ALCS preview: Tigers vs. Red Sox

Jared Wickerham

On average, the Tigers and Red Sox scored about five runs in their games this season. On average, the Tigers and Red Sox allowed about four runs per game. So just like the Cardinals/Dodgers series, this series is going to be a succession of six 5-4 games, with Game 7 lasting 18 innings. The game will end when Alfonso Marquez falls asleep and calls a balk on himself.

The Tigers have a renowned rotation and an underrated lineup. The Red Sox have a renowned lineup and an underrated rotation. When you use runs scored and runs allowed to come up with expected records for the regular season, here's what you get:

Red Sox 100-62
Tigers 99-63

I can't pick between the Red Sox and Tigers. If you're here for a brilliant prediction, I'm fresh out. I love the Tigers' starting rotation, but then I remember that Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister were both shaky in their ALDS starts. I love the lineup for the Red Sox, but then I remember all the great years from hitters I don't trust, like Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, and the ghost of Jose Iglesias. Those three aren't going to combine for an .850 OPS next year, so why should I assume the Red Sox are really so scary?

Heck, I don't know.

Hitting

A quick spin around the relevant statistics, with a gigantic disclaimer at the end.

OPS+
Red Sox: 117
Tigers: 110

OPS
Red Sox: .795
Tigers: .780

BA/OBP/SLG
Red Sox: .277/.349/.446
Tigers: .283/.346/.434

Home runs
Red Sox: 178
Tigers: 176

Runs scored
Red Sox: 853
Tigers: 796

I think two things can be true:

  1. The Red Sox have the better lineup
  2. Comerica Park makes it closer than you might think

So everything's pretty even. Except here comes that disclaimer: Those numbers up there are predicated on Miguel Cabrera being the best player in professional baseball. But he's been a limping shell for more than a month. Billy Beane thinks there's a bit of gamesmanship there.

But while you'll remember the big dinger against Sonny Gray in Game 5, Cabrera was legitimately bad in the Division Series. His defense was clanky, and his offense was neutered. Even his homer against Gray was all wrists. Takes a strong man to do that, but it wasn't a vintage Miggy hack.

The rest of the Tigers' lineup is more than competent, with Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez both turning it on late, but the Red Sox have a lineup with a smidgen more balance. I still don't trust Nava or Carp, but when your weakest hitter in the lineup is Will Middlebrooks, you're solid.

I still think Pedro Feliz is going to be Middlebrooks's top comp on Baseball-Reference.com in a few years, but no one listens to me. But the Red Sox who get the nod here, if only because of Cabrera's growing pains. Even if Cabrera were healthy, David Oritz is a pretty good match, as far as these things go.

Starting Pitching

I think in my last one of these, I called the category "starting pitching" and then used the ERA and ERA+ for the entire staff. That's no good.

ERA (just starters)
Tigers: 3.44
Red Sox: 3.84

There you go. The Tigers will take a .40 lead and let the bullpen take it from there.

But just like with the offense, there's something to remember. One of the better parts about the Tigers' rotation was that everyone was good. Scherzer, Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, and Rick Porcello were all solid-to-outstanding. Other than six starts from Jose Alvarez, nobody else started for the Tigers. It was impressive depth, No. 1 through No. 5.

This means less in the playoffs, though. Porcello is a long reliever now. The Red Sox don't have to mess around with Felix Doubront or Ryan Dempster if they don't want to. Which leaves a rotation of Lester/Buchholz/Lackey/Peavy to compete with Scherzer/Verlander/Fister/Sanchez. I take the latter without any hesitation, but they're not that far apart. All it takes is a wonky start from one of the Tigers' four to make you feel worse about then.

But it's clearly the Tigers who take this one. They have the AL's best and fifth-best ERA's in their rotation, and that doesn't include Justin Freaking Verlander. Or Doug Fister. Everyone forgets about Doug Fister. Don't forget about Doug Fister.

Bullpen

Okay, here you go. For the first time in the LCS, I get to make definitive statements. The Red Sox have a better bullpen. I'll take Uehara over Benoit, and Tazawa over Alburquerque. The lefty specialists are a draw, with Drew Smyly and Craig Breslow both coming off outstanding seasons.

But it's close. The Tigers' rotation is deep, which is a strength that doesn't really come into play with the playoffs. The depth of the Red Sox bullpen does come into play in the playoffs, however. By the advanced stats, it's even. The Red Sox have a 2.50 Win Probability Added, just a tick ahead of the Tigers. The shutdowns/meltdowns are roughly even, too. I'll go with the Red Sox, but only because I'm a Koji Uehara fanboy. It's closer than that, though.

Shared history

This is where we look at the top-10 players shared by both teams. First the hitters.

Wait, Johnny Damon was never on the Tigers ...

Wait, Hideo Nomo was never on either team. What kind of sorcery ...

The two teams don't have a shared legend, though. Note: That's not Dutch Leonard, four-time knuckleballing All-Star with the Senators and Cubs, but the other Dutch Leonard. He wasn't even from Holland. He was from Fresno.

Playoff history

Nothin'. That would be a function of the Tigers playing in the AL East after divisional play was introduced. But after 113 seasons and 1,983 regular-season games, this is the first time the two teams have faced each other in the playoffs.

If I have to pick, I'll go with home-field advantage, like a weenie. The Red Sox aren't the obviously better team, but they have an extra home game if they need it. That's the difference.

Though if Verlander is really mecha-Verlander again, it won't matter if they play on the moon. That guy's scary.

For more on the Tigers, please visit Bless You Boys

For more on the Red Sox, please visit Over the Monster

More from Baseball Nation:

Oh, right, that Justin Verlander

9/11 and the 2013 playoffs

What’s wrong with the A’s and Braves in the playoffs?

Max Scherzer’s dance with death

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