Series: 1-0, Detroit
Time/Place: 8:00 p.m., Fenway Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Media: FOX, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA) vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA)
Buchholz missed a significant portion of the 2013 season with a shoulder/neck injury (depending on which publication you read), and pitched just 108 1/3 innings during the regular season. When healthy, he was a force, allowing a 1.74 ERA, 2.78 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP. He was ahead of Max Scherzer's win pace before going on the disabled list, winning his first nine decisions by June 8th (Scherzer won his ninth on June 11th). He didn't make another start until September 10th, but closed out the season with a 1.88 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in his four September starts.
Buchholz is similar to Game 1 starter Jon Lester in that he throws a mix of three fastballs, along with a rare splitter. He has increased his fastball output from years past, throwing one of the three -- four-seamer, two-seamer, or cutter -- 72% of the time compared to around 65% for his career. Buchholz also throws a big, slow curveball that sits in the high 70s. The one area where Buchholz differs from Lester is with his changeup. While Lester primarily uses his change against right-handed hitters, Buchholz will attack both righties and lefties with the changeup. It has been particularly effective against right-handed hitters, garnering a 29.9% whiff rate.
While Buchholz's numbers have taken a big step forward in 2013, his limited sample of innings covered up a couple of minor flaws that resulted in an unsustainable rate of success. He allowed just four home runs all season, resulting in a home-run-per-fly-ball rate (HR/FB) of just 4.5%. His batted ball rates were otherwise close to his career norms, but his .254 BABIP was 24 points lower than his career average. He also stranded a whopping 83.7% of baserunners this year.
The Red Sox were one of three teams to hand Max Scherzer a loss this season, but it wasn't any fault of Max's. He allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings, but took the loss when the Tigers were only able to plate one run against Jon Lester. Scherzer beat the Red Sox back in May, posting a nearly identical line in seven strong innings. The difference? The Tigers tagged the Sox for 10 runs, including four in 2 1/3 innings off bullpen arm Franklin Morales.
We have heard all season about the development of Max's curveball and how it has facilitated his ability to get left-handed hitters out. The results have been interesting, to say the least. It isn't a typical Scherzer offering, in that the hammer has only resulted in an 8.1% whiff rate against lefties. Instead, they are pounding the ball into the ground. Scherzer's curveball is garnering a 55% ground ball rate, and his location has a lot to do with that. He is keeping it on the outer half of the plate, staying away from the power zone most lefties enjoy in the lower inner quadrant of the plate.
Question of the day: Is the top of the lineup starting to wake up?
Sure, it wasn't pretty, but Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter combining to go 2-for-10 in last night's game is a vast improvement over their combined 5-for-39 performance in the ALDS. I was also encouraged by their approaches at the plate -- especially Jackson's. Austin saw 23 pitches in his five plate appearances, including 15 in three at-bats against starter Jon Lester. He had a great swing in the fifth inning, a fly out that may have been more troublesome for the Red Sox outfielders a month ago. If he starts to pull the ball, look out.
Like I mentioned above, Scherzer's ability to neutralize left-handed hitters will play a big role in how this game unfolds. He allowed three hits to lefties -- including a two-run homer to David Ortiz -- in his first inning against the Sox this season. Since then, Red Sox lefties are 2-for-27 with a pair of walks against him. Given how the Sox lineup will stack up, Drew Smyly and Phil Coke will likely play a big part in the later innings of this one.
Buchholz shuts down the Tigers lineup and ties the series at 1.