October 17, 2013
ALCS Game Five Preview: Red Sox at Tigers
The Red Sox are two very key hits from being at home for the season. That isn’t framed that way to take away from them being tied 2-2, but rather it is meant to point out just how lean the margin is in the playoffs. They are hitting .186 with 53 strikeouts and the only two starting pitchers to get wrecked have been Red Sox and yet the series now comes down to a three-game set during which they will have home-field advantage.
Projected Starting Lineups:
The Game One rematch brings Anibal Sanchez, the AL’s ERA leader, back to the forefront. He threw six no-hit innings in the 1-0 win, but he wasn’t as sharp as that description might have you imagine. He had some wicked good stuff that netted 12 strikeouts, but he was often as clueless about where it was going as the Red Sox hitters were, as evidenced by his six walks. Jon Lester was a bit overlooked because of the eight-inning no-hit bid by the Tigers, but he was sharp against the league’s second-best offense versus lefties.
The revamped Tigers lineup is the big story from Game Four, but without a Dustin Pedroia bobble they don’t explode for a five-run second inning that propelled them. They might have still won 4-3, but the seven runs are being attributed to the changes by some. The moves were wise and necessary, but it is still a one-game sample that can’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions. Whether it was the lowered pressure of hitting eighth or simply better at-bats that would’ve occurred anywhere, Austin Jackson broke out with a big night. Staying hot could prove problematic given his meager .681 season OPS against southpaws, though.
With Sanchez and his 1.4 GB:FB ratio on the mound, manager Jim Leyland should stick with Wednesday’s configuration which keeps Jose Iglesias at shortstop and Jhonny Peralta in leftfield. Leyland seems to be aware of these numbers as he has only put Peralta at short with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander on the moun— the only two sub-40 percent ground-ball rates in the Detroit rotation.
The Red Sox actually out-hit the Tigers 12 to nine on Wednesday including a four-hit effort from Jacoby Ellsbury. While a repeat effort will almost certainly yield more than three runs, the problem is following Ellsbury as Shane Victorino (.125), Dustin Pedroia (.214), and David Ortiz (.067) have all struggled to cash him in. Pedroia is getting on base as well with a .353 OBP which paired with Ellsbury’s .412 OBP shines even a brighter light on Ortiz’s struggles. The grand slam keeps the heat off, but only for so long.
Matchups to Watch
The approach that led to the fourth-best walk rate also pushed them to the ninth-highest strikeout rate and they are facing the one staff that can turn that strength into a weakness. There were only 12 starters with at least 200 strikeouts this year and the Sox face three of them to close out this series.