will take the mound for Game 1 of the ALDS against the A's. [Steven King/Icon SMI]
Both of the National League's Game 1 losers returned serve in Game 2 on Friday. On Saturday, the Rays
and A's look to echo that feat. If they fail, they will be one game away from elimination, and the A's would be in that situation heading to Detroit where the AL's ERA leader will start Game 3 for the Tigers
Rays at Red Sox
Start time: 5:30 p.m. ET
Series: Red Sox lead 1-0
Starting pitchers: David Price (10-8, 3.33 ERA) vs. John Lackey (10-13, 3.52 ERA)
The Rays aren't sweating their Game 1 loss too much because they know they have David Price going in Game 2. Since returning from a triceps injury in early July, Price has gone 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 18 starts including two wins in Boston in July in which he allowed one run in 16 1/3 innings without walking a batter. Price's most recent start, of course, was his complete game against the Rangers in the wild-card tiebreaker on Monday. In his career, Price is 10-6 with a 2.93 ERA against the Red Sox and 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA at Fenway Park.
Lackey has had a surprising comeback season after having an awful 2011 and losing 2012 to Tommy John surgery, posting a career-best walk rate, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk rate (which are all related to his improved control, but an important trio nonetheless). However, he went 3-7 with a 4.35 ERA in the second half and posted a 4.98 ERA in September. What's more, his two worst starts in the first half were his only two against the Rays this season. Lackey gave up nine runs in 10 innings in those two outings, and the men on Tampa Bay's ALDS roster have hit a combined .303/.362/.429 against him in their careers.
No, the Rays aren't too worried.
A caveat to the above is that both of Lackey's starts against Tampa Bay this season came on the road where his ERA was two runs higher than his 2.47 home mark. Then again, those two starts against the Rays account for a quarter of that difference.
One key lineup change we could see in this game is lefty Matt Joyce replacing Game 1 starter Sean Rodriguez in left field. Rodriguez did homer in Game 1, one of just four Tampa Bay hits, but he also repeatedly misplayed caroms off the Green Monster, coming too close to the wall only to have the ball rebound past him. Joyce has far more experience playing left field at Fenway and has hit .333/.429/.667 with a pair of home runs in 21 career plate appearances against Lackey.
Tigers at A’s
Start time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Series: Tigers lead 1-0
Starting pitchers: Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA) vs. Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67 ERA)
The Tigers beat the A's in last year's ALDS on the strength of two dominant starts from Justin Verlander, including an 11-strikeout, four-hit shutout in Game 5. Those two outings, however, accounted for a full half of Verlander's four quality starts in 11 postseason outings (not counting his rain-shortened stint against the Yankees in 2011). Over the previous two seasons combined, Verlander's postseason ERA (3.51) was a run higher than his admittedly outstanding regular-season mark, even with those dominant starts against the A's included.
This year, Verlander saw his control and velocity slip and posted a similarly inflated (by Verlander standards) 3.46 ERA. He was the Tigers' third-best starter behind Game 1 winner and likely Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer and Game 3 starter and AL ERA champ Anibal Sanchez. That's as much a credit to Detroit as an insult to Verlander, who still posted a 121 ERA+ in 218 1/3 innings and struck out 217 this year, but it leaves open the question of which version of Verlander the Tigers will get in this game.
Verlander put up a 2.27 ERA in his final six starts this season. His last start before that run saw him give up five runs (three earned) in five innings against Oakland.
It's also not clear what the A's can expect from rookie righty Sonny Gray. Gray pitched to an excellent 2.85 ERA in 10 starts after joining Oakland's rotation in early August, but just two of those starts came against winning teams, and in one of those two, he gave up six runs in 3 1/3 innings to the Orioles, who represent the best offense he has faced thus far in the majors.
The 23-year-old Gray features a mid-90s fastball and a sharp curve and spots a slider and changeup. In September, he started throwing more sinkers at the expense of his four-seamer. He has a favorable home/road split (3-1, 1.99 ERA at home), but the small sample and weak competition keep that from being a significant indicator.
The A's had just three hits against Max Scherzer on Friday night, but Yoenis Cespedes had two of them, a triple and a two-run home run. Cespedes also has the best career numbers against Verlander of any Oakland hitter, having gone 4-for-12 with a pair of doubles and a walk (.333/.385/.500).
None of the Tigers' hitters have faced Gray in the majors, but Gray was murder on the righties he did face, holding them to a .198/.231/.267 line. He was gentler on lefties, which means his confrontations with Prince Fielder
, Victor Martinez
and Alex Avila
, who went a combined 5-for-12 in Game 1, could be crucial.