(SportsNetwork.com) - If you would have told someone a year ago that the
Boston Red Sox would be back in the American League Championship Series this
season, you may have been laughed at.
But, one year removed from losing 93 games, that is exactly the position the
Red Sox find themselves in, as they kick off the best-of-seven set versus the
Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park on Saturday.
Boston is back in this round for the first time since 2008 after upending the
Tampa Bay Rays in four games of the ALDS.
Only two teams were worse than Boston in the AL in 2012, leading to the
dismissal of manager Bobby Valentine after just one season. So, out with the
old and in the new, as the team hired John Farrell away from Toronto to be
their new skipper.
All Farrell did was put himself atop most people's AL Manager of the Year
ballots, as he guided the Red Sox to a 28-game turnaround and ended the year
97-65, leading the club to its first AL East title since their World Series
championship season of 2007.
The 97 wins were also the second most for the team since 1978.
Boston's regular season prowess carried over to the postseason, as it needed
only four games to upend the wild card-winning Tampa Bay Rays.
Offensively the Red Sox are still led by 37-year-old designated hitter David
Ortiz, who put forth his seventh 30-homer/100-RBI season and hit .309 to boot.
Ortiz continued to thrive against the Rays and hit a pair of home runs with
three RBI, while batting .385
Boston was criticized for giving outfielder Shane Victorino a 3-year, $39
million deal this offseason, but the Flying Hawaiian was one of the team's top
performers this season, hitting .294 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI, 82 runs scored
and 21 stolen bases.
Not to mention Victorino has had a penchant for coming up big in the
postseason, as he has driven in 33 runs in 50 playoff games. That was the case
against the Rays, as he went 6-for-14 with three RBI.
Jacoby Ellsbury was a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox in the ALDS, as he was
9-for-18 in the series with four stolen bases. The soon-to-be free agent had
missed most September with a compression fracture in his right foot.
Farrell, of course, was the Red Sox pitching coach under Terry Francona, and
his impact was immediately evident, especially among the starting staff which
saw their ERA decrease by nearly two runs from the prior season.
Nobody benefited from having Farrell back more than Game 1 starter Jon
Lester, who was a miserable 9-14 in 2012, but bounced back to go 15-8 this
past season, while pitching to a 3.75 ERA.
Lester gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings in win over the Rays in the ALDS and
has held the opposition to a .199 batting average with 46 strikeouts to 16
walks in 49 2/3 postseason innings.
Including his Game 1 win over the Rays, Lester is 8-2 with a 2.77 ERA in 14
starts since the All-Star break.
Despite missing three months with a sore shoulder Clay Buchholz was still
magnificent for the Red Sox, but given how well John Lackey has pitched at
Fenway, Farrell may again opt to throw him in Game 2.
Lackey beat the Rays at Fenway in Game 2 of the last series after going 6-3
with a 2.47 ERA in 13 home starts during the regular season.
Should Farrell go that way, then Buchholz will go in Game 3 and Jake Peavy
will again follow in the fourth game.
One distinct advantage the Red Sox will have in this series will be in the
bullpen where Koji Uehara has emerged as one of the best closers in baseball.
The Japanese right-hander stepped up in the wake of season-ending injuries to
both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and saved 21 games while pitching to a
remarkable 1.09 ERA.
Uehara, whose ERA was the best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more
innings, also posted a mind-blowing 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings -
the lowest WHIP in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50
innings, surpassing by a considerable margin the 0.61 standard set by Dennis
Eckersley in 1989.
He didn't walk a batter over his final 22 appearances and posted a 0.72 in
Uehara saved two games against the Rays, but also surrendered a game-winning
home run to Jose Lobaton in Game 3. Still, that was he only hit he allowed in
his three innings of work.
Detroit, meanwhile, is back in this round for the third straight season after
a hard-fought five-game win over the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. Justin
Verlander flirted with a no-hitter in the clincher and wound up giving up two
hits over eight scoreless innings in the Tigers' 3-0 win.
"I can usually tell by the look on his face and his demeanor prior to a game
when he's zeroed in and locked in," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, "and he
was locked in tonight."
Now the Tigers turn their attention toward the Red Sox, as they try to get
back to the World Series for a second straight season.
Detroit went 93-69 to win a third straight AL Central crown thanks to another
amazing campaign from Miguel Cabrera, and despite a wildly inconsistent season
While Verlander struggled, the rest of the staff thrived, specifically right-
hander Max Scherzer, who enjoyed the best year of his career, as he won an
MLB-best 21 games, while pitching to a 2.90 ERA and striking out 240 batters
over a career-high 214 innings.
In Verlander, Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez the Tigers produced three 200-
strikeout pitchers on the same team for just the third time in history, the
first since the 1969 Astros.
Sanchez, who led the AL with a 2.57 ERA, will get the start for the Tigers in
Game 1 against the Red Sox. Often overlooked because of who he pitches with,
Sanchez was one of the best pitchers in either league over the second half of
the season, going 7-2 with a 2.20 ERA after the All-Star break.
Sanchez, though, was rocked by the A's in the ALDS to the tune of six runs (5
earned) in 4 1/3 innings.
Scherzer will be pushed back to Game 2 after throwing two innings of relief in
Game 4 of the ALDS on Tuesday.
Amazingly, the Tigers starting staff led the AL in almost every major category
in spite of Verlander, who was only 13-12 and finished the year with his
highest ERA (3.46), lowest strikeout rate (23.5 percent) and lowest innings
total (218 1/3) since 2008 while battling reduced velocity.
Verlander, though, could to be getting hot at the right time, as he did not
allow a run in 15 innings of the ALDS, while striking out 21 batters. He's 7-4
lifetime in the postseason with a 3.48 ERA in 14 starts.
However, after his marvelous Game 5 effort against the A's, Verlander won't
pitch until Game 3 when the ALCS shifts to Detroit.
As good as their starting staff may have been, though, any conversation about
the Tigers begins and ends with the great Cabrera, who came within an eyelash
of a second straight Triple Crown, but seems to be playing through a few
Cabrera may have fell short of his remarkable 2012 season, but still hit a
career-high .348 to become the first player in more than two decades to win
three straight AL batting titles. His 44 home runs were second to the 53 by
Baltimore's Chris Davis, and he finished second in RBI, one behind Davis' 138.
He batted .330 last year with 44 homers and 139 RBI.
Cabrera's home run in the decisive fifth game against the A's set the tone,
but it was first homer in more than three weeks. He was just 5-for-20 in the
series with three RBI and is battling both abdominal and knee injuries.
The great Cabrera is, of course, supported by a tremendous lineup that
includes Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. The Tigers, though,
hit just .235 as a team in the ALDS.
If there is one giant concern on Detroit's end it is its bullpen.
Joaquin Benoit isn't exactly Mariano Rivera, but few, if any closers are. And
keep in mind, the Tigers went to the World Series a year ago with a closer-by-
Other than the distinct advantage in the bullpen, these teams are pretty
They finished 1-2 in the majors in both runs scored and OPS. Boston may
have hit two more homers, but Detroit had a slightly better staff ERA (3.61 to
Detroit could get a huge boost if Verlander is back to being his dominant
self. The problem is we won't find out until Game 3 and by then it may be too
The Red Sox just don't have any weaknesses. They hit, they pitch, they run,
they do everything. It's hard to see them losing here.
Prediction: RED SOX in SIX
The Sports Network