The Boston Red Sox are one win away from the World Series as the American League Championship Series heads back to Fenway Park for the final two contests.
With a 3-2 series lead over the Detroit Tigers and the opportunity to play in front of their home fans, it's easy to call the Red Sox the favorites to win the series.
But with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer slated to take the hill for Detroit in the final two games, don't hand the Red Sox the AL pennant just yet.
Here's a look at the remaining schedule for the ALCS with some predictions for the soon-to-be AL Champs:
|Game||Home Team||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|Game 6||Boston||Sat., Oct. 19||4:30 p.m.||FOX|
|Game 7*||Boston||Sun., Oct. 20||8 p.m.||FOX|
Information via MLB.com, * if necessary
Saturday's matinee features a rematch of the Game 2 starters with Clay Buchholz for Boston and Scherzer for Detroit.
Both of these pitchers emerged as arguably the top two arms in the AL to start the year.
While Scherzer kept up his pace and finished with Cy Young numbers (21-3, 2.90 ERA, 240 strikeouts and league-leading 0.97 WHIP), Buchholz went down with a neck and shoulder issue in June when he was 11-1 with a 1.71 ERA, keeping him out until September.
Scherzer has carried that production into the postseason, looking especially dominant in Game 2 when he struck out a playoff career-high 13 while throwing seven innings of one-run ball.
MLB.com shared video of Scherzer discussing his approach heading into Game 6:
But Scherzer's great start was wiped out in one swing when David Ortiz blasted a grand slam to right field to tie the game at 5-5 in the eighth before the Red Sox went on to win 6-5.
In that same contest, Buchholz looked shaky, giving up five runs on eight hits and no walks in 5 2/3 innings of work.
Who wins the series?
Some key members of Boston's lineup have had success against Scherzer in the past, including Jacoby Ellsbury (5-for-11, .455), Ortiz (7-for-17, .412) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (5-for-15, .333).
However, Scherzer has owned Mike Napoli throughout their career matchups, allowing him to go just 1-for-13.
Napoli has been the team's hottest hitter recently, going 6-for-12 (.500) with two home runs in the past three games of the series, and his at-bats against Scherzer could set the tone for the entire lineup.
The Red Sox are surely trying to win this thing as soon as possible because everything changes in Game 7.
The Red Sox better take care of business on Saturday night because you don't want to be facing Verlander in Game 7.
He's kicked it into another gear in the postseason following a subpar September by showing a knack for rising to the occasion.
Last round, he helped advance the Tigers to the ALCS with a dominant, eight-inning shutout performance on the road against the Oakland A's.
ESPN Stats and Info also shared this nugget on Verlander's ability to strike out hitters in the postseason:
Justin Verlander: 6th postseason game with 10 or more strikeouts, most such games in MLB history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 15, 2013
One thing going for Boston is that they handed Verlander his only loss in three postseason starts, even though he struck out 10 over eight innings.
Napoli's seventh-inning solo shot against the Tigers ace in Game 3 stood as the lone run in the 1-0 Boston victory.
In fact, it stands as the only run Verlander has given up in 23 postseason innings.
John Lackey, meanwhile, has essentially been Boston's No. 3 starter all year, finishing the regular season with a 10-13 record and a 3.52 ERA.
Still, he showed up in top form in Game 3, tossing 6 2/3 shut-out innings while striking out eight to earn the win:
Can Lackey do it again? I think it's doubtful.
He's also been hit hard by Detroit sluggers like Prince Fielder (5-for-12, .417) and Victor Martinez (12-for-32, .375) in the past and has been rather inconsistent throughout the year.
He's still capable of gems like the one he threw in Game 3, but he has been hard-pressed to throw back-to-back quality starts since September.
For the Verlander-Lackey pitching matchup alone, the Tigers gain the advantage in this series if they can force a Game 7.
Essentially, I feel like the entire series is riding on Saturday's Game 6 because if it comes down to a one-game season, there's few people better suited for the moment than Verlander.
But I don't think the series even gets that far.
In what will be a closely contested, low-scoring Game 6, I think the Red Sox will find a way to get a couple of runs off of Scherzer and punch their ticket to the World Series.
Winner: Boston Red Sox in 6