BOSTON - The American League Championship Series, featuring the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, gets underway on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
Boston is making its first appearance in the ALCS since 2008. For Detroit, it's a third straight trip to the ALCS and its fourth in eight years.
The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2007, sweeping Colorado. The Tigers were last victorious in 1984, losing their two most recent appearances (2006 vs. St. Louis and 2012 vs. San Francisco.)
GAME ONE PREVIEW:
Tigers RHP Anibal Sanchez (Regular season: 14-8, 2.57, 1.154 WHIP; Playoffs: 0-1, 10.38, 2.308 WHIP)
Did not face Boston in 2013.
Tigers' manager Jim Leyland on Sanchez:
"He led the American League in earned run average. He did not have a good playoff start. I think he was probably a little rusty, as Fister was the other day, it took him a couple of innings to get going. I think he'll be back in the groove now. Like I said, he led this league in earned run average. That's pretty impressive."
Toughest matchup: Few Red Sox have large enough sample sizes vs. Sanchez (Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew, who spent significant time in the National League, are the exceptions.)
But, as small sample sizes go, you can't do better than David Ortiz has against Sanchez: 3-3, 2 HR, 1 2B, 4 RBI.
Interesting note: Sanchez, a native of Maracay, Venezuela, was signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent on January 3, 2001. He was traded, along with Hanley Ramirez and others, to the Florida Marlins in the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston, on November 24, 2005.
Red Sox LHP Jon Lester (Regular season: 15-8, 3.75, 1.294 WHIP; Playoffs: 1-0, 2.35, 0.783 WHIP)
2013 vs. Detroit: (2GS, 2-0, 4.26, 1.579 WHIP, 2HR in 12 2/3 innings)
Toughest matchup: A number of Tigers hit Lester well, including:
Torii Hunter (30 AB, .433/.469/.633, 1 HR, 3 2B, 4 RBI)
Miguel Cabrera (24 AB, .526/.625/.789, 1 HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI)
Victor Martinez (14 AB, .429/.500/.786, 1 HR, 1 2B, 3 RBI)
Jhonny Peralta (27 AB, .296/.406/.593, 2 HR, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 5 BB)
Lester on the Tigers' lineup:
"I mean, obviously very tough lineup. We've seen it kind of go both ways as far as them come in and score some runs. But at the same time, the games that they don't they're still tough outs. I think that's what makes them very similar to I think our offense is. You know you're not going to have three-pitch outs. You know you're not going to have at-bats that they just give away."
Slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias, acquired from the Red Sox in July's three-team deal (White Sox) that netted Boston the services of Jake Peavy, will start Game One.
That means Jhonny Peralta will either start in left field (at Fenway Park - *gulp*) or be relegated to the bench.
Beyond Game One, Leyland was non-committal.
"At my age I go one day at a time. So Iglesias will be my shortstop (Saturday) night."
Meantime, Red Sox manager John Farrell has anointed Will Middlebrooks his starting third baseman but wouldn't look beyond Saturday night.
"It will be Middlebrooks (Saturday.) And then based on some matchups, we've got some things we're looking at in a couple of different spots."
That could mean highly-touted prospect Xander Bogaerts for Game Two or at some other point in the series.
Tigers' third baseman Miguel Cabrera, he of the 2012 Triple Crown, has been limited offensively for about six weeks, his Thursday home run against the Athletics notwithstanding, thanks to a nagging leg injury.
Cabrera's September: .278/.395/.333, 1 HR. His .729 marked a significant drop month over month. His .995 OPS in April had been his lowest monthly total of the season.
In the five game Division Series vs. Oakland: 5-20 (.250/.286/.400,) with his home run in the fifth game accounting for his lone extra base hit.
Cabrera didn't want to discuss his injury but described the process of working through it as "day-to-day."
GAME ONE PREDICTION:
Boston wins 6-4.