With their 7-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers tied up the 2013 ALCS at two games apiece and set up a massively important Game 5 in the best-of-seven series.
It'll be Jon Lester vs. Anibal Sanchez on Thursday night. That pitching pairing should bode well for Detroit, but Jacoby Ellsbury could swing the tide in Boston's favor—especially if Prince Fielder insists on continuing his disappearing act at the plate.
Here are a few keys to a Game 5 victory for each team.
*Statistics on the following slides are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN.com and Fangraphs.com
Jacoby Ellsbury was the motor that ran Boston's offense in the ALDS against Tampa Bay. In those four games, he reached base 10 times, scored seven runs and stole four bases.
Prior to Wednesday night's 4-for-5 performance, it had been an entirely different story in the ALCS. Through three games against the Tigers, Ellsbury had reached base just three times, scored once and stolen no bases.
Considering the entire team had just one hit in Game 1, it's no surprise that his stats for that game were less than stellar. In the rematch against Anibal Sanchez, Ellsbury will be looking to improve upon his 0-for-4, three-strikeout effort.
Sanchez has thrived this season against most of the spots in the batting order, but for some reason the opposing leadoff hitter has gotten the best of him all year. Batters two through nine in the opposing lineup have gone 120-for-593 (.202) against him in 2013, but the leadoff hitter is 36-for-89 (.404).
If Ellsbury can reach base twice on Thursday night—and maybe steal a bag while he's at it—it would put Boston in great shape for a win.
Here's a hypothetical lineup for Game 5, including how those batters have fared against Jon Lester in their careers.
CF: Austin Jackson (4-for-14, one double, one BB, two K)
RF: Torii Hunter (11-for-23, three doubles, three K)
3B: Miguel Cabrera (10-for-19, two doubles, one home run, five BB, one K)
1B: Prince Fielder (4-for-15, one BB, three K)
DH: Victor Martinez (6-for-13, one triple, one home run, two BB)
SS: Jhonny Peralta (7-for-25, one double, two home runs, five BBs, seven K)
C: Alex Avila (3-for-6, one double, two K)
LF: Andy Dirks (1-for-2, one home run, one BB)
2B: Omar Infante (2-for-6)
Total: 48-for-123 (.390) with eight doubles, one triple, five home runs, 15 BB and 18 K.
When Prince Fielder has a .267 career batting average against you and he's your primary source of relief in an opponent's lineup, chances are you're headed for a long day.
Lester's final line in Game 1 (6.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) was pretty solid, but there were a lot of line drives, and all four of those strikeouts occurred in the first two innings. He was lucky to get out of jams in both the fifth and sixth innings without too much damage.
The odds are in favor of Detroit putting men on base with a fair amount of regularity. Whether they're able to win the game will likely depend on their ability to convert with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-11 in Game 1.
Anchored by Mike Napoli's league-leading 4.59 pitches per plate appearance, Red Sox batters typically see a lot of pitches.
They were particularly patient in Game 1 against Anibal Sanchez. He didn't give up a single hit, but he only lasted six innings before departing with a pitch count of 116.
Eight of the first nine Boston batters did not swing until at least the third pitch of their at-bat against Sanchez. Of the 25 batters he faced in the game, only five swung at the first pitch. Twenty-one of the 25 batters saw at least four pitches. The Red Sox worked the count, and they worked it hard.
It didn't help them score in Game 1, but it could be a key to victory in Game 5. The earlier they can get Sanchez out of the game, the better.
I have no earthly idea why John Farrell lifted Will Middlebrooks for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning of Game 1, because he is 4-for-8 with three home runs in his career against the collective forces of Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Drew Smyly.
Getting Middlebrooks, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia multiple at-bats against Detroit's bullpen should be a big plus for the Red Sox.
In the sixth inning of Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS against the New York Yankees, Prince Fielder laced an RBI single off of Andy Pettitte, scoring the first run of the series for either team.
What does that have to do with anything, you ask?
It just so happens to be the last time that Fielder had an RBI in the postseason. Seriously.
He has come to the plate 58 times with a total of 40 runners on base in his last 16 games in October without picking up a single RBI. (He did ground into a run-scoring double play in Game 1 of the ALDS against Oakland, but that doesn't count as an RBI.)
Suffice it to say, the Tigers aren't paying Fielder $23 million per year because of his fielding or baserunning prowess. If he isn't knocking in runs in the postseason, it's going to be a long seven years until his contract expires after the 2020 season.
The Tigers struck out less often than any other team during the regular season, but they're averaging a little less than one whiff per inning thus far in the ALCS. That's child's play compared to what the Red Sox are doing at the plate.
Boston is striking out nearly twice as often as Detroit. Through three games, Boston has whiffed in 53 of its 129 at-bats while Detroit has struck out just 29 times in 132 at-bats.
Weird things can happen when you put the ball in play. There are bad hops, throwing errors, holes in the defense or balls lost in the light. All of those possible outcomes go right out the window when the at-bat ends with the catcher simply tossing the ball back to the pitcher.
Both teams need to do a better job of putting the ball in play and at least hoping for a little bit of luck in the process.