The euphoria that swept through New England following the Red Sox implausible come-from-behind victory on Sunday night completely overshadowed the dominance of the Tigers starting duo of Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer over the Red Sox. The two combined to pitch 13 innings, allowing just two hits and one run while striking out a staggering 25 Sox batters. Yet with all of that success Detroit starters had in Games 1 & 2, Jim Leyland gets to trot out the AL’s hottest pitcher, Justin Verlander, for Game 3 at Comerica Park.
Since he walked onto the Target Field mound in Minneapolis to face the Twins on September 23, Verlander has been unscored upon, a span of four appearances. In those 27 innings, he’s given up just 15 hits and six walks for a tidy 0.78 baserunners per nine innings. His 43 strikeouts in those starts equates to 14.33 per nine innings. In his last two outings, both against the A’s in the ALDS, Verlander has been even closer to perfect, pitching 15 innings with six hits and two walks allowed and a 1-0 record. However in light of all of that incredible pitching there’s the good news for the Red Sox: the Tigers are but 1-3 in those games.
If anyone can understand the feeling of pitching well yet coming up empty it’s John Farrell’s choice to take the ball in Game 3, John Lackey. In six of his 29 regular season starts (20.6%) the Red Sox failed to push a single run across home plate. Lackey won just 11 of 24 decisions despite amassing 19 quality starts. Only Cole Hamels and Chris Sale lost more quality starts than Lackey in 2013. However as of late, his fortune has changed. The big Texan has surrendered at least four earned runs in four of his last five starts, but is 3-0 over that span.
Verlander had his run in with quality starts as well during the regular season too. The Tigers lost 11 games in which the fireballing righty pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or less, the most in the American League. Personally he was 5-2 when allowing two-or-fewer runs over seven or more innings. That’s somewhat startling when you notice that the combined efforts of Verlander’s rotation-mates, Sanchez, Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello produced a record of 32-2 in the same situation.
Fittingly, both of Lackey’s games against Detroit while wearing the red “B” resulted in quality starts— three runs allowed in seven innings on June 20 & two runs allowed in 7 ⅓ innings on September 2—and the Red Sox were 0-2. It wasn’t always that way. The Angels won seven of Lackey’s first eight career starts against the Tigers but fortunes have gone south for him since. He hasn’t pitched in a winning effort against Detroit since 2007 when the Tigers lineup featured Gary Sheffield, Pudge Rodriguez and Sean Casey.
Through his career against Boston, Verlander has had mixed success, surrendering a high of five earned runs in three of his 11 starts, matching the number of times he allowed none. In this season’s only game vs. the Sox, Greg Colbrunn’s hitters made Verlander work hard, forcing him to throw 112 pitches in just five innings. While Detroit won that game 7-5, the strategy of making him beat you with strikes should get the Sox back where they want to be—in Detroit’s bullpen.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.