So it’s official now: the Detroit Tigers survived back-to-back must-win games against the Oakland Athletics to advance to the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. Boston and Detroit finished the regular season with the top two run differential marks in the American League.
Here’s the schedule of games and my starting rotation projections for what looks to be another exciting series (all games to be televised on FOX):
Game 1 – Saturday, October 12 – 8:00 PM – Boston, MA
Both managers have confirmed their choice in starting pitcher for Game 1, so this pitching matchup appears set. Oakland didn’t have a lefty in their starting rotation for the ALDS, so Lester will be the first southpaw the Tigers will have faced this postseason. Lester went 7.2 innings in Game 1 versus the Rays with seven strikeouts, three walk, and two runs allowed on a pair of solo home runs.
Anibal Sanchez struggled in his Game 3 ALDS start against Oakland (giving up three home runs), but his struggles have been the exception not the rule this season. Tigers fans should be confident in the AL ERA leader’s ability to bounce back.
Game 2 – Sunday, October 13 – 8:00 PM – Boston, MA
Boston manager John Ferrell slotted John Lackey second in the ALDS, but Buchholz is probably the better pitcher, so for now I’ll assume he’ll be starting second in the ALCS. The Tigers don’t really have any flexibility to re-order their rotation, but Boston, having the extra days off, could pretty much go with whatever order they want. Buchholz missed basically half the season due to injury this year, but he got brilliant results when he was in the game. His 1.74 ERA was excellent but he probably benefited somewhat from what appears to be an artificially deflated BABIP and HR/FB rate. But even accounting for possible corrections there, he was still quite an excellent pitcher.
Scherzer’s starting routine was messed up after he was needed out of the bullpen in Game 4 vs. Oakland (Jim Leyland said afterword that he “would have” started Game 5 if he was available), but Game 2 of the ALCS puts him on “normal rest” following that relief appearance.
Game 3 – Tuesday, October 15 – 4:00 PM – Detroit, MI
Lackey He allowed four runs in 5.1 innings with six strikeouts, three walks, and one hit batsman in his one outing versus Tampa Bay.
What can we say about Verlander besides “wow”? He made two starts against Oakland and held them scoreless through his 15 innings of work. And he didn’t just keep them off the scoreboard: he utterly dominated with 21 strikeouts, two walks, and only six hits allowed.
Game 4 – Wednesday, October 16 – 8:00 PM – Detroit, MI
These fourth starters are much better than most. Jake Peavy didn’t go extremely deep into the game in his Game 4 start versus the Rays, but he only allowed a single run in his 5.2 innings in the clinching game. He punched out “just” three batters, but he didn’t allow a walk gave up less than a hit an inning.
Fister is the forgotten man on this Detroit staff. He doesn’t have potential no-hit stuff like the other three guys, but he would be the number two pitcher on many (most?) teams in the big leagues. He’s been nothing but consistent since joining the Tigers two years go, putting up ERAs in the low-to-mid threes.
*Game 5 – Thursday, October 17 – 8:00 PM – Detroit, MI
Lester is the obvious choice for Boston on full rest here, but Jim Leyland could consider Max Scherzer on short rest if he felt he needed to. But that probably wouldn’t make much sense as Sanchez would need to pitch the next night anyway. If your back is up against the wall at this point, you’re going to need to win the next three games no matter how you order the pitchers.
*Game 6 – Saturday, October 19 – 4:30 PM – Boston, MA
A rematch of Game 2, and the only potential pitching rematch of the series that would take place in the same ballpark.
*Game 7 – Saturday, October 20 – 8:00 PM – Boston, MA
Justin Verlander in another possible winner-take-all game on the road? It’s not the ideal scenario, but I’m betting most Tigers fans will take it after witnessing what he’s done in Oakland in similar situations the last two seasons.