The ancient baseball adage says “great pitching beats great hitting” and there was no better example of that than Game 1 of the ALCS where the mighty Tigers were lucky to eke out the lone run of the game while the powerful and usually timely Red Sox barely scratched the hits column. And that was with Anibal Sanchez and Jon Lester on the hill. Tonight’s Game 2 pits the two best pitchers, on paper, that the AL’s top two teams had to offer in 2013.
One of the favorites for the AL Cy Young Award this season, Tigers starter Max Scherzer was 21-3 this season with an ERA of 2.90, allowing 6.4 hits per nine innings while placing second in the big leagues in strikeouts per nine innings at 10.1. He also ranked seventh among all AL players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), at 6.7, meaning he was personally responsible for nearly seven more wins than a replacement-level starting pitcher would’ve provided.
However, one of Scherzer’s three losses came at Fenway Park in September when in seven innings he allowed but two earned runs on a two-out, two-run Will Middlebrooks yet was out-pitched by Lester and the Sox pen. In fact he’s just 1-2 lifetime at Fenway, including losses there in each of his last two starts.
Three of the Red Sox have been especially troublesome for Scherzer throughout his career. David Ortiz has gone deep thrice against him and is batting a robust .467 with a 1.689 OPS against him, the fourth best OPS among all players who’ve faced him at least 10 times. Jacoby Ellsbury has reached base eight of the 12 times he’s faced Scherzer, and with the Tigers catchers permitting a major-league-high 86.5% of opposing base stealers to make it safely, it’s a situation to keep an eye on. Despite being 0 for 3 against Scherzer this season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will be back behind the dish after yielding to David Ross in Game 1. He has touched up Scherzer for five hits, including a home run in in 12 career meetings.
The Red Sox will rely on Clay Buchholz, who for the second time in a row is entering the record books in a playoff matchup. His 12-1 record combined with Scherzer’s 21-3 mark makes this the greatest matchup in terms of regular season winning percentage in big league history (.891). He missed the Tigers completely this season, spending a large chunk of time on the DL, but has faced Jim Leyland’s squad eight times. In the four games that took place at Fenway Park, Buchholz has been lights-out, pitching 30 innings, (two games of seven innings, two of eight) with a 1.20 ERA, .167 batting average on balls in play, 0.87 WHIP and .152 overall batting average.
Of all of the power bats the Tigers feature only Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks have ever taken Buchholz deep, each touching him up once in their career. And the heart of that powerful order, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez have been meek at best against Buchholz, going t6 for 33 (.182) against Buchholz with just three runs batted in. Proving once again that great pitching beats great hitting.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.