LCS previews: Red Sox at Tigers, Game 3; Cardinals at Dodgers, Game 4
Red Sox at Tigers
Start time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Series: tied 1-1
Starting pitchers: John Lackey (1-0, 6.75 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
The Red Sox’ comeback in the final two innings of Game 2 may have represented a major shift in the momentum of the ALCS, but as former Orioles manager Earl Weaver famously said, “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” With an off-day on Monday and the series moving to Detroit, where the Tigers will send Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 3, one could argue that the momentum in this series is actually on Detroit’s side. By splitting the first two games in Boston, the Tigers have made this a best-of-five series with the first three games in Detroit, two of them to be pitched by Verlander and Anibal Sanchez.
Verlander enters this game with an active 28-inning scoreless streak, during which he has struck out 43 men (13.8 per nine innings to go with a 7.17 strikeout to walk ratio) and posted a 0.75 WHIP. Verlander hasn’t even allowed an extra-base hit in his last three starts.
Verlander’s lone start against the Red Sox this season wasn’t impressive, but that came back in June, and he wasn’t the same pitcher then. Per Brooks Baseball, Verlander’s average fastball in June was 93.68 miles per hour. In October, it has been 95.39. Through the end of June, he had walked 3.3 men per nine innings on the season. Since the beginning of August, he has walked just 2.1 per nine. As I wrote before his Game 5 start against Oakland in the Division Series, Verlander has reverted to his Cy Young form. All he did in that Game 5 start was take a no-hitter into the eighth inning and strike out 10 men over eight scoreless innings while allowing just three baserunners.
Despite their Game 2 comeback, the Red Sox are still hitting .136/.261/.220 as a team in this series, and Dustin Pedroia is the only man on their roster with more than one hit. Pedroia has two, which is one more hit than he has compiled in 18 career at-bats against Verlander. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli have good career numbers against Verlander, but the rest of Boston’s roster has hit a combined .116/.192/.147 against him in 107 career plate appearances, with Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp still looking for their first career hit against him. That doesn’t guarantee that Ortiz is going to get pitched around, but with their lesson learned in Game 2 after his historic grand slam, the Tigers will do everything they can to make sure Ortiz doesn’t get anything good to hit if he comes up in a big spot in this game.
There’s no guarantee that Ortiz will get that opportunity. John Lackey, in sharp contrast to Verlander, has seen his performance slip since the All-Star break, going 3-7 with a 4.35 ERA over his final 13 regular season starts and posting a 5.57 ERA over his last five starts, including a shaky performance in the Division Series against the Rays. Lackey did, however, turn in very similar quality starts in his two outings against the Tigers this season (both 7 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 5 K) allowing just two runs at Comerica Park in June and three at Fenway Park in early September. Detroit’s roster as a whole, however, has hit .303/.354/.436 against him in his career.
Cardinals at Dodgers
Start time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Cardinals lead 2-1
Starting pitchers: Lance Lynn (1-1, 7.11 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (regular season: 13-11, 3.70 ERA)
In the first three games of this series, starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals combined to average seven innings per start while posting a 1.71 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 10.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Their teams have gone a combined 0-3 in those games and Kershaw, who didn’t allow an earned run, and Wainwright, who only allowed two, were both saddled with the loss. ”Win behind your ace,” is clearly not a workable strategy in this series. So it will be interesting to see what happens in Game 4, when neither team has a front-of-the-rotation arm on the mound.
Lance Lynn was lit up by the Pirates in Game 2 of the Division Series, but picked up a win in Game 1 of this series by pitching two scoreless innings of relief in extra-innings. Lynn’s only start against Los Angeles this season saw him throw six dominant innings at Dodger Stadium back in May (2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K). He finished the season strong against weak competition (1.09 ERA in his last four regular season starts), but in the five starts before that, four of which came against playoff teams, he went 0-4 with a 7.57 ERA.
Nolasco hasn’t pitched since a three-batter relief appearance on Sept. 29, 16 days ago, and his last start (and penultimate appearance) came back on Sept. 25, when he was lit up by the Giants. In his final three starts of the regular season, Nolasco gave up 19 runs — 17 earned — in 12 innings, going 0-2 with a 12.75 ERA over those three starts. Prior to that, however, he had gone 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in his first dozen starts for the Dodgers, who acquired him from Miami in early July. The real Nolasco lies in between those two performances, but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not the long layoff has left him rested or rusty.
Nolasco’s intended start in Game 4 of the Division Series against the Braves was skipped in part because Nolasco matched up so poorly with Atlanta (6-10, 5.11 ERA career overall, with Braves catcher Brian McCann boasting video-game numbers against him). The Cardinals are a better match. His career ERA against St. Louis is a respectable 3.84 and in four starts against the Cards over the last two seasons, he has gone 3-0 and allowed just one earned run in 24 2/3 innings. Even if you factor in his five unearned runs in those starts, he winds up with a handsome 2.19 Run Average, and a 2.27 RA over his last five starts against St. Louis dating back to its championship season of 2011.
Still, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, David Freese and Carlos Beltran all have good-to-outstanding career numbers against Nolasco, and while Freese may be limited to pinch-hitting duty in this game after suffering a calf strain in Game 3, Daniel Descalso is 4-for-13 (.308) against Nolasco in his career.
Speaking of injuries, the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez, despite being diagnosed with a hairline fracture in the eighth rib on his left side, didn’t appear hindered by his injury in Game 3, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. Teammate Andre Ethier, however, did seem to be limited by his left ankle in the field and went 0-for-4 at the plate. Given that Ethier is 1-for-7 career against Lynn, the Dodgers might be better served by having a healthy Skip Schumaker (who has never faced his former teammate, Lynn) in centerfield for this game.
Though neither team has been able to win with its ace on the mound thus far in this series, this still remains a crucial game with Greinke and Kershaw scheduled to pitch the next two for L.A., and Wainwright set up for Game 7.