The Boston Red Sox will host the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series beginning tonight. As Indians fans, we generally hate both of these teams, putting us in something of a bind here. Ignoring the ALCS is a non-starter for me though, because there's not much baseball left this year, so I've gotta get my fix while I can, no matter who's playing. Allow me to provide some help in picking a side (you can also find my NLCS preview here).
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L) - .298/.355/.426, 113 wRC+
2. RF Shane Victorino (R) - .294/.351/.451, 119 wRC+
3. 2B Dustin Pedroia (R) - .301/.372/.415, 115 wRC+
4. DH David Ortiz (L) - .309/.395/.564, 152 wRC+
5. 1B Mike Napoli (R) - .259/.360/.482, 129 wRC+
6. LF Daniel Nava (S) - .303/.385/.445, 128 wRC+
7. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S) - .273/.338/.466, 117 wRC+
8. SS Stephen Drew (L) - .253/.333/.443, 109 wRC+
9. 3B Will Middlebrooks (R) - .227/.271/.425, 83 wRC+
The Red Sox led all teams in OBP, SLG, and wRC+, they hit home runs and draw walks, and steal bases at a high rate, and scored 57 more runs than anyone else. Simply put, Boston has the best offense in baseball.
1. CF Austin Jackson (R) - .272/.337/.417, 107 wRC+
2. RF Torii Hunter (R) - .304/.334/.465, 117 wRC+
3. 3B Miguel Cabrera (R) - .348/.442/.636, 192 wRC+
4. 1B Prince Fielder (L) - .279/.362/.457, 125 wRC+
5. DH Victor Martinez (S) - .301/.355/.430, 112 wRC+
6. LF Jhonny Peralta (R) - .303/.358/.457, 123 wRC+
7. 2B Omar Infante (R) - .318/.345/.450, 117 wRC+
8. C Alex Avila (L) - .227/.317/.376, 92 wRC+
9. SS Jose Iglesias (R) - .259/.306/.348, 102 wRC+
The Tigers are basically a dead-even match for Boston in terms of hitting, with almost no separating between the two in AVG, OBP, SLG, wRC+, and home runs. The difference between the two in terms of offense, is that the Red Sox have solid speed and run the bases well, while Detroit stole the fewest bases (35) of any team since 2005, and is the worst base-running team in baseball.
Advantage: Red Sox
The Red Sox have three plus-defenders in Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Victorino, while the rest of their lineup is generally w little on the weak side defensively, giving them something close to a league-average defense when you put it all together. 'Close to league-average defense' certainly beats what Detroit sends out there though. The Tigers don't have any standout defenders, while Cabrera are both bad at their position, with poor range that turns a lot of would-be outs in singles and doubles.
Advantage: Red Sox
Game 1: Jon Lester (L) - 3.75 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 109 ERA+
Game 2: Clay Buchholz (R) - 1.74 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 234 ERA+
Game 3: John Lackey (R) - 3.52 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 116 ERA+
Game 4: Jake Peavy* (R) - 4.04 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 102 ERA+
*these are his stats with Boston only, and do not include his time with the White Sox
Game 1: Anibal Sanchez (R) - 2.57 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 163 ERA+
Game 2 Max Scherzer (R) - 2.90 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 145 ERA+
Game 3: Justin Verlander (R) - 3.46 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 121 ERA+
Game 4: Doug Fister (R) - 3.67 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 115 ERA+
Not since the Atlanta Braves of the 90s has a team had four pitchers as good as Detroit does now, and I think they have the advantage in every pitching matchup in this series. Boston's starting rotation is very good though, top five in the American League, and third to only the Tigers and Indians in the second half (that's right, the Indians; they had the second-best starting rotation in the AL).
Closer: RHP Koji Uehara - 1.09 ERA, 1.61 FIP
Top RH middle reliever: Junichi Tazawa - 3.16 ERA, 3.22 FIP
Top LH middle reliever: Craig Breslow - 1.81 ERA, 3.60 FIP
Closer: RHP Joaquin Benoit - 2.01 ERA, 2.87 FIP
Top RH middle reliever: Jose Veras - 3.20 ERA, 4.12 FIP
Top LH middle reliever: Drew Smyly - 2.37 ERA, 2.31 FIP
The Red Sox bullpen was the better unit, especially in the season's second half. The longer any game in this series stays tied, the more it favors Boston.
Advantage: Red Sox
Prior to this year, the Red Sox and Tigers had combined to make the playoffs 14 times since 1995 (which is the first year both of them could have made it in the same year), but they've never played against one another there til now. I like when small market and upstart teams do well, but there is something cool about seeing two of baseball's most storied franchises facing off in the postseason for the first time.
Are former Indians a reason to root for a team, or against it???
Craig Breslow - He spent a whopping two months with the Indians at the start of 2008, appearing in 7 games before being placed on waivers. He's bounced around since then, but had the best year of his career in 2013, with a 1.81 ERA in 59.2 innings.
Victor Martinez - Arguably the greatest catcher in Indians history, he debuted with the team in 2002 and was a mainstay until being dealt away in 2009 (for a package centered around Justin Masterson). He had 900 hits and 103 home runs with the Tribe. He missed 2012 with an injury, and started slowly this season, but posted a .925 OPS from June 22nd on. He serves as Detroit's DH.
Jhonny Peralta - SS/3B with the Tribe from late 2003 until he was traded in 2010 collecting 906 hits and 103 home runs with the team over those years. He posted a .303/.358/.457 line for Detroit this year, but also served a 50-game suspension for PED use. The Tigers intend to use him in LF the rest of 2013.
Jose Veras - Pitched 24.2 innings for the Indians in 2009. He was acquired by Detroit at the trade deadline this year, and posted a 3.20 ERA in 19.2 innings for them.
Who should you root for?
I know the knee-jerk reaction is that the Tigers are not to be rooted for under any circumstances, as they are the Indians strongest divisional and geographical rival. They far outspend the Tribe, unleveling the playing field in the AL Central, and their fans will be even more obnoxious when they roll into Cleveland next season if the Tigers are World Champions.
That said, is it any better to cheer for Boston? They have their own obnoxious fans, and while they don't swarm Cleveland to quite the same degree as Detroit's, they're every damn place. If you're living outside Ohio, you're far more likely to run into a Red Sox fan than a Tigers supporter. They spend even more money than Detroit too, if that's your beef. They've also won the World Series twice in the last decade. Does losing the division to Detroit really hurt more than the 2007 ALCS and 1999 ALDS did?
These are the two best teams in the American League (apologies to Oakland, who I know finished with a better record than Detroit). They each have strong enough pitching that we could see one or two 2-1 type games, and they also each hit well enough that we could see a couple 10-8 contests. Boston rolled through the ALDS with far greater ease, and while I know momentum in baseball is largely a myth, they feel like the best team to me right now.