The Detroit Tigers, behind some shifty managerial work from Jim Leyland, blasted the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night and tied up their best of seven ALCS at two games apiece. The victory, which seemed more like a celebration of the offense’s great awakening, helped rip control of the series away from the Red Sox and has set the stage for what should be an exciting conclusion to an already riveting series.
As mentioned, Jim Leyland decided to make some changes prior to yesterday’s game four. With his offense struggling, particularly his lead off hitter, Austin Jackson, Leyland decided to shuffle his lineup. Rather than remove Jackson from the lineup all together, he was bumped down to eighth. Meanwhile, the rest of the Tigers’ regular 2 through 8 lineup simply move up one spot. This was an interesting approach for Leyland to take, especially since it meant putting Miguel Cabrera into the two spot. But hey, you can’t argue with results, right?
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the move is hat it did for Jackson. He has clearly been uncomfortable at the plate all offseason and had shown no signs of finding his stroke anytime soon. It could have been just as easy to remove him from the lineup all together, but Leyland decided not to completely kill the confidence of his young center fielder. With less pressure, Jackson delivered with two clutch hits and two runs batted in.If he can keep this going, Jackson gives the Tigers yet another dangerous weapon for the Red Sox to contend with.
Unsung Hero: While the offense is getting all of the praise today after scoring seven runs in the first four innings, major credit should also go to Detroit’s starter, Doug Fister. All Fister did was pitch six innings of shutout baseball. He struck out seven Red Sox on the evening and kept them completely off-balance at the dish. Think about how demoralizing it could have been for the Tigers and their fans had they scored all of those runs and still found a way to lose because Fister wasn’t quite right. The lanky right hander deserves more credit than he is getting this morning.
Key Moment: Austin Jackson’s at bat in the bottom of the second inning was huge. After Omar Infante flied out, it was beginning to seem as if the Tigers could squander a chance to open the flood gates. After all, Jackson had been struggling to even put the ball in play and light hitting short stop Jose Iglesias was behind him. Luckily for the Tigers, Jackson drew the bases loaded walk to push a run across the plate. This was crucial because it pried open the flood gates ever so slightly but also set the stage for Jackson’s breakout.
Who’s Starting Game 5: The Tigers will send their game one starter, Anibal Sanchez, to the mound. If you recall, Sanchez dominated the Red Sox in Boston. He pitched six innings and didn’t allow a hit while also striking out 12. It seems unlikely that Sanchez could replicate that type of performance, especially against a lineup as good as Boston’s, but at this point nothing should come as a surprise. Sanchez has proven himself to be an excellent pitcher with a great arsenal of pitches. There is also less pressure on him in this game than you might realize. Even is Sanchez struggles, he has Max Scherzer following him in game six and Justin Verlander if there is a game seven.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox will also send their game one starter, Jon Lester, to the mound. Lester also pitched well in game one, but unlike Sanchez, he got absolutely no support from his offense. He’s a tough as nails pitcher who has shown in the past that he can turn it on in big game situations. They don’t come much bigger than this. If Lester can will the Red Sox to victory tonight, then they go back to Boston with two chances to close out the ALCS.
X-Factor: We’re starting to get to the point where managerial decisions are making a significant impact on the outcomes of these games. We saw it first hand in game four. Jim Leyland’s move to put Austin Jackson in the eight spot sparked the Tigers offense and helped lead to a seven run outburst. Now it is John Farrell‘s turn to make a move. How he responds in tonight’s game could have a tremendous impact on whether or not the Red Sox go back to Boston on the verge of elimination. That is why he is tonight’s x-factor. Can he push all the right buttons and make the right moves? We’ll have to wait and see.
Prediction: It is painfully obvious from my previous predictions that I don’t have a good feel for this series at all. It has been very unpredictable and I’ve been wrong almost every step of the way. So, with that in mind, I will say that the Tigers take game five. Boston will lead most of the way, but the Tiger offense will piece together a few big hits in the late innings to edge the Red Sox by a score of 5-4.