Can Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander Neutralize Red Sox Home-Field Advantage?

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IOctober 18, 2013

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 13:  Max Scherzer #37 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Boston Red Sox during Game Two of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park on October 13, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

To make their second straight trip to the World Series, the Detroit Tigers will need to upset the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in ALCS Games 6 and 7.

However, that daunting assignment is made much more realistic by their starting rotation alignment. Postseason stars Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will take the mound on full rest and attempt to neutralize Boston's home-field advantage.

Let's discuss Scherzer first, as he's scheduled to pitch in Saturday's contest.

An extraordinary regular season made him the frontrunner for the 2013 AL Cy Young Award. Not surprisingly, he has continued to excel in October:

Max Scherzer: 2013 Postseason Game Log
Date (Opponent)IPERK/BBPitches (Strikes)
Oct. 4 (OAK)7.0211/2118 (78)
Oct. 8 (OAK)2.012/247 (27)
Oct. 13 (BOS)7.0113/2108 (69)

Specifically, focus on all the things that Scherzer did right in Game 2 of this series.

He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 25 Red Sox batters (64 percent), constantly putting one of baseball's most disciplined lineups in unfavorable counts. Also, according to Brooks Baseball, the 29-year-old used non-fastballs 40.74 percent of the time. That's the wisest way to approach players who obliterated fastballs during the regular season, per FanGraphs.

With that said, we shouldn't expect Scherzer to replicate those fantastic results.

He encountered Boston's offense when it was at rock bottom. After combining for only one run and three hits through the first 16 innings of the ALCS, the Red Sox have since erupted—by postseason standards, at least—for 13 runs and 31 hits in the past 28 innings.

Look for the home team to put more balls in play.

Scherzer racked up 24 swings-and-misses last time, which was his highest total ever against an American League lineup. Duplicating such an outcome is unthinkable if Boston uses the same All-Star personnel.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Scherzer seems prepared for that. His comments to about pitching at Fenway Park suggest that he understands how to minimize damage there. It also hints that he's emotionally prepared to tune out a blood-thirsty, pro-Red Sox crowd:

"Fenway Park's a fun place to pitch in. You got 38,000 fans, all cheering against you. You know, it's an intense atmosphere. But really, the dimensions is something that does actually come into play, just because you can feel that wall is right behind you. There's just no room for error. A routine fly ball can be double in Fenway Park, so you just got to make sure that you always execute pitches throughout the whole game.

On the other hand, Verlander last appeared at Fenway on July 31, 2012. There isn't much worth analyzing about that experience—or any previous ones—considering the vastly different roster composition and atmosphere.

Instead, here's what he has done in the 2013 playoffs:

Justin Verlander: 2013 Postseason Game Log
Date (Opponent)IPERK/BBPitches (Strikes)
Oct 5 (OAK)7.0011/1117 (73)
Oct. 10 (OAK)8.0010/1111 (76)
Oct. 15 (BOS)8.0110/1120 (85)

"Dominant" would be selling him short, while "perfect" isn't too far from the truth. One extra-base hit and only 13 baserunners allowed by Verlander in 23 total innings.

The veteran right-hander's performance in ALCS Game 3 would've resulted in a Tigers victory under most circumstances:

Like his brilliant rotation mate, Verlander matches up well with the intimidating Red Sox because of his terrific command and filthy, diverse repertoire.

Brooks Baseball tells us that he never fell behind 2-0 in the count during that matchup at Comerica Park. In two-strike situations, he irritated the opposition by using as many breaking balls as four-seamers.

We have no reason to doubt that this $180 million man can maintain his composure on the road in an elimination game. That's exactly what he did in the ALDS!

Moreover, Verlander was most effective away from Motown this summer in terms of both earned run average and strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

Starting pitching has been Detroit's greatest strength in the postseason, just like it was throughout the regular season. The team can count on that holding true for the remainder of the ALCS.

The bigger concerns ought to be whether or not the reigning American League champs can produce enough offensively. There also needs to concern over who can be trusted to relieve Scherzer and Verlander once they begin to fatigue.

Inconsistencies in those facets have prevented the Tigers from winning consecutive road games since Sept. 24-25.


Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He’s hoping to deepen relationships with his fantastic online audience (that means you) via Twitter.