The two best-hitting teams in the American League battle for a World Series berth when the AL Championship Series begins Saturday at Fenway Park.
The Detroit Tigers, fresh off a Game 5 win over the Oakland A's in the AL Division Series on Thursday, take on the club that posted the AL's best record, the Boston Red Sox. Boston needed four games to eliminate the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
In the regular season, Detroit led the AL with a .283 batting average. Boston was second at .277. The Red Sox' .349 on-base percentage was tops in the league. The Tigers' .346 mark was second. In slugging percentage, Boston was No. 1 at .446, Detroit was No. 2 at .434.
"If you watch the Red Sox, they have a tough club, (Dustin) Pedroia, (Jacoby) Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Big Papi (David Ortiz)," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm not saying they're tougher than Oakland. I'm saying they're a more veteran team. Oakland is a younger club.
"We're going to Boston, and we'll see how this all plays out."
Both teams feature strong rotations. Red Sox manager John Farrell confirmed Thursday afternoon that left-hander Jon Lester would take the mound in Game 1, but he wouldn't commit to the order of the right-handers who will follow, as he was waiting to learn the identity of his team's opponent.
In the Tampa Bay series, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy pitched Games 2, 3 and 4, respectively. It is possible the order could be shuffled for the ALCS.
The Tigers' top two starters, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, figure to start Games 2 and 3, respectively, after they worked late in the Oakland series. However, Detroit's pitcher for the opener is no slouch: league ERA champion Anibal Sanchez.
Scherzer is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and a league-best 0.970 walks-and-hits-per-inning-pitched ratio. Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young winner and MVP, had a down year by his standards: 13-12, 3.46 ERA. However, he showed his vintage form in the ALDS, blanking Oakland for seven innings in a no-decision in Game 2, then throwing eight shutout innings in a 3-0 win in Game 5.
Should the games come down to the bullpens, the Red Sox have the edge thanks to closer Koji Uehara.
In his final 37 regular-season appearances, Uehara gave up one earned run in 40 1/3 innings (0.22 ERA) while striking out 52 and walking two. He gave up a walk-off homer to Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton in Game 3 of the ALDS, but he bounced back to earn a four-out save in Boston's clincher the next night.
For Detroit, Joaquin Benoit gained the closer role in June when Jose Valverde flamed out, but Benoit struggled in September. In the ALDS, Benoit earned two saves but posted a 5.40 ERA.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (all games on FOX)
Game 1, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET -- Tigers (Anibal Sanchez, regular season: 14-8, 2.57; postseason: 0-1, 10.38) at Red Sox (Jon Lester, regular season: 15-8, 3.75; postseason: 1-0, 2.35)
Game 2, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET -- Tigers at Red Sox
Game 3, Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET -- Red Sox at Tigers
Game 4, Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET -- Red Sox at Tigers
Game 5, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET (if necessary) -- Red Sox at Tigers
Game 6, Oct. 19, 4:30 p.m. ET (if necessary) -- Tigers at Red Sox
Game 7, Oct. 20, 8 p.m. ET (if necessary) -- Tigers at Red Sox