A look at the Red Sox lineup as we head into the upcoming American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, in descending order of their spot in the lineup.
*One caveat to the following: Anibal Sanchez, who led the AL with a 2.57 ERA this year has never faced the Red Sox. Sanchez will be starting Game 1.
*Another caveat: the numbers below give a sense of past success against Max Scherzer that may not matter much in October, 2013, except in the confidence it might give Red Sox hitters. Scherzer has developed into the dominant pitcher he is in 2013 by mixing in his off-speed pitches (and throwing them for strikes) more than he used to. Occasionally prone to the long-ball by LHB early in his career, Scherzer’s total home-runs allowed has dropped significantly in the last three years: 29 in 2011, 23 in 2012, to only 18 HRs allowed in 2013. While some of this is due to his luck evening out, it is more likely due to a dominant change-up and a newly developed curveball that has resulted in 152 hits in 214 innings pitched. Simply put, this Max Scherzer is not the old Max Scherzer. Of course, this year’s Justin Verlander was not the old Justin Verlander. Decreased velocity and spotty command made Verlander much more hittable (until September) in the regular season. After his dominance of Oakland, it’s hard to imagine Verlander feeling vulnerable. No vulnerable Verlander. And no shaky Scherzer. Not good for Boston.
On to the Red Sox lineup:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
Unlikely prediction: Ellsbury steals home to win a game. Okay, maybe on a wild pitch. Ellsbury’s impact on the lineup in the Tampa series was enormous. Ellsbury has all the mojo in his favor right now, blooping and bleeping his way on base. As Jonah Keri pointed out after Game 3,
In Games 2 and 3, Ellsbury racked up five hits; all five of those benefited from at least a little luck. Already this series, Ellsbury has blooped two balls just over Evan Longoria’s head for 120-foot hits, blooped a couple more hits just in front of outfielders, and connected for a double that ticked off Rays first baseman James Loney’s glove.
2. Shane Victorino
Victorino gets hit by pitch at least one more time, breaking the major league record for times HBP in one postseason. After getting plunked four times against Tampa Bay, it seems likely he gets hit at least one time over the next six or seven games. Victorino’s back elbow is inches away from the top of the strike zone, making it almost impossible to miss up and in against him.
3. Dustin Pedroia
Pedroia will deliver at least one big hit in this series. I know, this isn’t exactly going out on a limb, but Pedroia went 2 for 12 in the final three games against Tampa Bay, and has hit only one homer since August 1st. Pedroia’s numbers against Scherzer (4 for 17 with 2 HRs) are promising. He’s also done well against Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit (4 for 9 with 1 double and 2 walks). On the flipside, he is 1 for 18 against the man who owns the Oakland A’s (Justin Verlander). Dusty P will come up with a big hit, probably against Scherzer, Fister, Sanchez, or Benoit.
4. David Ortiz
Big Papi will hit at least one more postseason HR, bumping him up to a tie for 9th place with….Babe Ruth. Only Carlos Beltran, who owns the all-time leading post-season slugging percentage (.761 in 172 PAs) has more post-season dingers than Ortiz (16 to 14) among active players. Unfortunately, Ortiz may not get many opportunities in this series, as he has dominated three of the four Detroit starters in the past. Only Doug Fister has kept Ortiz in the park throughout his career. Ortiz has 2 HRs in 3 career ABs vs. Sanchez, Against Scherzer, Ortiz is 7-for-15 with 3 HRs. Facing Verlander, Ortiz is 10-for-27 with 2 HRs and 4 doubles. Be prepared for the unintentional/intentional walk to Ortiz this series.
5. Mike Napoli
Napoli will come to the plate with runners on base. How he performs in these big moments may well determine the team’s fate. Napoli has solid numbers against Verlander (4 for 18 with 1 HR and 4 walks), but, like most right-handed batters, has struggled against Scherzer and Fister. Napoli has homered off Detroit closer Benoit in 4 ABs. Napoli will be up with either Ellsbury or Victorino on second and Ortiz’ massive frame standing on first base. Let’s hope he can keep those innings going, or at least avoid the strike-out, Napoli’s nemesis.
6. Daniel Nava
Nava, who is probably my favorite hitter after Ellsbury, Pedroia and Ortiz, simply because of his backstory, will be up following Napoli. Something I didn’t know: Nava finished the regular season 8-for-14 in his final three games, going 4-for-4 on September 28th against Baltimore, which lifted him from .297 to .303 to end the season. Nava was held out against Tampa in Games 1 and 2, because he’s in the lineup against RHP only. He went 1 for 5, but got his customary walks (2) in the final two games of the series. Detroit’s all-RHP rotation bodes well for Nava’s playing time. Will it bode well for his performance? In a tiny sample size, Nava is 1-for-3 with a walk against Verlander, 1-for-9 with a walk against Scherzer, but he’s 5-for-12 with 3 doubles and 2 walks against Fister. If you remember, Nava’s first career AB in the majors was a grand-slam off of Joe Blanton. Considering how he finished the season in his bid for .300, I have a feeling Nava will come through in the clutch. I’ll go ahead and say he helps them beat Fister. Nava-Ho!
7. Jarrod “Salty” Saltalamacchia
Salty will surprise some with a game-winning hit. Salty, who hits RHP far better than southpaws, had an up-and-down series against Tampa, going 3 for 10 with 7 strikeouts. Clearly, Salty ain’t holding back. His past against Detroit is enticing. Against Scherzer, he’s gone 5-for-12 with a HR. Facing Verlander: 2-for-15 with 8 Ks. Against Fister: 5-for-11 with 2 doubles and a HR. Salty will use the Green Monster to his advantage against Fister once again.
8. Stephen Drew / Xander Bogaerts
Drew can hit RHP as his OPS splits (.875/.586) indicate. The Tigers have four righties starting. Unfortunately, Drew hits mediocre RHP much better than RHP aces. Against Verlander, he’s 2-for-8 with 5 Ks, facing Scherzer, he’s 1-for-8 with 3 Ks, and against Fister he’s 1-for-5. The silver lining: Drew has faced Sanchez 18 times, singling 4 times and hitting a lone triple. There is hope for J.D.’s brother. My hope is that Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox shortstop of the next 15 years (we can hope!) who worked two huge walks in Game 4 against the Rays, gets to see some late-inning pinch-hits when the Tigers go to Drew Smyly or Phil Coke, the lefties. Don’t Bogaert all the ABs, Stephen! More likely, Jhonny Gomes gets the pinch-hitting duties for Drew. Gomes seems to relish the big moment as well, so that might be fun. If nothing else, watching Gomes struggle to find the right amount of tightness in adjusting his helmet everytime he steps out of the box, is worth watching.
9. Will Middlebrooks
Here’s a thought: let Bogaerts play third-base right now. Middlebrooks had a decent series against Tampa, going 3-for-13 with 3 walks. However, the young third-baseman doesn’t get on-base against RHP (.244 OBP vs. .327 against LHP). In his young career, Middlebrooks is 1-for-2 against Verlander, and 1-for-6 against Scherzer, and 2-for-5 with a walk against Fister. He also has a HR off of Drew Smyly. You will see Mike Carp pinch-hitting for Middlbrooks against right-handers throughout this series. Mike Carp is another cool story. My friend, Andy, would lose his sh*t if Carp came up with a big hit. That would be fun to watch. Also, it’s kind of fun to call him Mike Crap when he strikes out.
Q. What do all of these words mean?
A. Who knows.
- These Red Sox, with the exception of Drew, have not faced Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez had a dominant season, but benefitted by facing some very weak hitting teams over the course of year (9 of his 29 starts, which accounted for 53 innings, came against the Twins and the White Sox, two of the worst lineups in the majors this year). Pitchers always have the upper hand in the initial encounter. Game 1 will be tough.
- Doug Fister is not an ace. His greatest strength is that he doesn’t walk anybody. The Red Sox love to take pitches, but also love to hit Doug Fister.
- The heterochromatic Max Scherzer will win the Cy Young award because he dominated everyone. Against right-handed batters, he gave up only 18 extra-base hits in 318 at-bats. His WHIP (walks plus hits / IP) was 0.97. To put that into perspective, since 2006, only one AL pitcher (Verlander in 2011) has finished with a WHIP under 1.00. Johan Santana’s 2005 season ended with a 0.97 WHIP as well. It’s hard to state how dominant he was this year. Put him in the National League with Kershaw, and his ERA would have dropped close to 2.00 as well. Kershaw’s 1.83 is mind-blowing. Side-note: Kershaw vs. STL will be intriguing.
- Justin Verlander is still capable of being 2011 Justin Verlander. For an excellent write-up of Oakland-Detroit Game 5, click here for Jeff Sullivan’s Fangraphs post: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/oakland-detroit-and-a-tale-of-three-fastballs/. Verlander got 24 swinging strikes in his Game 5 demolition of the A’s. However, 11 of those came in the first three innings, when the sun was basically blinding half of the hitters. The 5pm PST start time wreaked havoc on both lineups. I’ve sat in those seats around 6pm, watching batting practice. Until the sun drops behind the stadium, it’s pretty impossible to see anything. The TBS cameras showed A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie with his hand shielding himself from the sun’s glare during every pitch. If Verlander continues to dominate with his fastball, this series will be much more stressful for Red Sox fans.
Q. What do we know about the Red Sox pitchers?
- We know Jon Lester looks like he’s back in peak-form, commanding the fastball.
- We know John Lackey gives up lots of ground-balls (kind of like Fister).
- We know Clay Buchholz likes to take the mound with his hair dripping wet, and still has a nasty change-up.
- We know Jake Peavy will scream at himself throughout the game, but his fastball will top out at 93.
- We know Craig Breslow is the least-likely dominant reliever in the majors.
- We know Junichi Tazawa is good, but makes us nervous.
- We know Koji Uehara’s funky delivery throws hitters completely off their timing. By the way, Uehara’s career strikeout-to-walk ratio is 332 to 38. This year, he recorded 101 Ks and allowed only 9 walks.
Q. Where can I find excellent game previews?
Q. What is this site about, anyway? (Darko Index shameless plug):
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Q. When are these damn games on television?
All games are on Fox, so prepare yourself for Tim McCarver and Joe Buck and lots of obnoxious graphics and robotic animation.
I’m sure some will choose to listen to the radio, if watching live. Most of the time, I can’t watch live, which means I have the luxury to fast-forward through hideous promotions for whatever crappy sitcoms Fox is about to toss into the media universe. However, it also means lots of “mute” button action whenever McCarver goes off on some gossipy-angle involving prior horrible moments in Boston playoff history or John Lackey and the “chicken and beer” saga.
|Game 1||Detroit @ Boston||Sat, Oct 12||8:00 PM||FOX|
|Game 2||Detroit @ Boston||Sun, Oct 13||8:00 PM||FOX|
|Game 3||Boston @ Detroit||Tue, Oct 15||4:00 PM||FOX|
|Game 4||Boston @ Detroit||Wed, Oct 16||8:00 PM||FOX|
|Game 5*||Boston @ Detroit||Thu, Oct 17||8:00 PM||FOX|
|Game 6*||Detroit @ Boston||Sat, Oct 19||4:30 PM||FOX|
|Game 7*||Detroit @ Boston||Sun, Oct 20||8:00 PM||FOX|
Darko Index Predicts:
Red Sox in 7 games. After a pitcher’s duel in Game 1, The Red Sox take early command of the series, but face Scherzer and Verlander in Detroit, and lose a couple of heart-attack type games in the middle. Game 3 is being played at 4pm EST, which does not bode well for the hitters or fielders. Expect few hits in Game 3’s first 6 innings. Somehow, either Daniel Nava or Salty will win a game back in Boston, and the Sox will advance to the World Series again.