Both the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics, who face off tonight in Game 5 for the right to face the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, have had success against Boston this season. Detroit was one of just four teams to hold a winning record (4-3) against the Red Sox this season while Oakland split the season series (3-3).
So which team would you prefer the Red Sox to square off against for the AL pennant? Here’s a breakdown of how each has fared so far in postseason play.
• Max Scherzer: The AL Cy Young Award favorite has carried his regular-season success with him into the postseason, shutting down the A’s offense in Game 1 and in relief in Game 4. Scherzer needed 47 pitches to get through two innings Tuesday and wouldn’t be expected to be ready to pitch until Game 2.
• Justin Verlander: Despite a down year by his standards, Verlander had seven shutout innings in Game 2 that proved the right-hander can still bring it on the big stage. Verlander will be on the mound for Detroit in tonight’s Game 5, making him unavailable in an ALCS series until Game 3.
• Anibal Sanchez: The only starter not to make it through five innings in his ALDS start, Sanchez represents Detroit’s biggest wild card in a playoff series. The former Red Sox prospect claimed the AL’s ERA title during the regular season and is the only Tigers starter without a career start against Boston. Sanchez could line up for a Game 1 start in the ALCS.
• Doug Fister: One of the top back-end starters in the AL, Fister put together a quality Game 4 start to keep the Tigers’ postseason chances alive. The right-hander will be expected to hold down the fourth spot in the rotation once more.
As the Red Sox proved in a Sept. 4, 20-4 shellacking of Tigers pitching, Detroit’s bullpen has been its biggest weakness this season. Ranking in the bottom third (24th) in bullpen ERA, Detroit has received only one perfect outing from a reliever in the ALDS, a Game 1 save for closer Joaquin Benoit. In 10 2/3 ALDS innings, the bullpen’s 1.69 WHIP is the highest among the eight playoff teams. Benoit and setup man Al Alburquerque have both struggled to post ERAs over seven in a combined three innings pitched, a far cry from the late-inning success they provided the team in last year’s postseason (3.12 ERA in 8 2/3 innings). Rookie starter Jose Alvarez threw three scoreless innings in Game 3, joining sinkerballer Rick Porcello in the pen as valuable long relief depth.
The only team with a higher batting average than the Red Sox’s during the regular season (.283 to .277), Detroit’s explosive offense has been held in check so far by Athletics pitching. The team’s .234 average ranks third among the four ALDS playoff teams. In addition, Detroit’s .290 on-base percentage and .320 slugging percentage are both the lowest among ALDS teams.
Victor Martinez (6-for-16, one home run) and Jhonny Peralta (3-for-8, one home run) have been the Tigers best ALDS hitters as Miguel Cabrera (4-for-16) and Prince Fielder (4-for-15) continue to look for their first extra-base hit in the series. It should be noted that Cabrera, who is dealing with groin and abdominal injuries, has hit just one homer since Aug. 27.
• Bartolo Colon: He was the victim of a bad first inning in his Game 1 start. The Tigers battered him for three runs on four hits right out the gate but did not score the rest of the game. The All-Star right-hander allowed 10 hits in six innings. Colon would be expected to start Game 1 of the ALCS.
• Sonny Gray: The rookie stole the show from Verlander in Game 2, outdueling the MVP pitcher with eight scoreless innings before the Athletics walked off in the ninth. Just 23 years old, Gray will be on the mound opposite Verlander once again Thursday night.
• Jarrod Parker: He stands as the A’s biggest question mark moving forward as manager Bob Melvin said Tuesday that the 24-year-old is battling fatigue or dead arm symptoms. Parker got the win in Game 3, allowing three runs in five innings pitched. His status for the ALCS remains unknown.
• Dan Straily: If not for Gray’s dazzling outing, fellow rookie Straily could be getting the bulk of the media attention right now. Game 4 saw Straily post a quality start with six innings of three-run ball accompanied by eight strikeouts. With Parker’s status up in the air, Straily would be the leading candidate for a Game 2 start in Boston.
Despite having the highest bullpen ERA (4.50) among AL playoff teams, Oakland’s relief corps has performed well in the ALDS. Of the five runs A’s relievers have allowed in 10 innings, all came within a matter of two innings in Game 4, an 8-6 loss to Detroit. Before then, Athletics relievers dominated Detroit, allowing only two hits in seven scoreless innings pitched and letting just one batter make it to second base (Martinez on a Game 1 error). Grant Balfour and Dan Otero have each maintained perfect ERAs in multiple appearances while Brett Anderson and Ryan Cook have each struggled in their one game of work. Jesse Chavez and Jerry Blevins have yet to appear in any of the team’s four games.
The ALDS has seen the Athletics atypically live and die by the long ball, as Oakland leads AL playoff teams with five home runs, which account for eight of their 15 runs scored. The result of facing Detroit’s vaunted starting pitching, Oakland batters have struck out 46 times, the most of any team in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Athletics have hit three triples in four games, one fewer than the seven other postseason teams have combined to hit in 30 games.
Outfielders Yoenis Cespedes (7-for-18, 4 RBIs) and Coco Crisp (7-for-14, 4 runs scored) have been two of the postseason’s hottest hitters and, along with designated hitter Seth Smith (5-for-12), are the only Athletics starters hitting over .300 in the postseason.
Josh Donaldson (3-for-17), Brandon Moss (2-for-15, 10 K’s) and Jed Lowrie (2-for-16) have struggled in the two, three and four spots of the lineup. Second baseman Eric Sogard is hitless in nine at-bats.