The two most potent offenses in the major leagues are meeting head-to-head.
The Tigers have what may be the greatest offensive player of his generation in Miguel Cabrera. He has been slowed by leg injuries, but he cashed in when it meant the most vs. Oakland, with a two-run homer in Game 5, showing that he is still a force despite starting that Division Series 4 for 16.
The Red Sox counter with David Ortiz, who was the fourth-most productive hitter in baseball this season with a .959 OPS (Cabrera was first at 1.078).
The Tigers recently received a boost with the return of Jhonny Peralta from a 50-game PED suspension. Peralta, a shortstop by trade, has been playing left field (though he started at shortstop in Game 5) and is giving Detroit some extra thunder in its already potent lineup.
The Red Sox definitely have better table-setters. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino hit .500 and .429, respectively, in the Division Series against Tampa Bay, reaching base 20 times and scoring nine runs in four games.
The Tigers haven’t been able to match that top-of-the-order production. Austin Jackson was 2 for 20 with 13 strikeouts in the ALDS and was not much of a base-stealing threat with only eight all year. Torii Hunter (.158 in the ALDS) has struggled in the 2-hole.
The Red Sox can beat you with their running game, while the Tigers can hurt themselves with base cloggers.
Defensively, the Red Sox win here as well, with a far superior fielder at virtually every position except shortstop, where Jose Iglesias beats anyone.
The Tigers’ lack of speed and defense didn’t hurt them too badly during the season because of their offense and pitching, but the Red Sox can utilize their small-ball component when their big bats aren’t working.
The Red Sox were 3-4 against the Tigers, 1-3 in Detroit and 2-1 in Boston, including a 20-4 victory in their last meeting at Fenway Sept. 4. The Tigers hit Sox pitching at a .282 clip with six home runs.
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The top of the Detroit rotation is daunting, with 21-game winner Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander (right), and American League ERA leader Anibal Sanchez. The Red Sox have a pretty good match with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey. The teams also have comparable fourth starters in Jake Peavy and Doug Fister.
The problem for the Tigers, who had a 6.05 staff ERA against the Red Sox, is that they won’t have their rotation set up quite as they’d like because they had to go five games with Oakland. They will have to use Sanchez first, followed by Scherzer in Game 2 and Verlander for Game 3.
While both rotations are very good, the offenses don’t seem to fear anyone. The Sox beat Scherzer in the midst of his tremendous season.
The Red Sox touched up Verlander in their only meeting, getting him out of the game by the fifth inning (7 hits, 4 runs).
In Game 1, the Red Sox will go with Lester, and while his record vs. Detroit this season doesn’t look bad (2-0, 4.26), consider that Miguel Cabrera has mauled him for a .526 average in 24 career plate appearances, Victor Martinez hits him at a .429 clip, Torii Hunter at .433, and Jhonny Peralta at .296 (2 homers).
Prince Fielder (.444), Cabrera (.333), Martinez (.379), and Peralta (.355) all have good career numbers vs. Lackey, while Hunter (.438), Jackson (.321), and Cabrera (.289, 3 homers) fare well vs. Peavy.
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The Red Sox appear to have the edge, starting with Koji Uehara, even though he blew a game against Tampa Bay. The Tigers blew 7 of 16 save opportunities late in the season.
The Red Sox have three dependable relievers in Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Craig Breslow (left), while the Tigers have been a bit of an adventure with Joaquin Benoit at the end of the bullpen. The addition of Jose Veras in late July didn’t seem to help much, though Drew Smyly has been an effective lefty for them.
John Farrell will not hesitate to use Uehara for 4-6 outs if need be. Because Uehara is such a strike thrower, he doesn’t waste many pitches and therefore can be used longer than a typical closer.
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The Red Sox seem to have an advantage, being able to use David Ross as their defensive catcher, while also being able to call on Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava, and Xander Bogaerts off the bench.
The Tigers have all-purpose Don Kelly, who can play anywhere. Andy Dirks is a bat off the bench if he doesn’t start in left field. But, for the most part, the Tiger lineup is the Tiger lineup.
The Red Sox have been effective with late pinch hitting by Carp and Gomes. With four righthanded starters in the Detroit rotation, Gomes may see more bench duty in this series.
Would John Farrell take Bogaerts off the bench and start him over the struggling Stephen Drew (.133 in the Division Series)?
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Jim Leyland (above) is tried and true, while John Farrell had his breakout year and is likely to win the American League Manager of the Year award.
Leyland managed a superstar offense and a tremendous starting rotation. He had to withstand some injuries and subpar play by his team in the last two months (24-25 over their last 49) yet the Tigers managed to come back from being down, two games to one, to beat Oakland in the Division Series.
Leyland won’t have his pitching lined up the way he would like, because he had to use Justin Verlander to beat the A’s in Game 5, but he will have Max Scherzer and Verlander lined up for Games 6 and 7 if it gets that far.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.