After a dramatic two-game split in Boston, the Detroit Tigers return home for a crucial Game 3 in the first of three consecutive games to be played at Comerica Park.
Despite a late-game collapse in which Detroit allowed five Boston runs over the final two innings of Sunday’s Game 2 loss, a combined one-hitter from Tigers’ pitchers in Game 1 gives Detroit a theoretical chance to win the ALCS at home.
Before looking too far ahead, here are four keys for the Tigers in Tuesday’s Game 3:
1. Start strong
Detroit’s starting pitchers have been outstanding during the playoffs, and especially so far in the ALCS. Game 1 and 2 starters Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer combined for 13 scoreless innings, surrendering only two hits while striking out 25 Boston batters.
Game 3 starter Justin Verlander pitched 15 scoreless innings against Oakland in the ALDS, allowing six hits and recording 21 strikeouts in two starts. And no, those numbers don’t come from a video game.
Verlander pitched just once against the Red Sox during the regular season, allowing four runs and seven hits in only five innings pitched on June 23. The Tigers Game 3 starter admitted that despite getting roughed up earlier in the season, his game plan against the top-ranked Red Sox lineup hasn’t changed:
“I think the only way you combat that is be aggressive,” Verlander said in a press conference on Monday. “Throw a lot of strikes and pound the strike zone.”
2. Dirks’ Day
The starting left fielder for most of the regular season, Andy Dirks will make his first start of the postseason on Tuesday, batting ninth in Jim Leyland’s lineup.
Dirks batted .256 in 131 games during the regular season with 9 home runs and 37 RBIs, but is only 3-for-26 (.115) since September 21. Dirks has the potential to provide a noticeable upgrade at the plate from struggling utilityman Don Kelly, who started Game 2 in left field and is 0-for-4 in the ALCS.
3. Contain Boston’s 1-4 hitters
Not surprisingly, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are huge factors in Major League Baseball’s top scoring offense. But the high percentage of the Red Sox offense coming from their 1-4 hitters is alarming.
Four of Boston’s seven hits on Sunday came from the first four, and five of Boston’s six runs were driven in by Pedroia and Ortiz. Ellsbury, Victorino and Ortiz lead the Red Sox in batting average—batting .375, .333, and .300, respectively—while Pedroia is fifth, batting .261.
The four have scored 19 of the team’s 32 runs during the playoffs and have recorded 18 of 28 RBIs. If Verlander has success against Boston’s first four, the Red Sox will have to rely on Jarrod Saltalamacchia for offense, and the slumping bats of Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Will Middlebrooks, and Mike Napoli.
4. Fix the bullpen
Despite an impressive performance in Game 1, the Tigers bullpen struggled mightily in Game 2, allowing all six Boston runs and ruining a career outing for Scherzer. Tigers relievers Al Alburquerque, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit have postseason ERAs of 9.00, 6.75 and 5.79, respectively.
That should explain everything.