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Red Sox-Tigers series preview

05.16.14 at 4:01 pm ET
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It’€™ll be a rematch between two American League powerhouses this weekend as the Tigers come to Fenway Park for the first time since Game 6 of the 2013 ALCS.

The Red Sox slipped back to .500 with a couple of tough losses in Minnesota, as the Twins won in walkoff fashion twice in the three-game set, including a 10th-inning victory on Thursday night after the Red Sox had scored two runs to tie the score in the top of the ninth.

“I think the characteristic of this team is consistent with a year ago, and that is a group that loves to compete, loves to prepare,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told MLB.com. “We’ve shown it repeatedly, and yet we’re also gaining valuable experience in a couple of spots on the field defensively and at the plate. We need to continue to pitch well from the mound, particularly our starters, to keep games in check. We felt like coming out of spring training, we’d be, record-wise, better than what we are. But we’re clearly in the mix of this.”

The Red Sox still sit right in the middle of the AL East race despite the less-than-stellar start, occupying third place, just 1 1/2 games back of the division-leading Orioles.

Detroit, on the other hand, has established a sizable lead in its division. The second-place team in the AL Central, the Royals, are six games behind the 24-12 Tigers.

The Tigers have a slightly different look in 2014, starting at the helm with new manager Brad Ausmus. They also added the likes of closer Joe Nathan and outfielder Rajai Davis while bringing up top prospect Nick Castellanos to man third base after Miguel Cabrera made the shift across the diamond to first. But their most notable move was the trade that shipped slugger Prince Fielder to Texas in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, a move that’€™s worked out handsomely for the Tigers, at least to this point.

Anibal Sanchez has been out of action for the last couple of weeks after a blister forced him out of the game back on April 26, but the righty will be ready to go on Sunday. In the meantime, rookie Robbie Ray has done an admirable job in Sanchez’€™s absence. The 22-year-old allowed just one run on nine hits in his two starts for the Tigers. Pitching is yet again one of Detroit’€™s major strengths. As a staff, the Tigers own the second-lowest ERA in the American League at 3.34, while their starters rank as the best in the league with a 2.79 mark.

Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set.

Friday: Jon Lester (4-4, 2.75) vs. Max Scherzer (5-1, 2.04)
Saturday: John Lackey (5-2, 3.57) vs. Rick Porcello (6-1, 3.22)
Sunday: Jake Peavy (1-1, 3.94) vs. Anibal Sanchez (0-2, 3.13)

WHO’€™S HOT: RED SOX

David Ortiz has been on a tear lately. Over his last eight games, Ortiz is batting .515 with three doubles and five home runs, jumping to third in the American League with 11 home runs. The 38-year-old continued to haunt his former club, going 8-for-14 with a double, four home runs and six RBIs in three games against the Twins. In a matter of eight games, Ortiz has boosted his slash line from .241/.344/.446 to .303/.393/.586.

Craig Breslow has settled into a groove after a couple of rough outings back in April. The lefty has yet to allow a run in six appearances this month, allowing just two hits in six innings while walking four and striking out seven. He’€™s compiled a 3.75 ERA through 11 appearances so far in 2014.

Grady Sizemore continues to make progress after a prolonged slump, going 8-for-his-last-20 with two extra-base hits and five RBIs, as well as drawing two walks in comparison to only one strikeout. The outfielder is batting .243 with a .698 OPS through 30 games.

WHO’€™S HOT: TIGERS

Victor Martinez has been one of the Tigers’€™ hottest hitters as of late, batting .400/.464/.800 with five double and five home runs over his last 13 games. Martinez owns the third-highest OPS among players with more than 30 plate appearances this month with a 1.264 mark, which is behind just John Jaso of the A’€™s and Ortiz.

– Kinsler seems to be adjusting just fine to his new home in Detroit, batting .345 in his last 14 games. He’s provided a little power at the top (or near the top, sometimes batting second) of Detroit’s lineup, slugging .441 with four home runs. He’€™s also been impressive in the field, with just one error in 153 chances.

– Though he got off to a slow start (.206/.275/.333 through his first 16 games), Cabrera, the reigning MVP, seems to have gotten back on track. Cabrera has hit .361 with five home runs over his last 20 games (after clubbing just one through his first 16). Some things still aren’t clicking for Cabrera, however; he’s walked just nine times, and after leading the league with a .442 OBP in 2013, he’€™s posted a .338 mark through 36 games this season.

WHO’€™S NOT: RED SOX

– Despite his clutch two-run single in the ninth inning of Thursday’€™s contest that tied things up and sent the game to extras, Will Middlebrooks continues to struggle at the plate. Over his last 11 games and 44 plate appearances, Middlebrooks has just six hits and five walks in contrast to 14 strikeouts. While it looked like the third baseman had been cutting down on the K’€™s upon returning from the disabled list, the strikeouts have returned and he’€™s fanning almost 28 percent of the time, slightly above his 2013 mark and his career mark.

– It’€™s been a rough couple of days for Andrew Miller. After six scoreless appearances over which he struck out 12 without walking a single batter, Miller gave up a single and a walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday. Things didn’t go much better on Thursday, when he allowed the winning run to score for the Twins in the 10th inning, giving up a double and a single. The Twins made some solid contact against Miller, but the bright side is that he still hasn’t allowed a walk over his last 14 1/3 innings.

Mike Napoli saw his 25-game on-base streak come to an end on Thursday, when he went 0-for-5. Through April, Napoli was easily been the most consistent hitter on the squad, but since May 1 he’€™s batting just .143 with a .560 OPS, though he’€™s been able to draw 13 walks while limiting his strikeouts to 14. The power numbers have also been down for Napoli, who has just five extra-base hits in his last 18 games.

WHO’€™S NOT: TIGERS

– Davis has been scuffling with just two hits in his last 20 at-bats, though both of those hits went for extra bases. Davis has been quite valuable for the Tigers, however, providing some speed at the top of the lineup, swiping 13 bases in 15 chances so far this season.

– Though Austin Jackson has been producing since he was moved out of the leadoff spot (thanks to the additions of Davis and Kinsler), he’€™s had an ugly few games, going 2-for-his-last-18 with four strikeouts. That said, Jackson has cut down on his strikeouts, fanning 15 percent of the time, well below his career rate of 23 percent.

Torii Hunter has been mired in an uncharacteristic slump, going just 3-for-22 in his last seven games. The veteran outfielder hasn’t shown much power this month, with just two extra-base hits in 49 plate appearances. On the season, he’€™s batting .298/.333/.460 in 32 contests.

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