The good news is that the Red Sox are heading back to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2008. The better news is that they’re facing a favorable matchup, no matter which team they face.
Because of their win Tuesday night at Tampa Bay, which gave the Sox a 3-1 series win, Boston now gets to wait. The Red Sox will host Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday at Fenway Park, but their opponent is unknown.
While the Red Sox are resting, recuperating and washing the champagne and beer out of their hair, the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers will be battling it out in Game 5 of their series Thursday night in Oakland. This is good news for the Red Sox in more ways than one.
Much of it will center around starting pitching. With the Tampa Bay series going four games, the Red Sox were able to go through their rotation one time. Each of their four starting pitchers got work, and that sets them up perfectly for the ALCS. No. 1 starter Jon Lester will get the ball Saturday night with a full week of rest after winning Game 1 against Tampa Bay on Friday.
From there, we can have the debate as to which starter gets the ball in Game 2 of the ALCS. It may make sense to give it to John Lackey, who also started Game 2 of the ALDS. Lackey’s home splits in the regular season (2.47 ERA, 1.033 WHIP) were much better than his splits on the road (4.48 ERA, 1.271 WHIP). That’s the main reason Lackey — not Clay Buchholz — started Game 2 against Tampa. While Lackey wasn’t incredibly sharp, some of that could be attributed to rust after a 10-day layoff between Game 2 and his last regular-season start. So maybe the Sox decide to get Lackey on the hill for Game 2 on Sunday instead of saving him for Game 3 — likely on the following Tuesday — to avoid that long rest.
Regardless of who starts Game 2 of the ALCS, the Red Sox’ rotation falls into place from there, and it’s not much different than the Tampa Bay series. You also can’t discount the value of a few days of rest, especially for someone like Koji Uehara, who worked consecutive nights in Games 3 and 4 or Dustin Pedroia, who is reportedly dealing with a stiff neck.
The Red Sox also benefit, obviously, from the fact that the A’s and Tigers still have one more game. While Boston will get three full days of rest, the winner of the other series will get just one day of rest. Furthermore, Game 5 of that Oakland-Detroit series will be played in Oakland on Thursday night. So whoever wins that game will have to travel across the country only to play again Saturday. That sort of thing catches up to you eventually. Just ask the Rays.
While the Red Sox’ rotation seems to be ready to go, the fifth game in Oakland complicates the pitching plan for both teams. Detroit’s Justin Verlander will take the ball in the deciding game, which means you can rule him out for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS. He would then be on full rest to pitch Game 3, assuming that’s on Tuesday. The Tigers may be without Max Scherzer until at least Game 2. Scherzer started and won Game 1 of the series last Thursday (Oct. 4), going seven innings and throwing 118 pitches. He then came back and worked relief out of the bullpen Tuesday in Detroit, tossing two innings. He was forced to throw 47 high-pressure pitches late in the game, so you wonder if he’d be able to start Game 3 on three days’ rest. Assuming he doesn’t pitch in Game 5, that might leave Anibal Sanchez to pitch a potential Game 1. He gave up five earned runs and couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning in his start against Oakland on Monday. He hasn’t faced the Red Sox since 2006 (seven earned in 4 1/3 innings) and has never pitched at Fenway Park.
Oakland faces the same dilemma, although perhaps to a lesser extent. Oakland still hasn’t made the call as to who will start Game 5. The candidates are veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon and young flamethrower Sonny Gray. While Colon lost Game 1 of the series, Gray matched zeroes with Verlander and went eight scoreless on Saturday night in Oakland in a dominant effort. Either way, Game 5 against the Tigers knocks out at least one of those pitchers, maybe even more depending on what happens in Game 5.
Of course, none of this truly means anything when the first pitch is thrown Saturday, no matter who’s standing in the batter’s box. Baseball has a way of making sure these things don’t really matter. But if you wanted to be in anyone’s position right now, you have to like how things are shaking out for the Red Sox.