The Tigers and Red Sox will meet for the first time ever in postseason play in this year’s edition of the ALCS, and both will try to make their third appearance in the World Series in the last 10 seasons. The Red Sox won it all in 2004 and 2007, while the Tigers had World Series losses in 2006 and 2012. Let’s look at how the matchup breaks down:
Lineup: Red Sox. The Tigers lineup is absolutely fantastic, and is a big reason they were my preseason pick to win the World Series. The Red Sox, however, have been surprisingly solid offensively all year long, and it showed in their ALDS against the Rays, particularly in the two games at Fenway Park. Also, Miguel Cabrera is struggling to be as productive as usual for the Tigers, with nagging injuries that let him play but keep him hobbled.
Bench: Tigers. The Red Sox don’t have to go their bench much, but when they do, it is not their stronghold. Their best bench player is their backup catcher, David Ross, and backup catchers aren’t generally used too much for pinch-hitting or in postseason play. The Tigers, on the other hand, have Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Nick Castellanos waiting in the wings on the Tigers bench, which is quite an advantage.
Rotation: Tigers. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez is the playoff rotation for the Tigers (in no particular order, since they are all capable of leading a pitching staff). While the Red Sox counter with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy. This is a solid rotation, and is part of the reason they are here, but can’t compete with the Tigers.
Bullpen: Tigers. The bullpen of the Red Sox is another slight weakness, and most of the runs scored by the Rays in the ALDS were off the Red Sox bullpen. The Tigers have an incredible trio of setup men, with Phil Coke, Drew Smyly, and Al Alburquerque.
Closer: Red Sox (tough call). Even though Red Sox closer Koji Uehara had a fantastic regular season, he struggled a little bit in the Rays series, although he did get the final three outs in the clincher. Joaquin Benoit has a lot of playoff experience as a setup man, and did well in both the regular season and the first round of the playoffs in his first closer’s gig. In the end, a really close call goes to Uehara.
Manager: Tigers (really tough call). In most of these playoff series, I have given the edge in this category based on my Manager of the Year voting in my “MLB Postseason Awards” blog. If I followed that procedure here, the edge would go to the Red Sox, because John Farrell has my vote for Manager of the Year and will likely win it after leading the Red Sox from worst to first in his first year at the helm. However, Jim Leyland is in the other dugout, and has 3 pennants and 1 World Series title under his belt, as well as 6 division titles, and is probably a future Hall-of-Famer. It’s a very tough call, but I’ll go with Leyland. (Note: I wrote this post out-of-order and this was the last criteria, and in the end decided the overall advantage in the series, so that made the decision even tougher.)
Home-field/crowd: Red Sox. Both of these teams have extremely passionate fanbases, and you can guarantee the stadium will be full and loud for all games at both Fenway Park and Comerica Park. Since the Red Sox have home-field advantage, and will potentially host 4 of 7 (should the series go the distance), I’ll give them the edge here.
This series is very even, with the Tigers winning 4 out of 7 criteria in my breakdown, although the Red Sox could have just as easily won more than the 3 they do have the advantage in. Therefore, I think the series will go 7 games, and in the end, Game 7 will go the way of the Tigers, and they will become the second consecutive team to win back-to-back AL pennants (they won last year, following the Texas Rangers in 2010-11).