The Red Sox and Detroit Tigers had never met in the playoffs before facing off in last season’s American League Championship Series. It was a memorable victory for Boston, to say the least.
Detroit was a slight series favorite and won the opening game 1-0 at Fenway Park behind a brilliant outing from Anibal Sanchez — Boston’s lone hit came with one out in the ninth inning — to steal home-field advantage from the Sox.
The Tigers looked to be in great shape to take a commanding 2-0 series lead when they took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 2. Detroit’s bullpen was an issue all last season, however, and it was again in that inning. David Ortiz hit one of the most memorable playoff home runs ever for the Red Sox, launching a grand slam to tie the score at 5-5. Boston won it in the ninth and went on to take the series in six.
While the Sox have played inconsistent baseball to start this season and have fallen to 14-1 on baseball odds at Bovada to win a second straight World Series, the Tigers have the biggest division lead in baseball and look like perhaps the American League’s top team. They have taken up the mantle as the World Series betting favorite at 13-2, just ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers (15-2).
The Tigers — under first-year manger Brad Ausmus, a Connecticut native who was a candidate for Boston’s managerial job in 2012 — make their only trip to Fenway this regular season for a three-game set starting Friday (the games on Saturday and Sunday will feature live betting).
As expected with a lineup built around two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers have one of the better offenses in baseball. That’s with Cabrera putting up disappointing numbers thus far, although he does lead the team in RBIs. Former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez is having a big season as the Tigers’ designated hitter and is among the AL batting leaders. Detroit surprisingly traded slugger Prince Fielder to Texas this offseason for second baseman Ian Kinsler, and that has been a wise trade deal far. Kinsler is hitting over .300 and leads the team in hits while Fielder is scuffling.
The Detroit pitching staff ranks second in the AL in ERA after finishing third a season ago. The Tigers have perhaps the best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball in reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. The Sox will miss Verlander, but Scherzer is scheduled to start Friday’s opener. He turned down a six-year, $144 million extension this offseason, and so far so good: Scherzer is 5-1 with a 2.04 ERA. Might the Sox make a bid for him this winter?
Scherzer pitched well in both ALCS starts in Boston, but the Tigers lost both, including the clinching Game 6. Ortiz owns Scherzer, batting .467 with three home runs and six RBIs in 15 regular-season at-bats. Detroit is scheduled to start Rick Porcello (6-1, 3.22) on Saturday and Sanchez (0-2, 3.13) on Sunday if Sanchez (injured finger) is ready to come off the disabled list.
The Tigers are 13-4 to win the AL pennant, and the Red Sox fourth at 15-2.