 R, 52 BB, 129 K

     

    ALDS Stats

    5 G, .100/.143/.150, 2 H, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 13 K

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    After enjoying a breakout year in 2012, Austin Jackson took a step back this season, as his triple-slash dropped from .300/.377/.479 to .272/.337/.417, but he still remained a solid catalyst atop the Tigers lineup.

    That's not been the case so far this postseason, though, as he has struck out 13 times in 21 plate appearances and given the Tigers essentially nothing from the leadoff spot in the batting order.

    Jackson went 11-for-23 with three doubles and seven runs scored in the team's six games against the Red Sox during the regular season, so this matchup would seem to bode well in his hopes of turning things around.

SS/LF Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    107 G, .303/.358/.457, 124 H, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 50 R, 35 BB, 98 K

     

    ALDS Stats

    4 G, .417/.417/.750, 5 H, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    Jhonny Peralta was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career before being slapped with a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal, and there were questions as to where he'd fit into the Tigers lineup when he returned at the end of the regular season.

    Manager Jim Leyland has gotten creative with his use of Peralta so far, using him as a pinch hitter in Game 1, starting him in left field in Game 3 and Game 4, and starting him at shortstop in Game 5.

    Getting his bat into the lineup will be important, as he gave the Tigers a nice offensive boost during the ALDS, and he'll likely continue to split time between the two positions. It's tough to take Jose Iglesias and his glove off of shortstop, and Peralta is still learning the ropes in left field, but there's no question he's an offensive upgrade at both spots.

SP Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    29 GS, 14-8, 2.57 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 54 BB, 202 K, 182 IP

     

    ALDS Stats

    1 GS, 0-1, 10.38 ERA, 2.31 WHIP, 2 BB, 6 K, 4.1 IP

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    More than a few eyebrows were raised when the Tigers gave Anibal Sanchez a five-year, $80 million deal in the offseason, but he proved any doubters wrong as he won the AL ERA title and gave the Tigers another front-line starter all season.

    That said, he was hit hard in his ALDS start against the A's, failing to make it out of the fifth inning, and he'll be looking to bounce back when he takes the ball in Game 1 of the ALCS against Jon Lester.

    With Max Scherzer pitching well and Justin Verlander pitching like the ace of old, the Tigers need Sanchez to step up as he looks like the X-factor in the rotation heading into what should be an excellent ALCS matchup with the Red Sox.

RP Drew Smyly, Detroit Tigers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Stats

    63 G, 6-0, 2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 17 BB, 81 K, 76 IP

     

    ALDS Stats

    2 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 2 BB 2 K, 1 IP

     

    Why He's an X-Factor

    After pitching mostly out of the rotation as a rookie in 2012, Drew Smyly found a home at the back end of the Tigers bullpen this season, emerging as one of the top left-handed setup men in all of baseball.

    The Tigers bullpen is relatively thin after Smyly, Jose Veras and closer Joaquin Benoit, so Smyly could see plenty of action in the ALCS. He was particularly lethal against left-handed hitters, as they hit just .189 with a .471 OPS against him.

    With that in mind, a late-game matchup between Smyly and David Ortiz in a clutch situation seems almost inevitable. Making things even more interesting, Ortiz is 3-for-4 with a home run against Smyly in his career, so that will certainly be a matchup to watch.

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