Key questions: Tigers-Red Sox

The Red Sox and Tigers are original franchises in the American League. They started playing in 1901, but this will be the first time they have played each other in the postseason. It will be worth the wait. These were the two highest-scoring teams in the major leagues in 2013, and both can really pitch and have star power. It's going to be cold, and the games will take three to four hours to play, but it all will be worth it. Here are five questions:

How much will the extra rest help the Red Sox?

A lot, it appears. By beating the Rays in four games, the Red Sox will have four days off while the Tigers will have one day off following difficult travel. This will allow the Red Sox to set up their rotation exactly how they like, led by ace Jon Lester starting Game 1. And it allows them to start John Lackey at home in Game 2; his ERA this year was 2.47 at Fenway, 4.48 on the road. Clay Buchholz could start Game 3 and Jake Peavy Game 4, just as they did in the Rays series. Lester labored against the Tigers this year: 12 2/3 innings, 17 hits, six earned runs, three walks and 12 strikeouts, but he has thrown well lately.

How much of an impact will Justin Verlander have?

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander

#35 SP
Detroit Tigers


  • GS14
  • W7

  • L4

  • ERA3.48

  • SO/910.3

Verlander likely won't pitch until Game 3, which will hurt the Tigers given how hot he has been. With his eight-inning masterpiece against the A's in Game 5 of the ALDS, Verlander joined Sandy Koufax (1965) as the only pitchers to strike out 10 batters and allow no runs in back-to-back postseason starts. He had 24 swings-and-misses against Oakland, his most in any start over the past five years. Whatever Verlander was missing the first four months of the season, he has found it. In his past 12 starts, he has a 2.76 ERA. His fastball command against Oakland was tremendous, and his changeup in Game 5 was very effective. But now we will see whether all that works against Boston, which makes a pitcher work like no other team. (Red Sox hitters saw over 1,000 more pitches than any other team in the major leagues.) In his postseason career, Verlander is 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA against the A's, 3-4 with a 5.14 ERA against everyone else.

How productive is Jacoby Ellsbury?

Ellsbury Ellsbury

Ellsbury has made the Red Sox offense go in this postseason. Against the Rays, Ellsbury had nine hits and scored seven runs, joining Bernie Williams (1995), Ken Griffey Jr. (1995) and Carlos Beltran (2004) as the only players to do that in a division series. Included was a crucial, two-out single off left-hander Jake McGee in the seventh inning of the decisive Game 4. Ellsbury can be a free agent after the season, and he needs to show teams across the major leagues that he's not soft, not brittle, and that he can play to a high level even when he's coming off an injury. He can do that, and more, including playing with great, great enthusiasm.

How healthy is Miguel Cabrera?

In Game 5 of the ALDS, Cabrera hit his first home run since Sept. 18. It was crucial, it essentially won the game and it was very encouraging for Tigers fans. But Cabrera is clearly hurt; his groin injury affects him in every facet of his game. He is so unbelievably good; he can hit a home run -- and win a postseason game -- when others wouldn't be able to play. But he has not been close to himself offensively since the end of August. That means that the rest of the Tigers have to do more, and it helps that Jhonny Peralta is back and swinging the bat well. But at some point, leadoff man Austin Jackson must get on base and Prince Fielder has to produce more.

How strong is Boston's bridge from the starters to Koji Uehara?

Koji Uehara Uehara

It was terrific in the ALDS against the Rays. Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Ryan Dempster and Brandon Workman pitched a combined 7 2/3 innings, allowed five hits, no runs, walked one and struck out eight. Breslow was critical in the clinching Game 4, tearing through the Tampa Bay lineup to preserve a one-run lead. Uehara gave up a walk-off home run in the ALDS but otherwise has been spotless for the past three months. Since Aug. 3, he has 35 strikeouts and no walks.

The pick: Red Sox in seven.