MLB Playoff Predictions: How the Boston Red Sox Match Up With the Detroit Tigers
Just over a month ago, Red Sox nation would have laughed at the idea of the Detroit Tigers being anything more than a mild case of heartburn on Boston's war path toward their inevitable ALCS matchup with their rival New York Yankees.
Well, things have changed quickly in the standings, and the Red Sox might want to break out a case of Pepto for what is looking to be a possible first round matchup in the playoffs.
While the Red Sox are still in a dog fight with the Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card spot, the Tigers were the first team in baseball to clinch their division after finally taking control of the mediocre AL Central.
Going into this possible first round matchup, the Red Sox will be playing meaningful games while the Tigers are already shifting their rotation and only half-heartedly competing with the Rangers for the second seed in the playoffs.
So if a red hot team playing semi-meaningless baseball faces off against an ice-cold team fighting for their season, who's in a better spot?
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Getting Justin Verlander twice in a five game series automatically gives the Tigers the edge. Verlander is the best starter in baseball and the Tigers would be favored in any game he starts.
For the first half of the season, Josh Beckett's name was firmly in the conversation with Verlander for the Cy Young award, but injuries and a recent mediocre stretch have made Beckett mortal.
Doug Fister has been one of the most underrated starters in the majors this season. After getting virtually no run support in Seattle, Fister has gone 6-1 with an ERA hovering just above 2.00 since he was dealt to the Tigers.
He could have joined Verlander in the 20 win club if he were pitching with the Tiger's offense around him all season.
John Lester is the Red Sox second excellent starter. Despite being a strong starter for Boston all year, he's scuffled his last two starts when the team needed him most, losing both efforts against the Rays.
Based on Fister's recent success and Lester's scuffles, the No. 2 starter matchup could be a push.
Max Scherzer would likely be the the third starter for the Tigers. He's been terrible or awesome and seldom in between, and will likely be slotted to start a home game where he's been much better.
If Clay Buchholz can return from the DL to his normal self, he could provide the Red Sox with a jolt of life.
Advantage: Tigers - Verlander twice in a series would be too much for any team to overcome.
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Similar to the starting rotation, both teams feature two studs and several question marks.
Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard have had tremendous seasons, but Bard has been more than human lately and Papelbon blew an extremely important game against the Orioles on Tuesday night.
If it wasn't for teammate Justin Verlander, Jose Valverde would likely be in the Cy Young discussion. He leads the majors with 46 saves, a new team record. When the game is on the line, Valverde is perfect, as he's yet to blow a save all season.
After a rough start, Joaquin Benoit has been unhittable since early this year as the set-up man.
The Tigers have more depth as well. Al Alburquerque has been injured recently, but is slowly being worked back into the bullpen rotation. He's a lethal weapon when healthy.
The lefties are Phil Coke, who has been up and down, and Daniel Schlereth, who has been much better as of late.
The Sox depth is a far cry from what it was thought to be. Alfredo Aveves has recently been a blessing out of the bullpen, but Bobby Jenks was ineffective and is currently injured. Dan Wheeler, Matt Albers and Franklin Morales have been mediocre at best.
Advantate: Tigers - the back end is slightly in the Tigers' favor, but they have more overall depth.
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The Tigers have a good offense, but the Red Sox are scary.
The Sox lead the AL in runs, RBIs and OBP and are second in the league in batting average.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia give Boston power and speed at the top of the lineup, Adrian Gonzalez will be heavily considered for the AL MVP, and David Ortiz's rebirth continues as he's looking at another 30 HR, 100 RBI season.
The eventual return of Kevin Youkilis will make a great lineup even better. Carl Crawford should send Adam Dunn a thank you card in Chicago, as his awful season with the White Sox is the only reason Crawford wouldn't be considered the biggest free agent bust from this past offseason.
Josh Reddick has been a pleasant surprise, but the rest of the bottom of the lineup is human.
Conversely, Jim Leyland's questionable lineups have given the Tigers a strong bottom of the lineup, but a weak top.
Leadoff man Austin Jackson has heated up a bit lately, but he strikes out far too much for a leadoff hitter. The No. 2 spot has been a mess with the season ending injury to Brennan Bosch. Rather than moving up Alex Avila or Jhonny Peralta, utility men Don Kelly or Ramon Santiago usually find themselves in the No. 2 spot.
Veteran disappointment Magglio Ordonez will also bat second against lefties.
Things get much better in the middle of the order.
Delmon Young seemed to solidify the offense once he was claimed off waivers, and Miguel Cabrera is having another awesome season, especially with runners in scoring position. Victor Martinez might be the lineup's MVP, while Avila and Peralta are having breakout seasons.
Advantage: Red Sox - the middle of the lineups might go slightly to the Tigers, but there is a heavy advantage at the top for the Sox thanks to Ellsbury and Pedroia.
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This series would feature two of the AL's best defensive center fielders in Ellsbury and Jackson, but overall, the better fielders reside in Boston.
Detroit might have the advantage at shortstop and catcher, but virtually every other position edge would go to Boston.
Pedroia and Gonzalez are both excellent fielders on the right side of the infield. And with Delmon Young, Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Raburn, the Tigers have serious defensive question marks in the corner outfield spots much of the time.
Advantage: Red Sox - easily.
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Jim Leyland might be having his best season as a manager.
After years of second half collapses, he was able to orchestrate the Tigers on one of their best runs in the team's century long existence to rip the AL Central away from their competitors.
He has questionable lineups and seems to overplay his loyal favorites, but overall he's done a fantastic job, especially when it looked like the season could again fade away.
If the Red Sox hold off the Rays, Leyland should beat out Joe Madden for the AL Manager of the Year award.
In a reversal, Terry Francona has seen his team slide to the point where the playoffs are still very much in question. Still, he's endured some pretty significant injuries and has had a track record making him one of the games best.
Advantage: Even, but a month ago this was easy.
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The Tigers superstar power and depth simply trumps that of the Red Sox. Other than the top of the lineup and defense, any player the Red Sox have, the Tigers might have someone as good or better. The Tigers have some talented players on the bench as well.
The Sox owned the season series, but it was early in the season.
Verlander pitched well against them and the Tigers were a completely different team back then. The additions of Young, Fister and Wilson Bettemit have given the Tigers a new dimension and gives Jim Leyland a lot of options.
Injuries and recent struggles have hurt the Red Sox. While they'll be playing meaningful baseball the rest of the way and will be more playoff ready, they might be suffering from a hangover as they may need to rely on Lester and Beckett in the final series against the Orioles to hold off the Rays.
In that scenario, it doesn't take a genius to figure who has the advantage in a possible matchup of Tim Wakefield vs. Justin Verlander in the series opener?
Prediction: Tigers win 3 games to 1.