In trying to assess which team the Red Sox might prefer to play in the American League Championship Series, Oakland or Detroit, one thing is for sure — you can take those regular-season statistics and toss them as far as you can.
That Boston was 3-3 vs. Oakland and 3-4 vs. Detroit doesn’t mean a thing. Or that Boston demolished the Tigers, 20-4, in their last meeting at Fenway Park.
There are several schools of thought here: 1) It doesn’t matter who the Red Sox play because they can handle any team; 2) They should play the Tigers because Miguel Cabrera is banged up; 3) They should play the A’s, because Oakland forever is seen as the Cinderella team whose chariot eventually turns into a pumpkin.
Or it could be none of the above.
The Red Sox usually don’t go there when asked which team they’d rather play. After all, why would you want to give the other team bulletin-board material? But the sense during the splashing of champagne in the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field Tuesday night was that at least some of the Red Sox feel better about facing the Tigers than the A’s.
It was admittedly a small sample size of people in the midst of a wild celebration.
Both the A’s and Tigers go into Game 5 of their series Thursday night maxed out in terms of personnel and pitching. They will have a day to regroup before facing Boston, but that’s not much time. We asked during the Red Sox’ series against Tampa Bay whether the Rays had an advantage because they had momentum and had played sudden-death games, which seemed to be to their liking. The answer to that ended up being no. The Red Sox were well-rested, hadn’t gotten rusty, and played just fine. Well enough to win, anyway.
Rest certainly would have helped the Tigers because of Cabrera and because they have an older team, but that will not be the case now.
The Tigers used Max Scherzer for two innings of relief in their 8-6 win over Oakland in Game 4 Tuesday night. Scherzer should be ready to go as Detroit’s Game 1 starter Saturday if the Tigers make the ALCS.
Detroit has received an unexpected boost from Jhonny Peralta, the shortstop turned left fielder who was busted for PED use and served a 50-game suspension. In a perfect world, in which Cabrera (groin, abdomen) was completely healthy and shortstop Jose Iglesias wasn’t battling a hand issue and shin splints, Peralta, a free agent, would have been watching the playoffs and not participating in them. But there was a need and the Tigers made the choice that has benefited them so far.
Peralta hit a walkoff homer against the Red Sox during the season and more than one Boston player has referenced it. Along with Cabrera, the Tigers have a tough lineup that includes Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Omar Infante, Torii Hunter, and Austin Jackson and led the league in hitting (.283).
The Tigers’ bullpen has been vulnerable, but as it turns out in their series, the A’s pen has struggled as well.
The A’s have that free-spirit approach to their season. There aren’t too many uptight players on the squad, and that’s what makes Oakland dangerous. Manager Bob Melvin has pushed all the right buttons with his platoons and personnel decisions.
Their personnel is also not in awe of Fenway, where Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, and Bartolo Colon all played at one point. Melvin caught with the Red Sox in 1993, so he understands the park’s quirks and pitfalls as well.
How important is that? The ballpark certainly worked against the Rays, who stumbled and bumbled in the first two games of the ALDS.
Both the A’s and Tigers have given the maximum effort in a series that went the full five games. Scherzer had to escape a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the eighth inning Tuesday. Does that make a pitcher stronger or does it sap him of energy having to throw in such a high-leverage situation on a day when he wasn’t suppose to pitch?
The Tigers had been offensively challenged until the fifth inning of Tuesday’s game, when they started putting things together. But it’s obvious good pitching can shut the Tigers offense down, and lately the Red Sox have had very good pitching.
We know how well Red Sox hitters usually fare against opposing bullpens. The A’s pen had thrown eight shutout innings against the Tigers. But it struggled in the final two innings of Tuesday’s game. So which bullpen would the Red Sox rather see?
The A’s haven’t been that great with runners in scoring position in the series – they were 3 for 13 in the Tuesday game.
Do that against the Red Sox and you’re likely to lose big.
The A’s have young pitchers and the 40-year-old Colon. The youngsters don’t seem to have any fear, though here again Fenway tends to produce that. But that’s also something former Sox pitching coach Curt Young can tutor his current pitchers about.
With Reddick’s familiarity with right field at Fenway, Crisp’s familiarity with center, and Lowrie knowing the Fenway infield and having the ability to use the Wall from either side of the plate, it would appear the Red Sox’ home-field advantage would be somewhat neutralized against Oakland.
Bring on the Tigers?
Maybe. But be very careful what you wish for.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.