Tigers Maul Red Sox Pitching, Avoid Sweep

Miguel Cabrera knocks in Quintin Berry in the fifth inning of Thursday's Red Sox-Tigers game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With two inherited runners on and two outs in the top of the eighth, Matt Albers struck out left fielder Don Kelly looking to end the threat.

That was basically the only good thing the Boston Red Sox did on the mound all night.

The Detroit Tigers clubbed 14 hits off Josh Beckett and two relievers Thursday, beating the Red Sox, 7-3, and avoiding the sweep. The Red Sox remain in last place in the AL East, a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they’ll play on the road this weekend.

Flat Beckett Can’t Hold the Lead

Though Beckett pitched an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 first, his struggles began an inning later, with back-to-back one-out hits putting Tigers on second and third. Beckett got out of the second thanks to Ryan Sweeney, who covered a fair amount of ground to catch Jhonny Peralta‘s fly ball near Pesky’s Pole. Sweeney then threw a perfect one-hopper to Jarrod Saltamacchia, gunning down Delmon Young (3-5) at the plate to end the threat.

Saltalamacchia and Sweeney helped give Beckett a two-run lead in the bottom of the second, with Saltamacchia homering to center to lead off the inning. Sweeney then singled and scored from first on a double to the center field warning track by Scott Podsednik, who’s batting .444 in 12 games this season.

But Beckett immediately coughed up the lead, allowing three runs in the top of the third. Center fielder Quintin Berry (3-5) put the Tigers on the board with an RBI single with two men on, and Brennan Boesch tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Berry then stole second and went to third on a flyout, and Prince Fielder (2-4) singled to center to put the Tigers up 3-2.

Saltalacchia bailed out Beckett in the bottom of the third, following up a Kevin Youkilis double with a game-tying single, but Beckett just couldn’t regain the sharpness his pitches had in the first inning. Berry reached on an infield single to start the fifth, went to third on a stolen base and throwing error by Saltalamacchia, then scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera (2-5) to put the Tigers back up 4-3.

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MLB Playoff Predictions: Championship Series

Justin Verlander should pitch the Tigers into the World Series, possibly winning ALCS MVP honors in the process.(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

I was a rainstorm and a Chris Carpenter three-hitter away from sweeping the opening round of the MLB playoffs. Instead, another .500 showing, with my pick for the World Series – the Philadelphia Phillies – not among the winners. Oh well, always move forward. Here are my picks for the ALCS and NLCS (home-field team second).

ALCS: Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers

Tigers coach Jim Leyland rolled the dice in Game 5 of the ALDS by keeping out Justin Verlander. The gambit paid off, because now the Tigers start the best pitcher in the majors in Game 1. Verlander is 6-2 lifetime against the Rangers, and he’s never lost in Arlington (3-0, 1.29 ERA). C.J. Wilson is a great pitcher, but Verlander is just better. Tigers take Game 1 on the road.

Not helping matters is the Rangers’ offense. More specifically: there lack thereof. The Rangers are the weakest-hitting team left in the playoffs. They hit the worst, they get on base the least, and they drive the ball the least often. They’ve hit as many home runs as any remaining team, but that’s where the offense stops. And while Doug Holland may beat Max Scherzer at Rangers Ballpark – a hitter’s park – in Game 2, that lack of offense is sure to influence Games 3 through 5 at Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park.

The Rangers sport a mediocre .278 combined average against Doug Fister, who will start game 3 for the Tigers. Fister will still be amped from his ALDS Game 5 win over the Yankees, and that’s bad news for a Rangers team with such paltry on-base (.303) and slugging (.406) against him. If Fister can stay on top of Nelson Cruz (.500 avg, 1.390 OPS, home run), he should hold the Rangers in check long enough for the Tigers to get the better of Colby Lewis. The Tigers bat a combined .356 against Lewis, and everyone but backups Brandon Inge and Omir Santos has driven in at least one run.

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MLB Playoff Predictions: Divisional Series Pitching Matchups

After a final two weeks of baseball so wild and crazy Nickelodeon would want to make a game show out of it, we’re finally down to eight teams. Structurally flawed teams like the Red Sox and Braves petered out, while teams built around strong starting pitching and consistent offense have survived. Starting Friday, four best-of-five divisional series will begin. On the line: the chance for an AL or NL pennant. Who’s moving on and who’s moving home? Here’s my take (home-field team first).

New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers

Justin Verlander will win the Cy Young and has won the AL’s pitching triple crown, but he won’t be starting at home: he’ll be starting at Yankee Stadium, where he’s 0-2 with a 4.00 ERA in three starts. Verlander’s never really dominated the Yankees. CC Sabathia, meanwhile, will make both his starts at home, where he’s 26-7. Sabathia beats Verlander in Game 1 in front of a fired-up Yankees stadium.

Sabathia will start Game 4 on short rest while Verlander would start Game 5 on regular rest. Sabathia can probably beat Rick Porcello – a B+ pitcher (14-9, 4.75 ERA) at best – in Game 4. The Yankees are a statistically stronger and much faster lineup (almost 100 more stolen bases than the Tigers). Combined with the better bullpen, the Yankees have the edge in close games.

With the Yankees’ three-man rotation, rookie Ivan Nova will have to pitch twice, including once on the road. Nova has proven he’s the real deal this season, but there’s no way Verlander loses twice. Which means that to beat the Yankees, the Tigers need Doug Fister (11-13, 2.58 ERA) to beat Nova in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. I don’t see it happening. Fister has a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees, and he’s never won at Yankee Stadium.

Max Scherzer could very easily beat slow-throwing, 34-year old Freddy Garcia in Game 3 at Comerica Park, but it’s won’t be enough. Verlander might be the best pitcher in the majors, but the Yankees’ rotation runs much deeper. Prediction: Yankees in 4.

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The Triple Crown: Proof That I TOO Can Research Ridiculous Crap

Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander leads the American Leauge in wins (24), strikeouts (244) and ERA (2.29), making him a virtual lock for the AL Cy Young award (I’d be surprised if he wasn’t chosen unanimously). While these numbers make Verlander the front-runner for the AL Triple Crown for pitchers (first since then-Minnesota Twin Johan Santana in 2006), they also put him in front for the MLB triple crown, which Santana was also the last to win.

Verlander’s main competition is Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw. What’s curious about Kershaw is he is the front-runner (currently 19/236/2.30) to win the NL Triple Crown (first since then-San Diego Padre Jake Peavy in 2007).

If the Tigers' Justin Verlander (left) can stay above the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, it will be the first time a pitcher wins the MLB Triple Crown in the same year a second wins a league Triple Crown since Dazzy Vance (right) topped Walter Johnson in 1924.

Should both Verlander’s and Kershaw’s positions at the top of their leagues hold up, and Verlander remains on top of Kershaw overall, it will be the first time in 87 years that a pitcher has won the MLB triple crown and another has won a league triple crown. Dazzy Vance of the NL’s Brooklyn Robins (a precursor to the Brooklyn and then LA Dodgers) won the 1924 MLB triple crown in the same season that Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators (a precursor to the Twins) won the AL’s triple crown.

The last time an AL pitcher won the MLB triple crown and an NL pitcher won his league triple crown was 1918, when that same Walter Johnson won the MLB triple crown and Hippo Vaughn (seriously) of the NL’s Chicago Cubs won his league triple crown.

Only two other times have two triple crowns been won in the same year. Christy Mathewson of the NL’s New York Giants (now in San Francisco) and Rube Waddell of the AL’s Philadelphia Athletics (later to moved Kansas City before their current home in Oakland) both won their league triple crowns in 1905, but neither won the MLB triple crown.

Charles Radbourn of the NL’s Providence Grays (defunct since 1885) won a league triple crown in 1894 in the same year that Guy Hecker of the Louisville Colonels won in the American Association (which later merged with the NL before folding in 1891).

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