Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 10/12/13
Is this the ALCS that most people expected? The Red Sox finished with the best record in the league, but some felt the Rays were the hotter team and might upset them. The Tigers weren't necessarily viewed as an underdog versus the A's, despite a banged-up lineup and not having home-field advantage. But through various points of the season, Detroit and Boston were considered the best two clubs in the AL. This is the matchup many fans, analysts and observers wanted to see.  Game One: Saturday, 10/12 in Boston, 8:07 p.m. ET. Anibal Sanchez vs. Jon Lester Game Two: Sunday, 10/13 in Boston, 8:07 p.m. ET. Max Scherzer vs. Clay Buchholz Game Three: Tuesday, 10/15 in Detroit, 4:07 p.m. ET. John Lackey vs. Justin Verlander Game Four: Wednesday, 10/16 in Detroit, 8:07 p.m. ET. Jake Peavy vs. Doug Fister Game Five (if necessary): 10/17 in Detroit, 8:07 p.m. ET. Jon Lester vs. Anibal Sanchez Game Six (if necessary): 10/19 in Boston, 4:37 p.m. ET. Max Scherzer vs. Clay Buchholz Game Seven (if necessary): 10/20 in Boston, 8:07 p.m. ET. Justin Verlander vs. John Lackey Starting Pitching: Here's where the advantage should lie for the Tigers. Head-to-head, Detroit's starting four appears to be much stronger than the Red Sox's quartet. Max Scherzer is the likely AL Cy Young Award winner and Anibal Sanchez led the league in ERA. However, if a neck injury hadn't limited Clay Buchholz to 16 starts, he likely would have challenged both Scherzer and Sanchez. The Tigers held the A's to 15 runs in five ALDS games, and Oakland came into the series having scored the third-most runs in the AL. The one arguable question mark was Justin Verlander, and he allowed no runs in 15 innings versus the A's. Doug Fister had a 5.23 ERA in two starts against Boston this year. Interestingly, he pitched well at Fenway Park, throwing seven scoreless innings on Sept. 2. At Comerica Park, however, Fister was bombed for six runs and 11 hits in 3.1 innings. He'll face the Red Sox in Detroit for Game 4.  Boston allowed 12 runs in its ALDS with the Rays, though that was in four games and Tampa Bay ranked ninth in the AL in runs scored this season. A big part of the Red Sox's turnaround was Jon Lester's revival into No. 1 starter form. He was excellent against the Tigers at Fenway in early September, allowing one run over seven innings. Yet Detroit roughed him up for five runs and nine hits at Comerica in mid-June. John Lackey draws a tough matchup against Verlander, but he compiled a 3.14 ERA in two starts versus Detroit this year.  Bullpen: Both teams struggled with their closing situations early in the season before finding their guys later in the year. Koji Uehara has been oustanding for Boston, compiling a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 74.1 innings. In save situations, he's been even better, with an 0.79 ERA and average of 14 strikeouts per nine innings. While Joaquin Benoit's numbers might not be as impressive, he's been equally effective for the Tigers. He has a 1.73 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 36.1 innings for save situations.  Where the Red Sox have an edge is with their middle relief. Junichi Tazawa averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings as Uehara's setup man. Left-hander Craig Breslow had a 1.81 ERA this season and actually pitches better against right-handers than southpaws. Detroit's setup man, Drew Smyly, allowing a .189 average to lefties. He also provides another strikeout threat, averaging 9.6 Ks per nine frames. But can Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke be reliable bridges between the Tigers' starting pitchers and late-inning relievers? That could very well determine this series.  Lineup: Based on the numbers, this is a heavyweight battle. The Red Sox scored 853 runs this season, the most in MLB. Ranking second were the Tigers with 796 runs. Detroit and Boston were the AL's top two clubs in team batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.  Yet the Tigers aren't flexing nearly as much muscle in the postseason. They scored 15 runs in five ALDS games. In the first two games against Oakland, they managed only three runs and went 17 innings without scoring a run. After the first three games, Detroit had only scored in two of 27 innings. The Tigers broke out with eight runs in Game 4 and Miguel Cabrera finally showed some power with a two-run homer in Game 5. Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta are swinging well, but unless Cabrera and Prince Fielder contribute more, Detroit figures to have trouble scoring runs.  The Red Sox, for the most part, are benefiting from their best players hitting well. Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and David Ortiz each had an OPS over .980 in their ALDS versus the Rays. Dustin Pedroia hit only .235, but still drove in five runs. The key player for Boston could be Mike Napoli, the lineup's best right-handed power threat and protection for Ortiz in the lineup. He hit only .184 in the ALDS. With the Tigers' starting rotation all featuring right-handed starters, will Napoli be rendered ineffective again or could he make more of an impact? He's 7-for-23 (.304) during his career against Verlander.  Bench: Does Peralta count as a bench player at this point for the Tigers? Probably not, though he was on the bench for the first two games of the ALDS. With Detroit in desperate need of offense, however, manager Jim Leyland put the career infielder in left field, hoping he could provide some punch. It worked, as Peralta hit a three-run homer in Game 4. For the decisive Game 5, he was back at shortstop. Expect him to play there during the ALCS. Jose Iglesias is a far superior glove, but the Tigers need Peralta's bat. Otherwise, the Tigers' bench is full of utility players and defensive replacements like Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago and Hernan Perez.  However, Boston has some pieces that can make a difference off the bench. Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp provide some power that could change a game in late innings. Quintin Berry (a former Tiger) is a baserunning threat and defensive replacement. David Ross is one of the best backup catchers in MLB. And depending on who starts at third base, either Xander Bogaerts or Will Middlebrooks supply offense and infield help late in the game. (Middlebrooks will get the start in Game 1.) Overall: Though the Tigers' starting pitching is considered superior and could end up being the deciding factor in this series, the Red Sox feature the better lineup and a home ballpark that could factor into an outcome or two. Unlike past Boston teams, this offense doesn't depend solely on the home run either. The Red Sox like to run and that can put an opposing defense on edge. Alex Avila can do a decent job against basestealers, but a team that likes to take the extra base and be aggressive could challenge a Tigers defense that has some holes. Unless Detroit's starting pitchers dominate throughout, Boston appears to have too many advantages in this matchup. 

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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