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October 19, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Six Preview: Tigers at Red Sox

by Ben Carsley

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Tigers (Max Scherzer) vs. Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) – 8:07 PM EST

PECOTA Odds of Winning: Red Sox 51.7%, Tigers 48.3%

Tigers vs. Buchholz (R)

Red Sox vs. Scherzer (R)

Torii Hunter, RF (R)

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)

Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)

Shane Victorino, RF (S)

Prince Fielder, 1B (L)

Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)

Victor Martinez, DH (S)

David Ortiz, DH (L)

Jhonny Peralta, LF (R)

Mike Napoli, 1B (R)

Alex Avila, C (L)

Daniel Nava, LF (S)

Omar Infante, 2B (R)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)

Austin Jackson, CF (R)

Xander Bogaerts, 3B (R)

Jose Iglesias, SS (R)

Stephen Drew, SS (L)

It appears that baseball’s two best offenses are finally waking up.

The Tigers have outscored the Red Sox 16-14 through the first five games of the ALCS, yet seven of Boston’s runs have come in the last two games, as have 10 of the Tigers’. Hitters from both squads will face tall tasks today, though, in probable AL Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, and Boston’s highest upside starter, Clay Buchholz.

Scherzer handily outdueled Buchholz the last time these two met up in Game Two, throwing seven innings of one-run ball with a whopping 13 strikeouts. He didn’t get the win thanks to more postseason heroics from David Ortiz, but Scherzer was nothing short of dominant, as he has been for all of 2013. In 16 postseason innings, Scherzer has allowed just four earned runs and fanned 26 batters while holding opponents to a .148 average.

According to Brooks Baseball, Scherzer threw 17 sliders in Game Two. Thirteen of those sliders were thrown for strikes, 12 elicited swings, and nine resulted in swings-and-misses, which illustrates both Scherzer’s dominance and Boston’s trouble with that particular pitch this series.

Three of Boston’s starters from Game Two figure to be replaced in Game Six. Manager John Farrell has already confirmed that Mike Napoli will play first base tonight, whereas Mike Carp manned the position the last time the Sox faced Scherzer. Rookie Xander Bogaerts will also get another start over Will Middlebrooks at third base, and Daniel Nava could get the start over Johnny Gomes in left field, as he has against right-handers for most of the year.

Still, of Boston’s nine starters, only Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have experienced any success against Scherzer. And of those three, only Ellsbury is hitting well this series, despite Ortiz’ Game Two grand slam.

But struggling stars aren’t just holding back Boston’s offense: they’re impacting Detroit’s as well.

Hampered by his groin injury, Miguel Cabrera is hitting .278/.350/.444: respectable numbers, but modest for his standards. Prince Fielder has only one-extra base hit and only four hits total in 21 PA. And Torii Hunter is hitting just .217/.217/.304, despite newly serving as the Tigers’ leadoff man.

The good news for the Tigers is that Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta have been quite productive, as has Austin Jackson over the last few games after struggling badly at the series’ start.

Alex Avila has also managed to post an OPS of .971, although thanks to a Game Five collision with David Ross, how much he’ll play, if at all, in Game Six remains to be seen. If Avila can’t go, Brayan Pena figures to be his replacement. The Tigers’ backup catcher hit .325/.346/.455 against right-handed pitching this year, so the loss many not be as substantial as it initially seems.

Jim Leyland said yesterday that Detroit could use Martinez behind the plate in Game Six, but given the speed in Boston’s lineup and their success rate on the bases, that would be a questionable decision from a defensive standpoint.

While the box score will show you that the Tigers dominated Buchholz in Game Two, Boston’s right-hander pitched quite well through five innings but was wrecked in the sixth, when he allowed two homers and four of his five earned runs.

It’s not unreasonable to question how deep Buchholz can go into games after missing three months of the season, and it won’t be surprising to see Farrell with a quicker hook tonight. Overall, Buchholz has allowed eight earned runs in 11.2 innings this postseason.

Thanks to the travel day, each team should have all of its bullpen arms available, although it’s worth noting that Red Sox closer Koji Uehara threw many more pitches in Game Five than he generally does.

My Prediction: PECOTA basically has this one as a coin flip, but surprisingly gives Boston a slight edge. Both teams’ offenses are potent, but with Scherzer dominating this postseason and Buccholz struggling, it’s tough to bet against the former.

The Red Sox are capable of making up ground quickly against the Tigers’ bullpen, but I still look for this one to go in Detroit’s favor and send a very entertaining ALCS to a Game Seven.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Boston Red Sox,  Detroit Tigers,  Postseason

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