After 162 regular-season games as well as the American League Division Series, the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox will meet in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series to determine who will represent the AL in the World Series against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or St. Louis Cardinals.
While it would have been a great story to see the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays or Cleveland Indians make a run, it's tough to argue against the notion that the Tigers and Red Sox are the AL's two best teams. Not only do they both boast great lineups and starting rotations, but they were tabbed as potential contenders since early in the year.
The Red Sox are the co-favorites to win the World Series along with the Dodgers at 12-5, according to Bovada, which puts them just ahead of the Tigers at 11-4. Despite that, this series is about as even as possible on paper, so it should be a good one for baseball fans.
Here is a complete look at the ALCS schedule, as well as further analysis regarding what it will take for each team to prevail.
Tigers Keys to Victory
The A's gave the Tigers everything they could handle, but ace pitcher Justin Verlander ultimately came through with a virtuoso performance in Game 5. In addition to Verlander, though, the Tigers boast AL Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister in their starting rotation, so they have the ability to stay in any game. In order to beat a well-balanced offensive team like Boston, it is of the utmost importance for all four of Detroit's starters to be in control.
In addition to that impressive staff, the Tigers have one of the best lineups in baseball. Third baseman Miguel Cabrera was the odds-on favorite to win his second consecutive AL MVP, but a late-season slump stemming from injury troubles may have derailed those hopes. Even so, Miggy showed up when the Tigers needed him most as he hit a decisive two-run homer against the Athletics in Game 5 of the ALDS as seen in this video courtesy of the Tigers' official Twitter account.
Along with Cabrera, Detroit has mashers throughout the lineup including Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Jhonny Peralta. Perhaps the biggest key to the Tigers returning to the World Series for a second straight year, though, is the bullpen. The bullpen was an issue for the Tigers last season, and that remains true this year, although Joaquin Benoit has held up well in the closer role. As long as Benoit continues to thrive, the Tigers are in good shape.
Red Sox Keys to Victory
In many ways, the Red Sox are quite similar to the Tigers. For starters, their pitching rotation goes four men deep with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Boston's staff probably isn't as dominant as Detroit's, but all four of those pitchers can shut down the opposition on any given night. The Tigers were second in the league in on-base percentage, which means that Boston's pitchers absolutely must be able to find the strike zone.
With that said, Boston actually led the league in on-base percentage at .349. The Red Sox were also among the league's most patient teams with 581 walks, which was 30 more than Detroit. The Red Sox's hitters love to see pitches, and that has been a big reason for their success. There is plenty of depth in Boston's lineup with speedier guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino up top followed by the likes of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and a host of others.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Boston and Detroit resides in the bullpen as it can be argued that relief pitching is the Red Sox's biggest strength. Koji Uehara was nearly unhittable as the team's closer during the regular season, and he received plenty of support from Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and a host of others as well. It's entirely possible that Boston's confident bullpen will decide which team goes to the World Series.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that flipping a coin might be a more accurate way to predict this series than anything else as both teams have their merits and very few shortcomings to speak of. The intangibles seem to be pointing in Boston's direction as the Red Sox went on a run from worst to first, and the current team reminds many of their previous World Series squads. The Red Sox will be incredibly tough to beat, and many experts, ESPN's Skip Bayless included, believe that Boston will reign supreme come season's end.
With that said, it wouldn't be wise to write off the Tigers. As previously discussed, their starting rotation is probably the best remaining in the playoffs, and their lineup is even scarier now that Cabrera appears to have come to life. Also, the Tigers won the season series against the Red Sox 4-3. There was a good mix of close games and blowouts as well as pitching duels and slugfests, but Detroit was just a tad better. There's no reason why the Tigers can't be a little bit better in the playoffs as well.
When push comes to shove, the Tigers have two aces on their pitching staff, and it can be argued that the Red Sox have none. Boston has four guys capable of pitching likes aces, but it remains to be seen if they will. Assuming this series goes seven games, which seems like a solid bet, both Scherzer and Verlander will get two starts. That slight advantage is what will push the Tigers over the top and into the World Series.
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