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ALCS Preview: Simply (not?) the best

Well, this is as it should be. Or at least, as we’ve expected once we came to realize the Red Sox were actually really, really good, and not just a rebounding team that would have a nice flirtation with playoff relevance. (Goog note: This only happened around the fourth inning of game two of the last series.) With due respect to Oakland and Tampa Bay, I believe these are actually the two best clubs in the American League (and probably in baseball), not just winners of the random tiny sampling that is the postseason.

Which is bad news for Boston.

Regular season records and run differential disagree, but I have to feel Detroit is just the best. It’s practically the only thing I predicted correctly (Goog: Damn; I was beginning to think that everyone had just forgotten we actually made predictions this year.), but it’s been my feeling for most of the season, except that scorching hot streak the Sox went on during September. And in the sober light of many-off-days-for-the-sake-of-TV-scheduling… oh dear.

The Red Sox broke away from the pack offensively and ended the season decisively ahead of Detroit, but part of that is Boston’s deeper bench – the Tigers didn’t have any non-regulars matching the production of Jonny Gomes, let alone Mike Carp. And while depth is great fun and a credit to the team, its impact is lessened in a set of seven American League games. Just looking at the starting lineups, Detroit draws a bit closer to Boston.

Goog: I feel that it must be pointed out that another part of the reason is that time we beat them 20 to 4. I’m certainly not saying that that one game is predictive of how this series will go or anything, but…yeah. That helped.

Sportspun: And then we consider pitching. Justin Verlander reminded the world of just how much he can take control of a game with his domination of Oakland in the ALDS, and he’s not even the ace of his team! Presumptive Cy Young winner Max Scherzer will start Game Two, ensuring the Tigers a damn good chance of leaving Boston tied if the American League’s ERA leader* can’t beat Jon Lester. And then the Red Sox would face Verlander in Detroit.

* Goog: That’s “the American League’s ERA leader, who I said we should sign, but then we signed Ryan Dempster on the same day he signed with Detroit for a ridiculously reasonable contract.” For the record.

Sportspun: Do you see where I’m going with this?

I love the Red Sox. And the Red Sox are really, really good. They have a serious chance of getting some good at-bats and running up starters’ pitch counts to get into a less-than-elite bullpen. But “a serious chance” at a win or two isn’t what I’m going to base my predictions on. Instead, we’re looking at a strong probability the Tigers get enough good, bullpen-proof starts out of their four aces.

Goog: Did he just call Doug Fister an ace? We all saw that, right? I mean, Doug Fister’s good, but if he’s an ace then this series has at least seven aces.

Sportspun:  Unless you insist on power pitching being a prerequisite of “ace,” Fister’s got a solid case; you’ve called Zack Greinke the Dodgers’ second ace, and Fister’s at least that good. Fister was older when he came up and thus doesn’t have as long a track record, but their careers and 2013 numbers are comparable.

Anyway, ace or not, the Sox certainly have the talent to make things interesting in this series. Unfortunately, I think they’re up against the one team that is better than them. Tigers in six

Goog: All season long, I’ve been saying the Red Sox can’t do it. I’ve been saying they can’t make the playoffs, I’ve been saying they can’t win the division, I’ve been saying they can’t beat David Price. And I’ve been wrong. So now, I think they can do it. I don’t think they can beat Justin Verlander, but he is just one man, and he is going to make just one start. Red Sox in six.

Incidentally, six is also greater than the total innings pitched of Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront plus meaningful Mike Carp plate appearances in this series. But we certainly can’t find room on the roster for Jackie Bradley or Ryan Lavarnway.

Sportspun: This tactical misstep is probably just a footnote on my pessimism, but it seems exceedingly silly to take two long men and Franklin Morales. If you need all those arms, you’re losing the series anyway; if you need a pinch-runner or third catcher, you might just be using your bench aggressively. Again, I’m not sure the bench WILL matter much here, but… why not have the options instead of inning sponges?

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