DETROIT – Thanks to the Tigers 7-3 victory in Game 4, this series is guaranteed to return to Fenway Park on Saturday night.
As each game passes (each has played close with the exception of last night) it becomes clearer just how evenly matched these two teams are and how one mistake, or one bad inning, is likely to sway the result.
While much has been made of Jim Leyland's decision to demote Austin Jackson from the lead off spot - Jackson had two hits and a walk hitting eighth in Game 4 - the fact that Red Sox starter Jake Peavy lost the strike zone in the second inning, when the Tigers scored five runs to ice the game early, was the biggest factor of the night.
As the curtain closes on the Comerica Park portion of this series, we revert back to the Game 1 pitching matchup.
Game 5 Preview
Red Sox: LHP Jon Lester (Regular season: 12-5, 4.17, 1.147 WHIP; Playoffs: 0-0, 1.59, 0.882 WHIP in 5.2IP)
2013 Regular Season vs. Detroit: 2 GS – 2-0, 12.2IP, 4.26, 1.579 WHIP.
Game 1 vs. Detroit: L, 6.1 IP, 1 ER (1.42 ERA,) 6 H, 1 BB, 4K, 1.105 WHIP.
Jhonny Peralta, who had three hits in Game 1 and was the only Tiger with a multi-hit game, went 2-3 off Lester with a double and an RBI single. That single, in the sixth inning, scored Miguel Cabrera with the only run of the game in Detroit's 1-0 win.
Possible Argument: Despite the fact his counterpart Anibal Sanchez didn't allow a hit over six innings in Game 1, Lester was essentially as good as his mound opponent.
Lester worked out of a two out, first inning jam stranding runners at the corners following two singles. A one out single in the third was erased on a double play and, thanks to some strong defensive play, he worked out of a fifth inning jam started by a lead off double.
Sure, Lester got burned in the sixth but he was generally efficient in Game 1 and there's no reason to believe he can't be Sanchez's match, or better, in Game 5.
Tigers: RHP Anibal Sanchez (Regular season: 14-9, 3.67, 1.308 WHIP; Playoffs: 0-0, 4.50, 1.333 WHIP in 6IP)
Didn't face Boston in the 2013 regular season.
Game 1 vs. Boston: 6 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 6 BB, 12 K, 1.000 WHIP.
Clearly nobody hit Sanchez well in Game 1 because nobody hit him at all. Dustin Pedroia did draw two of Sanchez's six walks.
Multiple-time Sanchez strikeout victims included: Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, and Stephen Drew. It would have been quicker to jot down who didn't strikeout at least twice versus Sanchez.
Interesting Note: The Tigers pitching staff has combined for at least 10 strikeouts in each game of this series.
It's hard to imagine Leyland going away from what worked in Game 4 so expect to see Torii Hunter back in the lead off spot, Miguel Cabrera batting second, Prince Fielder hitting third and Austin Jackson much further down in the order.
“I was laying on my couch at home (Tuesday) night watching the Dodgers and the Cardinals, and I kept thinking, because I didn't disagree with anybody saying we needed something,” said Leyland of his lineup tinkering. “I felt like fans, members of the media, myself, probably the players, if the truth be known, I think something had to be done. “I don't want to say this had anything to do with it.
Jackson went 2-2 with two walks in the eight-hole in Game 4. Entering the game, he'd been 3-33 (.091) with 18 strikeouts in the postseason.
Red Sox manager John Farrell is getting next to no production from the left side of his infield.
Shortstop Stephen Drew is 3-28 (.107) in the postseason. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is 4-23 (.174.)
On the possibility of replacing Middlebrooks with rookie Xander Bogaerts in Game 5, Farrell offered this:
“Haven't made a decision on (Thursday's) lineup but given the way the left side of the infield, we're struggling a little bit to get production out of that side. So it's something that's being considered for sure.”
Game 5 Prediction:
I'm one-for-four picking the correct winner of each game so this has become, effectively, a pointless exercise. To the point, in fact, where I feel I should be apologizing to the team I pick to win.
Nonetheless, a commitment was made in Game 1 to make a prediction for each game and I'm going to see it through.
At the heart of this series is starting pitching and Detroit's has been better than Boston's.
Sanchez runs up his pitch count striking out the Red Sox and doesn't go beyond seven innings. Lester is equal to the task and this game is decided by the bullpens.
So, I pick Boston to win this game 4-3.