The Red Sox are in the catbird seat heading into their first American League Championship Series since 2008. They will be able to recover a bit from the bumps and bruises acquired over a long regular season, and their rotation is set up in order and on extra rest.
Meanwhile, the Tigers and A’s play Game 5 of their ALDS on Thursday night in Oakland, and the Tigers opened as -116 Bovada favorites with live betting. Normally a home team would seem to have a huge advantage in a Game 5, but the Tigers have Justin Verlander and the A’s don’t.
Verlander is the highest-paid pitcher in baseball — until Clayton Kershaw gets his $200 million this offseason — and was the 2011 AL Cy Young winner and MVP. Verlander would have been voted the best right-hander in the game in a preseason poll. Yet he was only the third-best pitcher on his team in 2013.
Max Scherzer topped the majors with 21 wins and will win the Cy Young Award. Anibal Sanchez won 14 games and led the AL with a 2.57 ERA. Verlander was only 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA. It was his worst season since leading the AL with 17 losses in 2008. However, the Tigers wouldn’t want anyone else on the mound Thursday.
Scherzer was the Game 1 starter against the A’s but is unavailable after pitching two innings of relief in Detroit’s come-from-behind Game 4 victory. He was able to wiggle out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the top of the eighth inning by whiffing three straight.
Thus Verlander gets the call. He was dominant in Game 2, blanking Oakland on four hits, striking out 11 and walking one in seven innings. Detroit lost 1-0. Including his final two regular-season outings, Verlander has pitched 19 straight scoreless innings while striking out 33 and walking five. Amazingly, Detroit has lost them all. The 30-year-old has been in this position before. In last season’s ALDS Game 5 in Oakland, Verlander threw a complete-game four-hitter, striking out 11. That tied for the most strikeouts in a winner-take-all game in MLB history.
In his other start in that series, Verlander held the A’s to a run over seven innings, also striking out 11. In six career ALDS starts, Verlander is 3-0 with a 2.17 ERA. He hasn’t been as good in the ALCS or World Series, but that’s for another day.
The A’s have not been a good playoff team of late. Since 2000, they are 1-11 in potential clinching games and 0-5 in winner-take-all games.
Rookie Sonny Gray is expected to get the call for Oakland. Gray faced Detroit for the first time in Game 2 and out-dueled Verlander, allowing no runs and four hits while striking out nine in eight innings.