Boston game away from 2004 World Series rematch

The St. Louis Cardinals await. But who?

With a crucial Game 5 victory in Detroit, the Red Sox now have two shots at a World Series berth. Both shots will be taken at home in Fenway Park.

Normally, that would make me feel all warm inside. Just win one game, right? Much easier said than done with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander standing in your way. Scherzer a near lock for the Cy Young, Verlander a former MVP.

Clay Buchholz takes the mound for Boston in the first of the final two chances. His first outing of the series didn’t go as planned, giving up five runs over 5 2/3 innings. Scherzer, on the other hand, was dominant, giving up just one run on two hits over 7 innings, fanning 13. Boston’s offense looked inept trying to even make contact with his pitches. Papi would bail out Buchholz with a grand slam and eventually get Boston the win, but had he not, we would be singing a very different tune right now.

I’m not going to take the Belichick “one game at a time” approach here, because there is a serious threat to Boston’s World Series hopes waiting for them in a potential Game 7 in Justin Verlander, who made just one mistake in his first outing of the series that lead to a Napoli homer. Opposite him, Lackey had to muster one of the best performances of his career for Boston to hold on. Verlander may have had a sub-par regular season by his standards, but his stuff is the best in the game when it matters most.

In total, the Red Sox are hitting a miserable 6-50 (.120 BA), 2B, HR, 23K vs. Verlander and Scherzer. It’s tough to believe they will keep that pace up, but it’s also tough to believe either of these guys will implode with a chance to fight for their season.

So what does that mean? It means Boston’s improved offense over the past two games has to continue back at home. Seeing a pitcher for the second time around will certainly help that, but the same can be said for Detroit’s hitting as well. There are some key players to keep an eye on that need to have big games if Detroit wants to force a decisive Game 7.

  • Austin Jackson, since being moved to 8th in the lineup, is now 4-6 with 2 BB. His performance was crucial in Detroit’s Game 4 victory, reaching base four times. Leyland’s move seems genius, especially if Jackson can continue to get on base.
  • Miguel Cabrera is clearly still bothered by injuries, and was the key factor in the Tigers’ Game 5 loss. He’s making errors in the field, he’s making errors running the bases, and he’s hitting just .222 in the series. He’s likely to win his 2nd consecutive MVP award, but he certainly isn’t playing like one. However, injured and slumping, he’s still the most dangerous hitter in the game. Continue to make mistakes against this guy, and he’ll make you pay.
  • Prince Fielder has been nothing close to royalty this series, struggling mightily. So much so he was booed by his home crowd. Boston’s defensive shift has been a huge factor in shutting down Fielder, coupled with effective pitching against him. If he can’t figure out a way to hit to the opposite field, Detroit is going to have a difficult time scoring runs when he’s at the plate.

Detroit has big guns both in their lineup and on the mound. Their issue thus far has been getting both to click in the same game on a consistent basis. If the Red Sox want a shot at the World Series, they have to get to Scherzer, and get to Scherzer early. Boston’s offense has a knack for scoring in chunks. Nine times in the playoffs Boston has scored two or more runs in an inning. If the Red Sox can compile an inning where they put up a few runs and force Detroit to play from behind, that can put a tremendous amount of pressure on both Scherzer and their offense. In a win-or-go-home situation, falling behind early on the road can spell disaster.

I don’t love Boston in either game, but I certainly will give the edge to them in Game 6.  Relying on John Lackey to beat Justin Verlander again head-to-head in a Game 7 for a shot at the World Series scares the daylights out of me. A quality trait about Buchholz is he never implodes; the five earned runs he gave up in his last outing were the most all season, and Boston still was able to escape with the victory. Expect him to have a solid performance with Boston’s offense continuing to stay solid.

If not, pray.

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