ALCS Preview : Tigers at Red Sox, Game 2
Start time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Tigers lead 1-0
Starting pitchers: Max Scherzer (2-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. Clay Buchholz (0-0, 4.50 ERA)
Just one game into this series, the Red Sox are in trouble. In a series that pit the major league's most productive offense (Boston's) against the American League's stingiest starting rotation (Detroit's), the Tigers drew first blood by holding the Red Sox to a single ninth-inning hit in Game 1. The Red Sox are thus down 1-0 and will have to face likely Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer in Sunday night's Game 2 and Justin Verlander, who has rediscovered his Cy Young form over the last month and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in his last Division Series start, in Detroit in Game 3.
Scherzer was almost as good in his Game 1 start against the A's in the Division Series, not giving up a run until the seventh and striking out 11. His Game 4 relief appearance was shakier, but he wiggled out of a bases-loaded no-out jam in his second inning of work, picked up the win, and will be starting Sunday night on a full four day's rest. Both of Scherzer's regular season starts against Boston, the most recent coming at Fenway Park on September 3, saw him allow just two runs over seven innings. That said, he'll have to be careful with lefties David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who have hit a combined .472/.548/.944 with five home runs (three by Ortiz) in 42 career plate appearances against Scherzer.
Scherzer, who is now 23-3 in the regular and postseasons combined, has been the odds-on favorite to win every game he has started this season, but the Red Sox will give him a worthy opponent Sunday night in Clay Buchholz. Buchholz is 12-1 this year, was the best pitcher in the majors over the first two months of the season before hitting the disabled list in early June with shoulder bursitis, and has gone at least five innings in all 17 of his starts and allowed as many as four runs in just one of them. The Red Sox are 14-3 in Buchholz's starts this year, but two of those losses have come in his last three games, including Game 3 of the Division Series against the Rays, in which Buchholz turned in a bare-minimum quality start (6 IP, 3 R), but was matched by Alex Cobb and saw his bullpen blow the game. A similar formula led to the Red Sox's loss to the Blue Jays in Buchholz's penultimate start of the regular season.
Another tight, low-scoring game is likely here, and that will put additional pressure on the Tigers' shaky left-side defense. With the righty Buchholz on the mound, Tigers manager Jim Leyland may move Jhonny Peralta, who went 3-for-4 with the game's only RBI Saturday night, to shortstop and replace him with a southpaw with more experience in Fenway's leftfield, be it Andy Dirks or Don Kelly. Of course, such a move would downgrade the Tigers' defense at shortstop, which is additionally troubling given Miguel Cabrera's increased immobility at third base. Leyland pulled Cabrera for defense in the eighth inning of Game 1 despite the fact that Detroit was only up 1-0 on the road and Cabrera was due to hit fourth in the top of the 9th. Leyland explained after the game that, with Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia due up in the bottom of the eighth, he was worried about one or both of them bunting for a hit in Cabrera's direction and thus putting the tying run on base (and, in turn, making David Ortiz the winning run in that inning). The Red Sox did not employ that strategy in Game 1 (Victorino's lone bunt went to first base, one assumes by mistake), but it will be in the back of the minds of both managers in Game 2, particularly if the game is as close as anticipated.