Series Preview – Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox
The Tigers and Red Sox are meeting for the second time this season. After opening the year at Comerica Park (which ended with a sweep out of Detroit for Boston), it’s time to take the season series to Fenway. Round Two begins with a Memorial Day afternoon bash that is sure to excite and amaze everyone. Can the Sox find redemption after that sweep? Can the Tigers’ offense finally get on track for the summer ahead? Will there be chicken and beer delivered in the dugout? All of these questions and more will be answered, as the four-game series between the Tigers and Red Sox opens this week.
Monday – 5/28/12
Doug Fister vs. Felix Doubront
Fister has gotten off to a bad start this season. Not that he’s pitched bad. On the contrary, he’s pitching amazingly well, which is exactly what he’s always done. No, the badness has come from the abysmal run support that the Tigers have put up behind him. Deep down, I have no doubt that Fister wanted to leave the lack of run support in Seattle, where it belongs. But the Tigers have been off to a pretty iffy start this season, and it’s shown when outstanding pitching performances are wasted with 10 men left on base. Those same woes have shown themselves in Fister’s career numbers versus the Red Sox. He’s only 1-2, but he has a 2.89 ERA and 19 strikeouts. So he’s making the pitches, just not getting the results for them. Which is a shame, because no one on the current Boston roster has really had much in the way of success against Doug.
On the other side of the game, Felix Doubront has never faced the Tigers before. Even though this is his third season in the majors, the Red Sox have faced the Tigers when he wasn’t pitching. Therefore, there’s no data for him against Detroit. Expect the Tigers to make the game easy for him, and possibly see a no-hitter. Despite Boston’s less-than-stellar season thus far, Doubront is putting together decent numbers. 4-2 with a 3.96 ERA is definitely respectable for a more-or-less rookie starter.
Tuesday – 5/29/12
Justin Verlander vs. Daniel Bard
His last start was heartbreaking. But he’s only human, so a loss was bound to come on eventually. Too bad it happened in a one-run game, in which he still pitched eight strong innings. It’s just more evidence as to how unbelievably disappointing the Detroit offense has been lately. But J.V. is still the man, and he’s still a contender for another Cy Young award in 2012. After all, it’s hard to get much better than a 2.15 ERA, especially now that teams are starting to find their grooves. I guess that’s just what happens when you’re the best of the best. His numbers against the Red Sox have been outstanding too. At 3-2, with a 2.78 ERA, he’s managed to pitch well against one of the heaviest-hitting teams in baseball. He hasn’t won at Fenway since 2009, but with the way he’s been pitching (again) this year, it’s not hard to imagine that that streak will be broken in this game. What’s better is that the biggest bats in the Boston lineup (Ortiz, Gonzalez, Pedroia) have pathetic numbers against him. Dustin Pedroia, in fact, has never had a hit against Verlander in 10 at-bats.
Bard, like the rest of the Boston starting rotation, is off to a less-than-stellar start. His ERA is over four and a half, and his win-loss record would not suggest in any way that the Red Sox are actually sitting at .500 (albeit, last place in the A.L. East). In just six innings of work against the Tigers, Bard has an ERA of 3.00, and a win to go along with that good start. To add to that is the fact that no one in the Tigers’ offense has any success against him. Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch both have one hit, but otherwise there are a lot of zeros.
Wednesday – 5/30/12
Drew Smyly vs. Jon Lester
Teams are finally starting to see what Smyly can do, and that means they’re hitting him better. He’s given up 11 earned runs in his last three starts, compared to six earned runs in the six starts preceding that. What’s worse is that after a string of five games where he went at least six innings, Smyly has only managed five innings or fewer in the last three starts. So don’t let the 2-1 record and 3.14 ERA deceive you – he’s struggling somewhat right now. Could these recent starts be an indication of how Smyly will actually pitch for the remainder of the season? Possibly, but the more experience he gets, the better he’ll become as a pitcher. I think how he adapts (if at all) after the All-Star break will truly tell what kind of pitcher he’s likely to become. By that time, he’ll have faced a fair number of teams, others will have had a chance to see video, and Smyly will have to make the adjustments necessary to stay in the majors for years to come.
Despite being the undisputed ace of the Boston staff, and one of the elite pitchers in baseball, Jon Lester is struggling this season, and has struggled in his career against the Tigers. He may not see them much, but when he has Lester has ended up at 0-2 with a 4.62 ERA. He dueled Justin Verlander on Opening Day, and managed to end the day with a no-decision after the explosion in the ninth inning by Jose Valverde. With any luck, he’ll be able to tackle the rookie admirably for his club.
Thursday – 5/31/12
Max Scherzer vs. Josh Beckett
Max has been so hit-or-miss with his performances this season that it’s scary. He’s been much more consistent lately, but he still gives up too many earned runs on home runs in any give start. His pitching performance against Pittsburgh two weekends ago was unbelievable. 15 strikeouts is an incredible feat for one pitcher in a game. But when you give up two earned runs on long balls, and are in line for a loss until the seventh inning, something’s wrong. Yes, he’s a contact pitcher, and fly ball pitcher at that. But prolonged success is about how you adapt to the situations you find yourself in. If you give up too many home runs, and put your team at a disadvantage early in games, then ask whomever you possibly can to help you become less of one. That’s also the only way that Max will ever move out of the middle as an above average pitcher to a great pitcher. You can see it in his eyes every time he takes the mound. Max Scherzer wants to be an elite pitcher. He just hasn’t turned that corner, and he never will unless he can figure out how to keep more balls in the park.
Unlike Lester, Beckett wasn’t the recipient of late run support during that Opening Weekend this season. The Tigers tapped him for seven earned runs before the end of the fifth inning. His season numbers have decreased significantly since that terrible outing, but he’s still not back to the great pitching that he’s capable of. With a 4-4 record and 4.15 ERA, Beckett isn’t exactly showing the world what he’s about.
Game 1: Tigers
Game 2: Tigers
Game 3: Red Sox
Game 4: Tigers
Final: Tigers win series 3-1
It’s too hard to bet against Fister and Verlander. Add that to the fact they’re pitching against unproven starters, and Boston’s struggles so far, and the Tigers have a great chance to take the first two games of this series. Smyly has been good so far, but Jon Lester is still one of the best, and I think he can handle the rookie at home. The fourth game is probably the biggest coin toss in this series. But given the way the Tigers handled Beckett the first time they saw him (and considering Scherzer’s recent run of successes), I think the Tigers can eke out the win in this game.
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