Originally written October 12, 2013 on The Detroit Sports Site:
Can the Detroit Tigers knock off the top-seeded Boston Red Sox and make a return trip to the World Series? Or will Boston keep rolling through the American League? We take a look at what’s to come … 1. The Tigers have to switch up their rotation for the ALCS. Do you like or dislike having Anibal Sanchez going in Game 1? Chris Burke: No problem for me here. Sanchez won the AL ERA title this year, and we all know he’s way better than he showed against the A’s. Plus, he has playoff experience so there shouldn’t be too much concern about him being able to handle this. If he steals Game 1 against Jon Lester, the Red Sox will be a world of trouble given the rest of the pitching matchups. Max DeMara: It will be hard for many to be confident in Sanchez given his last performance and the specter of him going up against the Red Sox lineup in small Fenway Park. Perhaps, though, Sanchez can benefit from the fact that Boston’s bats have had some time off, while the Tigers will be fresher, having played two days before. Putting Sanchez out there beats the alternative of what many teams would have to do in the absence of an ace or two. He will be motivated to pitch better given the problems against Oakland, and elevated his game against the Yankees last year after struggling against the Athletics. Rob Starrs: I obviously would like Verlander or Scherzer going in game 1, but Sanchez needs this win for his confidence and I think coming back in games 2 and 3 with the big guns works well for Detroit. I like it. Andrew Tomlinson: I actually love the way the Tigers’ rotation is set. Sanchez rarely has back-to-back bad performances, so for him to come out in Game 1, there is a high-percentage chance the Tigers get at least a decent performance out of him. The beauty of the new rotation is that even if Sanchez does not have a spectacular performance, the Tigers come right back with Max Scherzer who has been lights out all year and actually pitches a bit better on the road than at home. Follow that up with a homestand in the middle of the series with Justin Verlander and Scherzer both slated to go — and at that point you tend to forget Sanchez in game one is even a concern. 2. What should Detroit do with Jhonny Peralta: Keep him at SS or move him back to LF? CB: I imagine at some point we’ll see Andy Dirks or Don Kelly in left and Peralta at short. But the Tigers made the trade for Jose Iglesias specifically for this time of year — so he could stiffen their defense up the middle in the playoffs. Detroit can get away with Peralta in left at Fenway, and then we’ll see. MD: In Fenway Park, the Tigers could almost get away with using Peralta in left field if they wanted. Manny Ramirez played there forever; and as Kevin Millar joked on “The Dan Patrick Show” Friday morning, he didn’t know where he was half the time. It’s a shorter field as far as throws are concerned, so the only thing Detroit would have to do is make sure Peralta knew how to properly play caroms off the wall. For three games in Detroit, the Tigers should go with someone else in left field, but they could certainly keep Peralta in the field in Boston without much worry. RS: Put Jhonny Peralta in LF for game and see how it goes. It’s not as big out there as it was in Oakland, and I like having Jose Iglesias being a potential Red Sox killer having come over from Boston in that trade. AT: I hate keeping Jose Iglesias out of the lineup with his speed, defense and honest-to-goodness baseball smarts, but that may be what Jim Leyland does when the series returns to Detroit for Games 3, 4 and 5. For the first two games, though, the left field in Fenway is rather forgiving for defensively inept players. Yes, the Green Monster is tough to read defensively, but then again it is tough for any left fielder to deal with balls that ricochet off of it. With little ground to cover, that part of Fenway works for the defensively terrifying Peralta perfectly, and I imagine that is where Leyland sticks him. 3. Do the Tigers need to make a switch at the leadoff hitter spot? If so, who should bat there? CB: Jackson’s staying in the lineup somewhere, so this is not a question about switching it up in center field. And without that, what really are the options here? Torii Hunter’s not hitting either in the 2-hole, Miguel Cabrera’s been struggling with his injuries at No. 3 and Prince Fielder has yet to drive in a run in the playoffs. In other words, it’s not as if swapping out Jackson would magically make this offense click again. That said, Omar Infante would be my choice, if Jim Leyland wants to take a shot. MD: Leadoff production was a problem with Jackson during the Oakland series, and I would not have hesitated replacing him with Omar Infante then. However, this Boston series presents a new opportunity against a fresh staff. During the regular season, Jackson hit .478 against the Red Sox, compared to just .290 against the Athletics. Some teams just have a way of getting inside a player’s head. I’d give Jackson two games in Boston and one in Detroit to figure things out. If the problems persist, Jim Leyland should change his lineup for the final two games at Comerica Park, and potentially, the end of the series in Massachusetts. RS: It is tough to say not to make a move but I think Austin Jackson will break the slump. I also believe Leyland won’t change the top of the order. AT: They do need to make a switch as “K-Jax” has been an awful table-setter for a team struggling to score runs, but the likelihood of that happening is very slim. Jackson has been and will be the Tigers’ leadoff hitter because, well, that is the way Jim Leyland made the lineup in the ALDS. Leyland does not change lineups often so this really is a moot discussion. If I was managing the team though, I’d debate putting Iglesias or Omar Infante in the leadoff spot. 4. Prediction: Which team wins the series and in how many games? CB: The Tigers’ issues on offense and in Fenway Park obviously are cause for concern. But a Justin Verlander-John Lackey matchup in Game 3 favors Detroit, while Doug Fister-Jake Peavy in Game 4 is a wash. So can the Tigers steal one or two in Boston and really take control of this thing by the middle of the series? I say yes … and with more of a dominant grip than anyone really expects. Tigers in 5. MD: Red Sox in 6. Boston’s pitching staff is a bit deeper than Detroit’s at this point, and run production has been a concern for the Tigers. That’s not the recipe to win in a place like Fenway Park, a venue the Tigers have historically had major problems in. RS: It is going to be a tough series for the Tigers to win, but I see it happening. I think the pitching stays strong and the bats come alive a little bit more — enough to win a few close games. Tigers in 7. AT: This looks like a juggernaut of a series with two teams who were predicted to finish on complete opposite ends of the spectrum before the season started. Boston was supposed to be rebuilding and be a few years away from making a meaningful run at another World Series, while the Tigers were supposed to run away with the American League. Detroit squeaked into the postseason though and the Sox were the ones with the best record. Boston is the better overall team and are likely to be the ones to come out on top, after the Tigers take them to six games. Boston in six.
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