Back at the All-Star Game break, we made some second half predictions for you – the fan – to look forward to. We focused on the Pirates not making the playoffs. They did. We looked at the Biogenesis scandal and predicted it would go away. It didn’t. So we got some wrong. But we also discussed favorites for the playoffs. Our prediction: Boston Red Sox vs. St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. And although we picked the Dodgers in our NLCS primer (based mainly off of match-ups), after last night’s Game 1 we’re looking pretty good with our World Series prediction from the midway point. Why? Read on.
Where the National League has pitcher’s duels, the American League typically has the complete opposite. Not to say the Tigers and Red Sox don’t have good pitchers – because they do. It’s just the way of the AL. The DH provides additional at-bats to get runs in, and when you’re looking at David Ortiz and Victor Martinez as those guys filling your DH slot, that’s a lot of additional run production. But, back to the pitching. According to Fangraphs’ WAR calculation, the Tigers had three of the top four pitchers in the American League. They boast Cy Young
winner candidate Max Scherzer (#1), former Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander (#4), and Anibal Sanchez (#2). Doug Fister, coming in at 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA, is the fourth pitcher for Detroit to land in the Top 10 of WAR. He came in at eighth.
Although Boston’s starters are no slouches themselves, they are less reliable. Jon Lester is their anchor and will go in Game 1 against Anibal Sanchez. That should be a great matchup and could go either way. Game 2 features demi-god Scherzer and his 20-3 record against Clay Buchholz. Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA before an injury knocked him out until September. He was able to squeeze in four more starts before the season concluded and he went 3-1 with only 5 ER during that time. If he’s healthy, look out. The rest of the Red Sox rotation is questionable, with John Lackey and Jake Peavy coming in for Games 3 and 4, respectively. And although they once had great seasons and overall successful careers, they are by no means the aces they once were. If they can get to the later innings with a lead they will be assisted by their bullpens.
Speaking of, Boston has a great bullpen, led by Koji Uehara who filled in as the closer midway through the season. He brings a 1.07 ERA and a 0.59 WHIP with him while finishing off other teams. Another Japanese import, Junchiri Tazawa, headlines the later innings as well, along with lefty Craig Breslow. Detroit’s bullpen is a little more average but has more depth. Joaquin Benoit and lefty Drew Smyly are the cream of this crop. Al Albuequerque and Jose Veras are serviceable, but the heat will be on the Tigers if they have to rely on their bullpen a lot – especially with the lineup of the Red Sox.
There will be runs. The top of the Red Sox lineup is scary. Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, and Dustin Pedroia all get on base. They all have a little power. And they all are feisty on the basepaths. You hope to face only one of these guys at the top of a lineup – not three. And once you are through them, up comes David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. There is a good mixture of lefties, righties, and switch-hitters in this lineup which will really force Jim Leyland into thinking about which reliever to bring in late in the game.
The Tigers on the other hand revolve around The Big Guy – Miguel Cabrera. As he goes, so goes the Tigers. That was evident in the Oakland series the Tigers just narrowly escaped. Although there are many others in the lineup that can provide some pop – namely Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez – the Tigers really could use some help at the top of the lineup to force Boston to pitch to Cabrera & Company. If Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter can’t get on base, Boston won’t have to deal with the middle of Detroit’s lineup and that will be a pleasant surprise for Sox fans.
Cabrera and Fielder at the corners do not help the Tigers defense at all. In fact, they stink. They are the bottom two out of all qualifying players for defensive WAR. And however great of a fielder he once was, Hunter finds himself near the bottom of the pile too. To assist him in the outfield, Hunter has Austin Jackson, an other-worldly centerfielder, to aid him in his trials and tribulations. In the infield, Omar Infante and Jose Iglesias provide much needed help up the middle for the Tigers. But when Johnny Peralta is at short, the Tigers better hope they’re playing with a wiffle ball to avoid having to make any defensive plays at all.
The Other Tigers Hitters
This one is obvious. The Tigers live and die by the Cabrera Sword. If he’s not hitting, or his nagging injuries pop back up, the Tigers will have next to no shot at winning. He must crush balls, and trust me, he probably will. But in the rare case that he does not, the Tigers will need to have lots of production from Fielder, Martinez, Hunter, and Jackson. The wild wild-card is Omar Infante. He had a secretly good season and could surprise some folks who haven’t been paying attention to the Tigers outside of Cabrera this year.
Boston’s Other Guys
Will Middlebrooks. Daniel Nava. Jonny Gomes. Stephen Drew. All of these guys have potential and have showed sparks of success in the past. But not regularly. And not enough recently. If one or two of these guys can have an impact, Boston will succeed. If not, it could be a short series for the Sox, as too much emphasis will be placed on the top of the lineup and not enough scoring will happen to compete with the Tigers.
Both teams score and score a lot. The Sox led the majors with 853 runs scored. The Tigers were second at 796. Therefore, a lot will depend on pitching – as in who can hold the other team to less runs because they will come. Boston was great on the basepaths this year and broke the modern day record of steal percentage with a 86.6% success rate. And although Boston is a much different set of players from the teams that won in the mid-to-late-2000’s, they consist of a gusto much like them…and the beards to boot. So even though Detroit’s starting pitching is far superior, I don’t think that is enough to defend against the brawny Boston lineup. This one is close too, much like the NLCS, but I see the Sox pulling it out in 7 over the Tigers.