Well, this isn't much of a surprise. The Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers are meeting in this year's American League Championship Series, vying to advance to the World Series.
The reason nobody should be all that surprised — 2013 successes aside — is that either the Tigers or the Red Sox have appeared in seven of the last 10 ALCS. In that time, however, they've never played each other. So now, here they are. The Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays in four games in the ALDS, while the Tigers were pushed to the limit and beat the A's in five games.
Both teams are successful for very basic reasons — they pitch well and they score a lot of runs. Funny how that happens. Head-to-head, tough, that's not sustainable. Now we've got as many as seven games to see which stellar offense can upend which stellar pitching staff, or vice versa.
Game 1: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET in Boston (All games on Fox)
Game 2: Sunday at 8 p.m. ET in Boston
Game 3: Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET in Detroit
Game 4: Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET in Detroit
Game 5*: Thursday at 8 p.m. ET in Detroit
Game 6*: Saturday, Oct. 19 at 4:30 p.m. ET in Boston
Game 7*: Sunday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. ET in Boston
Game 1: Anibal Sánchez (14-9, 2.75 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (16-8, 3.71 ERA)
Game 2: Max Scherzer (23-3, 2.90 ERA) vs. Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.89 ERA)
Game 3: John Lackey (11-13, 3.61 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (14-12, 3.24 ERA)
Game 4: Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.07 ERA) vs. Doug Fister (14-9, 3.69 ERA)
Game 5: TBA
Game 6: TBA
Game 7: TBA
Every game of the four announced thus far features a great pitching matchup. When Jake Peavy has the highest ERA of the bunch, that's not too shabby. The Boston pitchers are better rested. Each of them will come in to their start with more than a week's rest. The Tigers, meanwhile, are coming in to the series having just been pushed to their limit in Oakland and having used three of their four starters in Games 4 and 5. Jim Leyland saved Anibal Sanchez to start ALCS Game 1, so that works out well for the Tigers.
Detroit won the season series with Boston, 4-3, but the Red Sox outscored the Tigers 43-35. That's because on Sept. 4 the Red Sox beat the Tigers 20-4. Rick Porcello started that one for the Tigers. Sadly for the Red Sox, they won't see him as a starting pitcher in this series barring any surprising injuries. The Tigers took three out of four games from the Red Sox in June, while the Red Sox won two of three in that September series.
THREE KEYS FOR THE TIGERS
Miguel Cabrera: Again, the Tigers' most important question in the series is how healthy Miggy is and how effective he can be. He had two hits in Detroit's Game 5 clincher, including his first homer in two weeks. He's hurt, everybody knows that. How much strength he can muster will likely determine whether Detroit keeps going, or goes home.
Hit some homers: Again, a bit obvious, but the Tigers seemed for a while to have lost their long-ball spark. Let's just look at the ALDS. They didn't homer in Games 1-3 and lost two out of three. They homered in Games 4 and 5 and won both. In the regular season, the Tigers were seventh in MLB with 176 homers. Their offense has been out of key since the tailend of the regular season, but it's gotten better the past few games. It can still get better if they can score runs in bunches.
Pitch long, avoid the bullpen: The Tigers have great starting pitching — and a not so great bullpen. Put those together and what do you get? A need for starters to go long into games. Detroit's bullpen ERA is 4.01, which is sandwiched between the Cubs and White Sox on the lower third of the rankings. Their starters meanwhile have the fourth-best ERA in baseball.
THREE KEYS FOR THE RED SOX
Top of the order: Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino were dominant forces atop the Red Sox lineup in the ALDS. Together, they went 15 for 32 with nine runs scored, five RBIs, four HBPs (all Victorino) and five stolen bases (Ellsbury had four). That is ridiculous production in a short series, and if they produce anywhere near that level in the ALCS, the offense will continue rolling.
Steal one on the road: It’s the same scenario as the ADLS against Tampa Bay. We know Boston is a near unstoppable force at home, going a league best 53-28 at Fenway during the regular season and 2-0 in the ALDS. Winning just one game on the road means the opposition has to win twice in Boston to advance. Those are not good odds.
Wear them out: For years the Red Sox offense has been known for wearing its opponents out, so why stop now? It’s the Boston way, and it works. Continue taking those long at-bats and continue keeping the opponents standing around in the field.
FIVE IMPORTANT NUMBERS
• .236 - Career batting average of Boston's hitters against Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
• 4 - The number of quality starts Boston received in the ALDS.
• .354/.415/.667 — Miguel Cabrera's hitting line at Fenway Park over the last three seasons.
• 2.53 — The difference between Justin Verlander's career ERA in the ALDS (1.79) and in the ALCS (4.32)
• 1,649 — Total runs scored by the Tigers and Red Sox in the regular season. They were the top two run-scoring teams in baseball. The Red Sox had 853 and the Tigers 796.
** Mark Townsend contributed to this post.