BOSTON - Teams that advance this deep into the post-season rarely have glaring deficiencies and when it comes to their respective starting staffs and in the offensive lineups of the Red Sox and Tigers, they're difficult to find.
Quite frankly, their managers need them to.
“Hopefully our starters match up to theirs and I think that will be one of the keys in this series for us,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “I can't speak for what Jim is thinking about with his own team. Our ability for our starters to keep the game under control will be pivotal for us.”
“I think this series, like most series to be honest with you, everybody talks about the bullpen but when you get in the short series, just like the other night, we didn't use our bullpen,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “I think this will be a starting pitching series, with the exception of the ninth inning, most likely. You're going to see Lester and Lackey and Peavy and those kinds of guys.”
Despite the success of the back end, Detroit and Boston each sported relief corps which finished in baseball's bottom 10 in bullpen ERA. The Red Sox's 3.70 ERA came in at 21st and the Tigers were even worse, finishing 24th with a 4.01 ERA.
There's a reason Leyland went to ace Max Scherzer
late in the crucial fourth game of the Tigers' Division Series against Oakland, facing elimination.
“They might have a little more depth, maybe,” said Leyland. “A little more – maybe a slight edge in getting to (the closers,) although I feel very comfortable with our bullpen.”
“We've got some guys that we trust late in the game,” said Farrell. “Whether it's Craig (Breslow,) or Junichi (Tazawa) and certainly Koji at the end. But we feel we've got matchup ability and guys tested more recently in this series.”
Canadian Ryan Dempster
, 36, agreed to a move to the bullpen in mid-September and is an option available to Farrell. Dempster spent four seasons (2004-2007) as a closer for the Cubs.
The Tigers like left-handed set up man Drew Smyly
and with good reason. He posted a 2.37 ERA and 1.039 WHIP in 63 appearances this season. He'll be tested in this series, however, with Boston's solid right-handed nucleus of Dustin Pedroia
, Mike Napoli
and Jonny Gomes
, possibly off the bench.
Beyond Smyly, it's a hodgepodge. Right-hander Al Alburquerque
has the stuff but he walked 34 hitters in 49 innings. Left-hander Phil Coke
, added to the roster in time for the ALCS, had a disastrous season. Fifth starter, right-hander Rick Porcello
, will be available in a long role.
Benoit locked down 24 of 26 save opportunities this season. Uehara converted 21 of 24 on the year and was a virtual lock after taking over as closer when Joel Hanrahan
and Andrew Bailey
Each has two saves in the post-season and neither has blown a game, although Uehara did surrender the walk-off home run to Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton
, breaking the 3-3 deadlock in the third game of Boston's division series with the Rays.
“I think both managers are hoping that the bullpen, unless it's real late, is not as significant maybe,” said Leyland.
Then Leyland added perhaps the most obvious statement.
“If our starters aren't good, we're not going to win this series and probably the same for them.”