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Tale of the tape: Red Sox-Tigers ALCS preview

10.12.13 at 8:23 am ET
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The ALCS opens on Saturday night with Red Sox starter Jon Lester taking on Tigers right-hander (and former Sox prospect) Anibal Sanchez. (AP)

The ALCS opens on Saturday night with Red Sox starter Jon Lester taking on Tigers right-hander (and former Sox prospect) Anibal Sanchez. (AP)

After making relatively quick work of the Rays in the American League Division Series, the Red Sox will take on the Tigers in their first ALCS since 2008, a stage that Detroit now has reached for three consecutive seasons.

The Red Sox wrapped up the ALDS on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over the Rays, taking the series in four games. The Athletics forced the Tigers to play a Game 5 on Thursday, but for the second year in a row, the Tigers sent the A’s home.

The two teams are evenly matched in many ways, especially when it comes to what they can do with the bats. These two clubs fielded the best lineups in baseball this season, with both finishing in the top two of many offensive categories. Here’s how the offensive numbers break down:

BOSTON

DETROIT

Batting average

.277 (2nd)

.283 (1st)

On-base percentage

.349 (1st)

.346 (2nd)

On-base plus slugging (OPS)

.795 (1st)

.780 (2nd)

Home runs

178 (5th)

176 (t-6th)

Runs per game (average)

5.27 (1st)

4.91 (2nd)

Total runs scored

853 (1st)

796 (2nd)

The clubs are comparable when it comes to pitching as well. The Tigers rotation owns the lowest ERA in baseball at 3.44, while the Red Sox finished fourth at 3.84. Both teams’ weak links are the bullpens; Red Sox relievers rank 10th in the majors with a 3.70 ERA, while the Tigers bullpen ERA is 12th at 4.04. One clear advantage that the Red Sox have, however, is speed. Jacoby Ellsbury, who leads the majors in stolen bases, has swiped 17 more bags than the entire Tigers club, which ranked dead last in the majors with 35 stolen bases. The Red Sox rank fourth with 123.

Though the Tigers were early favorites to win the AL Central, they ended up finishing just one game ahead of the Indians, wrapping up the year with a 93-69 record. The Sox and Tigers met seven times in the regular season, with the Tigers taking four of the contests, including three out of four at Comerica Park in June. The Red Sox outscored the Tigers 43 to 35 in the season series, but the Red Sox’ 20-run offensive outburst against the Tigers in the last game of the season series between the two skewed things.

Here are the pitching matchups for the ALCS:

Game 1, Saturday: Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75) vs. Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57)
Game 2, Sunday: Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74) vs. Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90)
Game 3, Tuesday: John Lackey (10-13, 3.52) vs. Justin Verlander (13-21, 3.46)
Game 4, Wednesday: Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.17) vs. Doug Fister (14-9, 3.67)
Game 5, Thursday*: Lester vs. Sanchez
Game 6, Saturday*: Buchholz vs. Scherzer
Game 7, Sunday*: Lackey vs. Verlander

* = if necessary

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

• One of the concerns coming into the playoffs for the Red Sox was relief pitching in the late innings. Closer Koji Uehara has been lights-out all season, but the bridge from the starter to Uehara was a shaky one. But Craig Breslow has been impressive, and continued his dominance in the ALDS, tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings and allowing two hits and a walk while also hitting a batter. Junichi Tazawa has been shaky at times, but he gave up just one hit over 2 1/3 innings, striking out two. Both set-up men have pitched well against the Tigers in 2013 as well as over the course of their career; Breslow threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings against Detroit this season and has a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings lifetime, while Tazawa accumulated two scoreless innings in 2013 and has posted a 1.08 ERA in 8 1/3 innings vs. the Tigers.

• Peavy gave the Red Sox the performance they needed to seal an ALCS berth on Tuesday night. He only lasted 5 2/3 innings, but Peavy limited the Rays to just one run on five hits while striking out three. He didn’t get the win, but he held down Tampa Bay’s offense while the Red Sox struggled to push runs across.

Peavy’s sole outing against the Tigers this season was shaky. The righty allowed only four hits in seven innings, but three of those hits left the yard. Both Torii Hunter (7-for-16) and Austin Jackson (9-for-28) have had Peavy’s number in the past.

• Ellsbury comes into the ALCS on a tear, hitting .500 with two RBIs and four stolen bases in the series against the Rays. The center fielder is hitting .310/.358/.437 in 26 postseason games.

• Xander Bogaerts may just barely be of legal drinking age, but he showed his maturity and ability to perform on a big stage in the ALDS. Bogaerts joined some elite company with his performance in the ALDS, becoming the youngest player to appear in a postseason game for the Red Sox since Babe Ruth in 1915 while becoming the youngest ever Red Sox player to score a run in the playoffs. With two walks in two plate appearances on Tuesday, Bogaerts joined just seven other players 21 or younger who have walked twice in a postseason game.

WHO’S HOT: TIGERS

• Verlander may have had a disappointing season (13-12, 3.46 ERA), so disappointing that he wasn’t tapped as the Game 1 starter in the ALDS, with Jim Leyland opting for Scherzer — in fairness, the Cy Young favorite — instead. But Verlander has snapped back into form, and in two starts in the ALDS against the A’s, the righty tossed 15 scoreless innings, allowing just six hits and two walks while striking out 21 of the 53 batters he faced, or about 40 percent of opposing hitters. Although he wasn’t credited with the win in his first start of the postseason (a game the Tigers would eventually lose), he was masterful in Game 5, tossing eight innings of two-hit ball and carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

Verlander is one of the most experienced postseason pitchers on either staff. He’s accumulated over 85 postseason innings between 2006 and 2013, compiling a 3.48 ERA and 1.113 WHIP while striking out an average of over 10 batters per nine innings. Interestingly, the majority of Verlander’s postseason success has come against Oakland; he gave up just one run in 16 innings while striking out 22 A’s batters in 2012’s ALDS.

The 30-year-old may have a tougher time dominating Red Sox hitters, though. In just one start this season, Verlander allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks to the Sox, lasting just five innings. Both David Ortiz (.370/.433/.741, 10-for-27, two home runs and four doubles) and Mike Napoli (.304/429/.435, 7-for-23, one home run) have had relative success against Verlander, but Dustin Pedroia (.056/.105/.056, 1-for-18) has scuffled.

• Although he missed 50 games due to a suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Jhonny Peralta has provided a spark to the Tigers offense. Though Peralta didn’t start in the first two games of the series, Leyland opted to put him in the lineup for Game 3, and the veteran ended up going 5-for-11 with five RBIs in the last three games.

With Jose Iglesias manning the shortstop position for the Tigers, Peralta had to find a new place to play. He was shifted to left field, and has only 34 2/3 professional innings of left field under his belt. In the ALDS, Rays outfielders had a hard time mastering the Green Monster. The same challenge looms for the Peralta in Game 1 and 2.

“I don’t think [it'll be hard],” Peralta said of playing left field in Fenway on Friday. “I don’t think it’ll be tough. [Center fielder] Austin Jackson will be there too, so he’ll be able to help. [We have to see] how the ball hits off the wall.”

• With Miguel Cabrera ailing, Victor Martinez picked up some of the slack in the ALDS. The designated hitter (and former Red Sox catcher) went 9-for-20 with two doubles and a home run in the five games, though he drove in only two runs.

WHO’S NOT: RED SOX

Mike Napoli drove in just one run in the ALDS, going 2-for-13 with a double and stranding seven men on base over the course of the four games. Despite the lack of production, the Red Sox first baseman did manage to draw four walks while striking out four times.

• Though Dustin Pedroia knocked in five runs, he hit an uncharacteristic 0-for-9 skid in the midst of the ALDS. The Red Sox second baseman went 4-for-19 in the series with a double and two sacrifice flies. Pedroia has generally struggled against Detroit pitching, but has had some success against closer Joaquin Benoit (4-for-9) and has clubbed two home runs and knocked in five runs against Scherzer.

• Franklin Morales made only one appearance in the ALDS, but it was a rocky outing. He lasted only a third of an inning and gave up one run on a hit and a walk.

WHO’S NOT: DETROIT

• By his standards, Cabrera did not have a good ALDS. The reigning MVP and 2012 Triple Crown winner went 5-for-20 (.250) with a home run, three RBIs and an intentional walk against the A’s. He extended his postseason hitting streak (seven games, dating back to the 2012 World Series) and his postseason on-base streak (a record 29 games), but did not have a multi-hit game in the series. His first extra-base hit of the 2013 postseason came at an opportune time, however, putting the Tigers on the board in Game 5 with a two-run home run in the fourth. The blast would be all the offense the Tigers would need thanks to Verlander’s dominant performance.

It’s no secret that Cabrera has been playing hurt. It’s not entirely clear what his injury is or to what extent it’s limiting him, but Cabrera has not been playing to his capabilities for well over a month. Cabrera finished the regular season with 44 home runs, tying the career high he set last year, but his home run in Game 5 of the ALDS was only his second home run and third extra-base hit since Aug. 27. The heart of the Tigers lineup is severely weakened with an impaired Cabrera, as is the team’s defense at third base. But just because Cabrera is dinged up, it doesn’t mean he can’t still be effective, especially against Game 1 starter Lester. Cabrera has owned Lester over the course of his career, hitting .526 (10-for-19) with a home run, two doubles, three RBIs and five walks in 24 plate appearances against the Sox lefty.

• Former Red Sox infielder Iglesias, who was traded to Detroit in the deal that brought Peavy to Boston, didn’t fare so well in his first postseason series, at least not on the offensive side of the ball. Iglesias hit just .083 (1-for-12) in the ALDS, reaching base with a single and a walk while striking out twice. The slick-fielding shortstop was mired in an ugly slump to finish out the regular season, hitting .077/.143/.077 in his last 12 games before the playoffs.

• Jackson, the leadoff man, had a miserable ALDS, going 2-for-20 with a walk, double and one RBI while striking out 13 times. Luckily for Jackson, he’s hit very well against Red Sox pitching in the regular season, batting .478 with three doubles in 26 plate appearances this season.

• The Tigers bullpen can be unreliable at times, and closer Benoit didn’t calm any anxieties about the state of the relief corps in the ALDS. Benoit earned two saves, but allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings, though both of the runs came in a non-save situation.

Read More: jake peavy, Jhonny Peralta, jose iglesias, justin verlander
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