On Saturday night, two longtime rivals who’ve never played each other in the postseason try to equal the thrills of the Division Series.
The Boston Red Sox, who beat Tampa Bay in four games, host the Detroit Tigers, who outlasted Oakland in five.
Detroit won four of seven during the season, but perhaps only the last meeting stands out. On Sept. 4, the Red Sox beat the Tigers 20-4.
Boston was baseball’s most consistent team. They had no losing streak longer than three games, with three of their five mini-streaks coming in May.
Detroit had two four-game losing streak, but also reeled off 12 in a row in late July and early August.
The Tigers never trailed after early July and though they won the AL Central by just a game, they coasted in the final week while Cleveland, who finished second, needed those games badly.
It always seems that Detroit should win more consistently than it does. Their five starters: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello were a combined 75-40.
They have the game’s best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder to go with them. The rest of the lineup features lots of potent hitters: Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson, Victor Martinez, Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta.
The bullpen was a weakness, but Joaquin Benoit, who wasn’t anointed as the closer until early June, saved his first 22 before blowing two of his final four opportunities.
Verlander had a subpar season for him, going 13-12, but his series clinching win in Game 5 over Oakland was special. He took a no-hitter into the seventh, and allowed just two hits in eight innings.
Cabrera, who’d been slowed by injuries, hit a long home run in the Game 5 win, too.
Verlander is only 3-4 in 11 starts against the Red Sox. Scherzer, who was 21-3 this season is 2-4 with a 7.02 ERA when facing Boston.
The Tigers have been a bit of an enigma to many baseball observers over the past few years. They have enormous talent, enough to run away with the division, but play just well enough to win.
Last year, Detroit also struggled with Oakland in five games before steamrolling the New York Yankees in four straight in the LCS. As heavy favorites in the World Series, they were swept by the San Francisco Giants in four games in the World Series.
Playing in arguably the most economically depressed baseball market in America, the Tigers have spent lavishly. Three players, Cabrera, Fielder and Verlander, make over $20 million annually. Two others, Hunter and Martinez get over $10 million. The total payroll exceeds $150 million.
Boston has a payroll that’s even larger, about $176 million. Eight players make between $10 and $15.25 million: Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Jake Peavy and John Lackey.
The Red Sox led the AL East nearly all season and didn’t trail in the last two months. Tied for the lead with Tampa Bay on Aug. 24, they quickly pulled away and led by 9 ½ on Sept. 11.
After the famous collapse of 2011 and the debacle of 2012, even Boston management didn’t expect a league best 97 wins this year, but manager John Farrell, who will receive many Manager of the Year votes gets lots of credit for pulling the team together.
It’s the first postseason for Farrell as a manager, but as Terry Francona’s pitching coach, he saw lots of success. After two years as Toronto’s manager, he returned to Boston and did a fine job.
Jim Leyland is the most admired manager among his peers. In his eighth season in Detroit, this is his fourth postseason appearance. He was Pittsburgh’s manager the last time it was in the LCS and won his only World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
Meanwhile in the National League, the first game of its LCS Series took nearly five hours and ended after 1:30 a.m. on the East Coast.
The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in 13 innings.
After four outstanding Division Series, the taut Cardinals-Dodgers game was a sign that the NLCS will be a competitive one.
The Red Sox have home field advantage over the Tigers. Anibal Sanchez, who starts on Saturday for Detroit, has never pitched at Fenway Park and allowed seven runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings in his only appearance against Boston.
Cabrera is 10-for-19 against Lester, the Red Sox Game 1 starter. Torii Hunter is 13-for-30.
It should be a compelling series. After all, that’s what we’ve seen so far this postseason.