ALCS 2013: Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers Preview
Despite finishing last in the American League East just one season ago, the Boston Red Sox rebounded under first-year manager John Farrell to an AL-best 97-65 record in 2013 and the League’s top seed in the playoffs.
After knocking off the Wild Card Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Division Series, Boston welcomes third-seeded Detroit Tigers to Fenway Park for Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday in a clash of Major League Baseball’s top two offenses.
Detroit was swept in the 2012 World Series and responded by adding All-Star Torii Hunter in the offseason to its already star-studded lineup. The Tigers cruised to the franchise’s third straight American League Central Division Championship before knocking off second-seeded Oakland in a dramatic five-game series, which concluded on Thursday.
The Tigers boast star power in every facet of their lineup.
Game 1 starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57) and Game 2 starter Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90) are both leading candidates for the American League Cy Young award, while All-Star Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46) and Game 4 starter Doug Fister (14 -9, 3.67) are also among the AL’s best.
All-Star Miguel Cabrera won the AL Triple Crown in 2012 and is the leading candidate for the 2013 AL MVP award, while All-Stars Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta fill out the meat of Detroit’s batting order. After starting the season with a .258 batting average at the All-Star break, former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez finished the season batting .301 with 14 home runs and 83 RBI for Detroit and has been arguably the best fifth hitter in all of baseball during the second half of the season.
Detroit’s bullpen is led by setup relievers Drew Smyly (6-0, 2.37), Jose Veras (0-5, 3.02) and Al Alburquerque (4-3, 4.59). The Tigers' closer, Joaquin Benoit (4-1, 2.01), has performed spectacularly since assuming the position in June, converting 24 of 26 save opportunities.
Boston’s starters, in order, should be Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75), All-Star Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74), John Lackey (10-13, 3.52), and trade-deadline acquisition Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.17). The four stack up to just about any starting four except Detroit’s, although the winner of Buchholz vs. Scherzer in Game 2 could determine the outcome of the series.
All-Stars David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia lead the top-ranked Red Sox offense, while Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino batted .500 and .429, respectively, in the AL Division Series against Tampa Bay, with a combined 15 hits in 32 at-bats.
The Red Sox’s bullpen includes setup relievers Junichi Tazawa (5-4, 3.16), Craig Breslow (5-2, 1.81) and Felix Doubront (11-6, 4.32). At 38 years old, Boston closer Koji Uehara (4-1, 1.09) became the American League’s most dominant closer down the stretch after spending most of his MLB career as a setup man.
In a record-breaking 2013 campaign, Uehara set a Red Sox record by retiring 37 batters in a row and an MLB record for the lowest WHIP (.565) among pitchers with 40 or more innings pitched in a season. Though Uehara allowed a walk-off home run against Tampa Bay’s Jose Lobaton in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, he earned the save in Games 2 and 4, closing out the Rays in a combined 2.1 perfect innings with four strikeouts.
The Red Sox have had incredible success against the Tigers and manager Jim Leyland at Fenway Park, but Detroit will need to win just once there to take the series. Detroit’s best shot will come in Game 1 with Sanchez on the mound against Lester.
Though Lester surrendered just three hits and two runs in 7.2 innings in Game 1 of the ALDS, the accomplished righty has surrendered six runs in 12.2 innings against the Tigers this season. Sanchez was better statistically this season than Lester, but he will need to rebound from a rough Game 3 outing against Oakland.
I predict Sanchez will outduel Lester in Game 1, setting up Detroit to take the series in seven and advance to its second consecutive World Series.
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