(The Motown portion of this year's ALCS is over, with the Sox and Tigers splitting Games 4 & 5. The Red Sox end up taking 2 of 3 in Detroit, and head back to Boston leading the ALCS 3 to 2, needing one more win to clinch the 12th American League pennant in team history.
First some musings about Game 4 and its aftermath:
* Jake Peavy did not bring his A game to the mound and had uncharacteristic command problems leading to 3 walks in the second inning. It was by far the worst performance by a Sox starter in this postseason. During the regular season, Peavy had averaged about one walk per four innings, which is made this outing so unexpected. As often happens in baseball a bushel of walks in one inning led to disaster in the form:
* An even more unexpected event of Dustin Pedroia booting a routine inning ending double play ball. Peavy had allowed one run and had two more on base, when he coaxed the ground ball from Jose Iglesias which would have ended the Tiger second with one run. The " error" ( Dustin got the force at second, but not at first, so it is not officially an error) allowed the second run to score. Then Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera drove in 3 more. One run becomes five and the Red Sox never recovered.
* Maybe with Peavy's rough outing, the Red Sox may not have won anyway. But the bullpen followed Peavy with 5 shutout innings from Workman, Doubront, Dempster, and Morales. In addition by games end the Red Sox outhit the Tigers 12 to 9.
It was the aftermath of Game Four which caught my attention however.
* The national media ( and the Boston media, too) spent the 24 hours or so following Game Four washing Jim Leyland's balls over his genius in shaking up his lineup. The two moves lauded the most were moving Austin Jackson from leadoff to 8th in the batting order. Then everyone else 8th to second moved up one spot, which led Miguel Cabrera to bat second. The sabermetric world went orgasmic, due to their more recent proclamations claiming your best hitter should always bat second.( instead of the old time baseball tradition of best hitter goes in the three hole). Yes Leyland's "new" lineup won Game Four, but moving your leadoff hitter( who is putrid at that job anyway) down to 8 and then keeping the next seven hitters in the exact same sequence is NOT a major lineup change. That would be like waking up some fine Saturday morning and deciding you would like to rearrange the books on your beautiful mahogany bookcase. You take the book on the far left and move it over seven spaces and leave all the other books IN THE EXACT SAME ORDER. For chrissakes that is not a major rearrangement and neither was Leyland's lineup. If the Tiger skipper wanted to make a ballsy lineup change, he should have put Prince Fielder down to the 7th spot, or benched him entirely.
* The other media driven frenzy on Thursday that fried my scrotum was the contention the Red Sox were "lucky" that they had not all ready been swept out of the ALCS by Detroit. " a compelling case could be made for Tigers sweep" wrote Dan Shaugnessey. The Red Sox were "lucky" to be 2-2 and not all ready out wrote Jackie MacMullan and others. The crux of their logic(?) was the Red Sox got a fluky grand slam to win Game Two and were lucky to be able to beat the chosen one, Justin Verlander , 1-0.
Shaugnessey's compelling case was basically take away Papi's blast and lose to Verlander ( like they should have, I guess) and the series would be over. In reality, you have two teams which swapped 1- 0 wins and the Tigers have outscored the Sox 12-9 in the other two, how is that not a even series after 4 games?
This may not be a "compelling" case but it is a damned realistic one. Try this: Game One ninth inning, Xander Bogaerts with a runner at second, two out, hits the ball square and drives a game winning home run( instead of hitting a monumental popup to end the game because he missed squaring the ball by a fraction of a fraction of an inch). Games Two and Three end just the way they did. Going into Game Four, the Sox, leading 3-0, bail Jake Peavy out of the second inning, with Pedroia and Drew turning a routine double play off the bat of Jose Iglesias. Farrell pulls Peavy early due to his lack of command, and gets shutout innings the rest of the way from his pen. The offense awakens with 12 hits and wins Game Four and sweeps the series. Why is that any less realistic??
One last question why is it luckier to come from a 5-1 8th inning deficit behind a grand slam ( and if the Tigers were so dominant, the slam only tied the game, why did not the Tigers win later anyway?), then it is to have the other team hand you the opportunity to score four more on walks and a miscue?
Onto some comments on a much happier Game Five
* First it was much harder than it needed to be for Boston. Four early runs and then several squanders to add more lead to nail biting victory. But a victory it was in a crucial game for Boston.
* Ever since Mike Napoli's seventh inning game winning homer off Verlander in Game Three, he has been on a tear. Two more hits in Game Four and three more including a mammoth 460 foot (or so)home run to dead center off Anibal Sanchez in Game Five. Napoli has a history of being streaky and also a history of coming up big in October. Both of these events seem to be occurring. Let's hope they continue for another week and a half or so.
* Jon Lester may not have been exactly ace like, but he out pitched Sanchez and was good enough. He did not make it out of the sixth, but that had as much to do with John Farrell's quick hook as any deficit in Lester's game.
* Farrell finally made a move to get Xander Bogaerts into the lineup. After Bogaerts doubled to deep right ( just missing a home run) off Tiger closer Joaquin Benoit in Game Four, replacing the slumping (once again) Will Middlebrooks with Xander was a no brainer. Bogaerts immediately paid dividends by chipping in with a double down the left field line to contribute to a three run second inning. Later in the game Bogaerts started a sharp 5-4-3 double play an walked to lead off the ninth. Do not expect to see Bogarts removed from the starting lineup until around 2030 ( allowing for a day of rest once in a while, some year in the future). But do not plan on seeing Xander start at shortstop in this post season. Despite not hitting at all, Stephen Drew's defense is too important right now at shortstop.
* The bullpen. My God, the bullpen. Before the post season began there was concern it may be " My God the bullpen" said in anguish. Instead it has been in reverence. And by now the world knows how nearly unhittable Koji Uehara is, and thank goodness the Red Sox have such weapon. But it is not just Koji. The late game bridge has been Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa, and both have also been brilliant( well, we all ready knew that Breslow was brilliant). The big three at the end of games have pitched 18 2/3 innings in the entire post season and have allowed two runs( one of those the fluky Jose Lobaton home run). The entire bullpen has pitched 17 innings versus Detroit and have allowed one run. In Game Two Brandon Workman and Felix Doubront combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to keep Boston in the game to set up David Ortiz's grand slam. And what may have been the first step in winning Game Five, Workman and Doubront along with Ryan Dempster and Franklin Morales saved the big three's arms by finishing game Four with five shut out innings ( as mentioned above.)
A quick thought or two about going home to end the series.
* Clay Buchholz needs to be the man in Game Six and bring the pennant home. But if Clay staggers at all, Farrell needs to go to the bullpen early ( and often if need be) because of the bullpen performance outlined above. The Red Sox need to throw the kitchen sink at Detroit in Game Six and avoid any chance of Justin Verlander spinning more deciding game magic. But the Sox are not the Oakland As and if need be the Sox will go seven to win.
* One last note about the Sox offense which is hitting only .206 versus the Tigers. They have shown some signs of life in Games Four and Five. But this is another encouraging nugget. In five road postseason games this year the Sox have scored 15 runs...3 per game ( and not more than 4 in any one game.) But in four home playoff games, the Red Sox have plated 25 runs ...6.25 per game....more than twice as much as road games. In case you think the home games have somehow been easier the four opposing starting pitchers in those four home games were Matt Moore ( 17-4), David Price ( '12 Cy winner), Anibal Sanchez ( '13 AL ERA champ), and Max Scherzer ( presumptive '13 Cy winner). And in only one of those games has Boston scored less than six runs.
* Not only should the offense produce more at Fenway, but the crowd has the opportunity to rally the troops and intimidate the Tigers. The Fenway Faithful needs to be the tenth man.
* One win from the Pennant. GO Sox!