ALCS Preview: Tigers at Red Sox, Game 6
Tigers at Red Sox
Start time: 8:07 p.m. ET
Series: Red Sox lead 3-2
Starting pitchers: Max Scherzer (2-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. Clay Buchholz (0-0, 6.17 ERA)
Of the 35 League Championship Series to go at least six games, 20 of them, including the just-completed NLCS, ended with Game 6. However, of the 15 to continue on to a seventh game, the team trailing entering Game 6 won ten of them. Put another way, the winner of Game 6 won 30 of those 35 series, so while it’s the Tigers who are facing elimination Saturday night, this is almost as important a game for the Red Sox. Indeed, Detroit is set up well for a comeback in this series with likely Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer on the mound in Game 6 and the rejuvenated Justin Verlander scheduled for the potential Game 7.
Scherzer has been remarkably consistent in his three starts against the Red Sox this season, as well as in his two playoff starts. With Game 2 of this series falling into both categories, that’s a combined total of four starts, each of which has seen Scherzer pitch exactly seven innings and three of which have seen him allow exactly two runs, the exception being Game 2 of this series in which he held the Red Sox to one run. In his two playoff starts combined, totalling 14 innings, Scherzer has allowed just three runs on five hits and four walks while striking out 24.
Of course, the Tigers lost Scherzer’s Game 2 due to the bullpen’s inability to protect a 5-1 lead for two innings. Concerns about the Detroit relief corps remain, though outside of Game 2, the Tigers’ pen has allowed just one run in ten innings with 12 strikeouts against just eight baserunners. Game 2 is pretty large exception, however, and such an exception is not needed for the Boston pen, which has allowed just one run in 20 innings in this series, led by closer Koji Uehara’s five scoreless, walk-less frames to go with seven strikeouts.
Given that bullpen disparity, all the Red Sox really need starter Clay Buchholz to do in Game 6 is match Scherzer for six innings, though even that would likely require his best outing of this postseason. Buchholz turned in a bare-minimum quality start in the division series, but was lit up for five runs in 5 2/3 innings in Game 2 of this series and hasn’t allowed fewer than three runs in any of his last four starts. That wouldn’t be as damning if he wasn’t facing off against Scherzer, but he is.
One key factor in this game will be the health of Tigers catcher Alex Avila. Avila had to come out of Game 5 after suffering a strained patellar tendon in his left knee on that regrettable homeplate collision with David Ross, putting his availability for Game 6 in doubt. Avila told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on Friday that he expected to play, but even if he is in the lineup, his ability to play the full game or to play at full strength will be in doubt. That’s significant not only because Avila is leading the Tigers in on-base percentage in this series, reaching base safely seven times in 16 plate appearances, but because he has by far the best career numbers against Buchholz of any man on the Tigers’ ALCS roster. Avila is 5-for-11 with three walks in his career against Buchholz, including a 2-for-3 performance with a home run and three RBIs in Game 2.
Overall, the bats have come alive for both teams over the last two games, with the two combining for 17 runs and 41 hits in Games 4 and 5. Mike Napoli, the only man on either team with multiple home runs in this series, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who has excellent career number against Scherzer, have led the Red Sox’s charge. Avila, Victor Martinez, and Jhonny Peralta have paced the Tigers, while Austin Jackson has gone 4-for-6 with a pair of walks since being dropped to the eighth spot in the order for Game 4. With the series returning to Fenway Park, we could see a very different game than a matchup of Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA during the regular season) and Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA) might suggest. That said, I expect Scherzer to give the Tigers more of a chance than fellow presumptive Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw gave the Dodgers in Friday night’s Game 6.