Behind enemy lines: How Red Sox match up against Tigers, Athletics

October 10, 2013 - 6:29 am

While the Tigers and Athletics will trade haymakers Thursday night in a winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Division Series, the Red Sox will be watching -- very, very comfortably after a Thursday afternoon workout meant to keep the team sharp as it waits to see who it will confront in Fenway Park on Saturday for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. So which opponent represents the most daunting for the Sox? Which is the best matchup? Both clubs held their own in the regular season against the Sox, with Detroit winning the season series and Oakland splitting a half-dozen contests with the Sox. But the Sox won home series against both clubs, underscoring the significance of their home-field advantage -- particularly at a time when they will be enjoying several days on the home front, while the winner of Thursday night's game must fly cross-country at the conclusion of a somewhat grueling ALDS. Where might the Red Sox' rooting interests lie (aside from in the possibility that the enmity between Grant Balfour and Victor Martinez will go nuclear)? Here's a look at how the two teams match up against the Sox -- with an opportunity for you to weigh in on which team you think represents the better matchup for the Sox at the end: TIGERS vs. Red Sox in '€™13: 4-3 (one of four teams with a winning record against Boston) Reasons why Sox should fear Tigers: -- The pitching staff led the American League with 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings, with the team'€™s starters featuring the sort of high-octane stuff and ability to attack the strike zone (an AL-leading 3.1 strikeouts per walk) that have given a swing-and-miss-prone team issues. -- The Tigers feature a strong lineup from top to bottom, receiving production that was roughly league average or better at every position on the field during the regular season. -- The Tigers lineup has enjoyed tremendous success against Game 1 starter Jon Lester. Reasons why Sox shouldn'€™t fear Tigers: -- They finished a very meh 25-24 in their last 49 games. -- Miguel Cabrera is a shell of himself. He'€™s 4-for-16 in the series, with all of his hits being singles, and the Athletics have been unafraid to attack him, as evidenced by the fact that the slugger does not have a single walk in his 16 plate appearances. If he doesn'€™t collect an extra-base hit in Game 5, then this year'€™s ALDS will become the first time in eight career postseason series that he failed to collect a multi-base knock. With Prince Fielder having been handled by the Sox starters, there'€™s reason for the Sox to believe that they can control Detroit'€™s offense. -- Their bullpen remains a bit of a mess. The Tigers blew a total of 16 saves, with seven of those coming in the last two months of the year, with a .252/.329/.415 line and 55 extra-base hits allowed in 615 plate appearances in that strange -- worse than the .243/.317/.375 line that the team'€™s bullpen had in the first four months of the season, before the acquisition of reliever Jose Veras. Starters vs. Red Sox in '€™13: Max Scherzer - 2 starts, 14 IP, 1-1, 2.57 ERA, 14 Ks, 3 BB Justin Verlander - 1 start, 5 IP, 0-0, 7.20 ERA, 4 Ks, 3 BB Anibal Sanchez - Did not face Sox Doug Fister - 2 starts, 10 1/3 IP, 1-1, 5.23 ERA, 4 Ks, 5 BB Top hitters vs. Jon Lester: Miguel Cabrera (24 PAs): .526/.625/.789, HR, 2 2B Victor Martinez (16): .429/.500/.786, HR, 3B Torii Hunter (32): .433/.469/.633, HR, 3 2B Jhonny Peralta (32): .296/.406/.593, 2 HR, 2 2B Worst hitters vs. Lester: Prince Fielder (16): .267/.313/.267 Lester vs. Tigers in '€™13: 2 starts, 12 2/3 IP, 2-0, 4.26 ERA, 12 Ks, 3 BB Top hitters vs. John Lackey: Prince Fielder (9): .444/.444/.667, 2 2B Miguel Cabrera (13): .333/.385/.667, HR, 2B Victor Martinez (34): .379/.471/.414, 2B Jhonny Peralta (33): .355/.364/.387, 2B Worst hitters vs. Lackey: Torii Hunter (61): .232/.295/.375, 2 HR, 2 2B Alex Avila (9): 0-for-7, 2 walks Lackey vs. Tigers in '€™13: 2 starts, 14 1/3 IP, 0-1, 3.14 ERA, 10 Ks, 2 BB Top hitters vs. Clay Buchholz: Alex Avila (11): .375/.545/.625, 2 2B Austin Jackson (21): .263/.333/.526, HR, 2 2B Jhonny Peralta (19): .294/.316/.412, 2 2B Worst hitters vs. Buchholz: Torii Hunter (28): .167/.286/.250, 2 2B Miguel Cabrera (25): .238/.320/.333 Prince Fielder (7): .167/.286/.167 Victor Martinez (6): 0-for-6 Buchholz did not face Tigers in '€™13 Top hitters vs. Jake Peavy: Torii Hunter (17): .438/.471/.813, HR, 3B, 2B Austin Jackson (30): .321/.367/.571, HR, 2 3B Miguel Cabrera (49): .289/.347/.511, 3 HR, 2B Worst hitters vs. Peavy: Jhonny Peralta (37): .206/.243/.382, HR, 3 2B Alex Avila (25): .190/.320/.381, HR, 2B Prince Fielder (38): .278/.316/.389, 4 2B Peavy vs. Tigers in '€™13: 1 start, 7 IP, 1-0, 5.14 ERA, 7 Ks, 2 BBs ATHLETICS vs. Red Sox in '€™13: 3-3 Reasons why Sox should fear Athletics: -- They were the hottest team in baseball down the stretch, going 24-9 over the season'€™s final five weeks. -- They're a team with a considerable home-field advantage, having gone 52-29 (.642) in Oakland, thanks to a lineup featuring enough raw power to mash the ball out of the park even in the hostile-to-homers environment and a pitching staff willing to throw strikes and take advantage of the massive dimensions of Coliseum. -- They have a willingness to throw strikes (the A'€™s had the best walk rate in the AL, issuing 2.7 walks per contest) that suggests an ability to challenge the Sox'€™ efforts to knock out the opposing starter early by spitting on pitches outside the strike zone. -- The Sox have a lack of familiarity with half the rotation (Sonny Gray, Dan Straily) and poor performances against the other two starters (Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker). -- The roster is built with considerable depth that permits a lot of late-game situational maneuvering, and a lineup that, like the Sox, can drive up pitch counts and drive pitchers to madness. While the A'€™s ranked third in the AL in runs per game (behind the Sox and Tigers), they ranked second (behind the Sox, well ahead of the fifth-place Tigers) in runs scored on the road, a better reflection, perhaps, of their offensive ability. Reasons why Sox shouldn'€™t fear Athletics: -- The all-right-handed starting staff plays to the Sox'€™ strength as a left-hand dominant team given the splits of Stephen Drew and switch-hitters Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. -- The limited number of power arms generating swings and misses (Oakland'€™s 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings ranks 12th in the AL) likewise mitigates one of the Sox'€™ vulnerabilities. -- It's a lineup that can be attacked, as evidenced by the ALDS against the Tigers where six important cogs (likely top-five MVP candidate Josh Donaldson (.222), Jed Lowrie (.222), Brandon Moss (.278), Josh Reddick (.250), Eric Sogard (.100) and Stephen Vogt (.286)) have sub-.300 OBPs. -- Derek Lowe will come out of retirement to throw two-seam wiffleballs that will leave the progeny of Miguel Tejada in tears. Starters vs. Red Sox in '€™13: Bartolo Colon - 2 starts, 13 1/3 IP, 1-0, 1.35 ERA, 11 Ks, 1 BB Jarrod Parker - 1 start, 7 IP, 0-0, 2.57 ERA, 3 Ks, 0 BB Sonny Gray - Did not face Sox Dan Straily - Did not face Sox Top hitters vs. Jon Lester: Chris Young (9 PAs): .429/.556/1.000, HR, 2B Josh Donaldson (6): .333/.333/.500, 2B Jed Lowrie (6): .400/.500/.400 Worst hitters vs. Lester: Alberto Callaspo (12): .200/.333/.300, 2B Yoenis Cespedes (6): .200/.333/.200 Lester vs. Athletics in '€™13: 2 starts, 12 IP, 1-1, 4.50 ERA, 9 Ks, 9 BB Top hitters vs. John Lackey: Daric Barton (30): .333/.400/.593, HR, 4 2B Alberto Callaspo (17): .353/.353/.588, HR, 2B Seth Smith (6): .400/.333/1.000, 3B, 2B Worst hitters vs. Lackey: Coco Crisp (39): .143/.231/.314, 2 HR Kurt Suzuki (35): .182/.200/.394 Lackey vs. Athletics in '€™13: 1 start, 7 IP, 1-0, 2.57 ERA, 5 Ks, 4 BB Top hitters vs. Clay Buchholz: Daric Barton (14): .444/.643/.444 Kurt Suzuki (12): .500/.500/.583 Coco Crisp (14): .308/.357/.538, HR Worst hitters vs. Buchholz: Alberto Callaspo (21): .200/.238/.200 Buchholz did not face the Athletics in '€™13 Top hitters vs. Jake Peavy: Seth Smith (8): .286/.375/.714, 2B, 3B Worst hitters vs. Peavy: Chris Young (27): .160/.222/.360, HR, 2 2B Coco Crisp (13): .200/.308/.200 Alberto Callaspo (24): .261/.292/.348, 2 2B Peavy did not face the Athletics in '€™13 [poll id=69]