Saturday, October 12, 2013

2013 ALCS preview

By Rick Morris

The Red Sox and Tigers are two of the original American League franchises and notwithstanding ranking third and fourth respectively in AL pennants, they have never before met in the playoffs (having near-misses for one-game postseason qualifiers in 1967 and 1972.  Separately, each has made several ALCS appearances in recent years (2003-04 and 2007-08 for Boston and 2006 and 2011-12 for Detroit), but they have avoided one another – until now.  This is not surprising, in light of the fact that in their century-plus of competition in the American League, they actually have very little significant history between them.  All of that changes, starting this weekend with their clash in the American League Championship Series.

In terms of hitting, there are interesting contrasts to the NLCS, where the Dodgers have the more dangerous “peak” of the lineup, but the Cardinals are deeper 1-9 and have the better bench.  Here, the Tigers appear to play the role of the Dodgers with the supersonic core of the lineup, including arguably the best hitter in the game in Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder (albeit in a down year by his standards) and Victor Martinez (very dangerous in the second half when he shed his rust).  And indeed, Boston, like St. Louis, is the team with few if any dead spots 1-9.  But the similarity ends with the starters, as the Tigers are the team with the deeper mix-and-match bench.

On the mound, Justin Verlander had been considered the best pitcher of the last several years in the AL before enduring a season that, like Fielder, wasn’t up to his standards.  But his October pitching has been of vintage form, which makes the Detroit rotation especially dangerous with Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez both at ace levels this year.  Speaking of reversion to vintage form, while the Boston lineup has been very dangerous this year, they have been keyed first and foremost in their success by reclamation projects in the rotation.  Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy have all resembled their “old selves” rather than pitching like old versions of themselves.  Nonetheless, Detroit rates an edge here.

Koji Uehara’s startling emergence from middle relief to become arguably the top closer in baseball has also been huge for the BoSox, who leaned heavily on Jonathan Papelbon when they were last winning a world title.  Detroit’s bullpen, while no longer the wasteland that it was at the beginning of the season, does not get the nod here.

So, Detroit looks top-heavier in both the lineup and rotation, with the overall rotation probably a bit superior, the overall lineup not so much, but the bench a bit ahead.  Boston is harder to pitch around and better in the late innings.  In a series that should feature many games going down to the wire, that final edge should suffice. Red Sox in six (4-2 record through the first two rounds, 4-0 in the LDS).

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