When it comes to the postseason, there’s an old adage. Good pitching stops good hitting. The 2013 Boston Red Sox are putting that axiom to the test.
One would have to search far and wide to find a threesome that compares to the Detroit Tigers top three starters. ERA champion Anibal Sanchez, 21-game winner Max Scherzer, and superstar Justin Verlander have been practically unhittable in the first three games of the ALCS, yet the Red Sox have built a two games to one lead.
Detroit’s starters have allowed a total of six hits and two runs in 21 innings pitched. All three have carried no-hitters deep into the game, yet the Red Sox have still managed to come out on top in two of the three contests. Even though the Boston offense hasn’t been firing on all cylinders, the Sox have battled and shown enough plate discipline to force Jim Leyland to go to his bullpen earlier than he would have liked.
Yes, the Sox struck out seventeen times and only managed one hit in Saturday’s Game 1 loss, but Sanchez was out of the game after six innings due to a high pitch count. It isn’t often that you see a pitcher who hasn’t allowed a hit taken out that early. But Sanchez had walked six and thrown a total of 116 pitches. That is, in part, a testament to the patience of the Boston hitters.
That’s the beauty of the Red Sox offense. They make pitchers work hard. Max Scherzer left Game 2 with a 5-1 lead after seven innings and 108 pitches. Leyland then proceeded to play bullpen Russian roulette and eventually got burned. An eighth inning grand slam by David Ortiz tied the game and the Sox went on to win with another run in the ninth off Rick Porcello.
Leyland’s decision to bring in his closer (instead of lefty Phil Coke) to face Big Papi with the bases loaded brought out all of the second guessers. Leyland later explained that Coke hadn’t pitched in a long time and bringing him into that situation wasn’t an option. If that’s the case, then why is Coke on the playoff roster? Is Leyland saving him for a mop-up opportunity? The answer: No.
Coke was brought in to face Ortiz in the ninth inning of Game 3. He got Big Papi to ground out but it was too late. The Sox would prevail by a score of 1-0 thanks to a seventh inning homer by Mike Napoli. Once again Detroit’s starting pitching was excellent. Verlander struck out the side in the second and third innings and took a no-hitter into the fifth. Justin struck out ten Red Sox in the game but was pulled after eight innings, having thrown 120 pitches.
Before the series started I was convinced that the Sox offense would be too much for Detroit to overcome. Entering the eighth inning of Game 2 — I was starting to seriously doubt that line of thinking. And then, the series quickly turned around. Boston came through in the clutch, like they have done all season long.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle has been the performance of the Red Sox pitchers. Jon Lester and John Lackey basically matched the efforts of their Detroit counterparts and the bullpen has also been solid.
The Tigers also have an excellent lineup. Their middle of the order is as good as any in the game, but the Sox are stronger from top to bottom. Opposing pitchers just don’t get a chance to catch their breath. The winners of the NLCS (I’m pretty sure it will be the Cardinals) will have to hope that having the pitchers bat in the N.L. ballpark will slow down the Sox enough to make the World Series competitive.