If there was one American League team before the season you did not expect to reach the ALCS (well.. besides the Astros of course) it would have been the Red Sox. Most analysts had the Sox penciled in the fifth place in the AL East, like last year. However, John Farrell’s men have turned it around and went from worst to first this season, going 97-65 for the shared best record in baseball.
Blood, sweat, beards!
Boston GM Ben Cherington added clubhouse guys to a team that had lacked chemistry for the last few years. Shane Victorino, Johnny Gomes, David Ross and Ryan Dempster are perfect examples of guys that have shown they can play, but also play a big role in teambuilding. An example of how well the group of players has grown as a team is how they decided to grow their beards together. The atmosphere in the team resembles the 2004 Boston Red Sox’. The only player still around from that team? You won’t be surprised: it’s team leader David ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz.
Ortiz has had another stellar season as the team’s designated hitter, batting .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBI. He also led the charge against the Rays in the ALDS in which he hit .385 with two home runs. The Red Sox breezed through their Division Series with relative ease. A surprising heroic home run by Jose Lobaton off of the very strong closer Koji Uehara gave the Rays their only win in that series.
Meanwhile it took the Detroit Tigers five games to beat the gritty Oakland Athletics. They showed once again that their starting pitching is very good, their defense is not, but their offense is great. The most encouraging sign for the Tigers after the ALDS must have been the performance of their superstars in Game 5. While Justin Verlander absolutely shut down the A’s lineup, Miguel Cabrera hit a massive two-run homer to put the Tigers on top for good.
‘Miggy’ has had a rough few weeks dealing with an injury, but he seems to be back on track after is important home run. Verlander, meanwhile, has not been the Verlander we are used to seeing these last few years. In his last few starts though, he looks like he has found his old groove pitching 28 straight scoreless innings, striking out 43 batters. If you add Anibal Sanchez and especially likely AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer you know the Tigers have a terrific starting rotation.
Game 1 matchup
Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA) vs. Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57 ERA)
Jon Lester pitching in Fenway Park in a playoff game poses a bigger threat to the opponent than his initial stats would indicate. He beat the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS pitching 7.2 strong innings allowing just two runs on three hits, striking out seven. Anibal Sanchez, meanwhile, has had the better season of the two. In fact, even though he is the third biggest name on Detroit's rotation, he had the best ERA in the American League.
His first postseason start this year against the A's was not as good as we expected it to be. Sanchez could not get out off the fifth and took the loss in Game 3 allowing five earned runs on 8 hits and 2 walks. He will be looking to bounce back against a tough Boston lineup that scored 26 runs in four games against the good pitching of the Rays.
This ALCS will likely be very closely contested and I would not be surprised if it goes to a Game 6 or even Game 7. The bookies agree that this series will be very close and see the Red Sox as the slight favorites (-110), quite possibly thanks to the home field advantage. The Tigers' odds for winning this ALCS are listed as even. I would put my money on the Tigers in 6.
In Game 1 the Red Sox are the clear cut favorites according to the money line (-140) and even though it's tough to bet against Jon Lester in Fenway Park, betting on the Tigers could be quite lucrative: +125. If the Tigers wind up winning Game 1, it will be a very tough uphill battle for the Sox facing Scherzer and Verlanders in Games 2 and 3.