BOSTON -- The Red Sox continue to buck tradition by turning speed and baserunning into major weapons this season. And that might never be more vital than in this American League Championship Series against the Tigers.
Given that Detroit has two dominant starters in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, manufacturing runs could be more important than ever.
The Red Sox were successful on 45 straight stolen-base attempts before Daniel Nava was caught in Game 4 of the Division Series.
"It's been a part of our game all season," said Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston's fastest baserunner. "Getting to this point, we're not going to stop doing it. We haven't really forced the issue on it. We just want to be smart. We want to stick our plan, stick to our approach. That's what it's going to take -- a quality team effort -- and we're going to have to be clicking on all cylinders to advance."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland is confident that his team can stop the running game.
"Well, if you looked at our last couple of series with Kansas City, [which] is a real [good] running team, you'll find we did a good job of that," Leyland said. "We picked them off about three times. I don't know that we'll be able to get Ellsbury."
Then again, Leyland also knows how dangerous Boston's lineup is, so he doesn't want his pitchers to get overly distracted.
"That's kind of a Catch‑22. ... You can't get consumed by that as a pitcher, because then you make too many mistakes with the hitter," he said. "We'll have a plan. We'll try to watch it close. We'll try to contain them. It's not going to be a perfect deal. But you know, I don't know how much that will be a factor. I know they push a little bit more than the Oakland club, to be honest with you. It's a great point, just an extra thing you have to be aware of. We'll be prepared for that."
Farrell flip-flops Lackey, Buchholz in rotation
BOSTON -- The Red Sox have made one tweak to the rotation that guided them to an American League Division Series victory over the Rays: John Lackey and Clay Buchholz have flip-flopped.
This time, Buchholz will start Game 2 of the AL Championship Series against the Tigers at Fenway Park, with Lackey getting the nod for Game 3 on the road. Once again, Jake Peavy will start Game 4.
"I thought Clay threw the ball well in his start down in [St. Petersburg]," said manager John Farrell. "That's not to say John Lackey's outing here was less than [that]. He pitched us to a win against Tampa Bay in Game 2. But with the rotation going forward the first two days, we feel good about where we are."
One reason Lackey pitched before Buchholz in the last round is that his home numbers are far better than his road numbers.
That factor is neutralized a little in this series, due to the fact that Lackey has been comfortable at Comerica Park in his career, going 4-1 with a 3.83 ERA there.
"It's a pretty big ballpark. I feel like we have some room in the outfield," said Lackey, a fly-ball pitcher. "I felt comfortable there for most of my career, for sure. Right field there is definitely not as big as it is here. As it moves to the gap, it gets pretty big, but if you can keep the ball up the middle, you have some room in center field."
Buchholz has been an ace this season when healthy, and he might be in good position to match zeros with Detroit's Max Scherzer, who won 21 games this season. Lackey will have a tough matchup also, opposing Justin Verlander, who practically carried the Tigers past the Athletics in their Division Series.
One of the reasons Buchholz was held back until Game 3 in the last round is that it was just his fifth start back after missing three months with a strained right bursa sac.
Though the road back was an annoyance for Buchholz, he is grateful to be healthy and pitching at this time of year.
"Going through what I went I through, it took a lot longer than I wanted," Buchholz said. "I had doubts then. But once it started progressing, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. That's when I knew the time off was the best thing for me."
This is the first time Buchholz has been to the ALCS.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "This will be my first time on a roster at this point in a postseason. That last series was pretty intense. I don't expect anything different in this one."
Buchholz will be making his second postseason start at Fenway but the first since 2009.
"This is my favorite park to pitch in, not just because I play for this team here," he said. "Just a place [that], growing up, watching games on TV, it just seemed like a special atmosphere. Being able to start games over here the last couple of years, it's been a fun place to pitch."
Middlebrooks in Game 1, but Farrell might tinker later
BOSTON -- Will Middlebrooks will remain in the lineup at third base for the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, but manager John Farrell hinted that top prospect Xander Bogaerts could get a start as early as Game 2.
Bogaerts could start at either short or third. The latter seems more likely considering Detroit's all-righty rotation.
"It will be Middlebrooks tomorrow," Farrell said on Friday. "And then, based on some matchups, we've got some things that we're looking at in a couple of different spots."
Though the Tigers don't have lefties in their ALCS rotation, Farrell indicated that backup catcher David Ross and left fielder Jonny Gomes both will see some playing time.
"There's a place for [Ross] in here," Farrell said. "I've yet to meet with both he and [Jarrod Saltalamacchia], so forgive me if I'm not going to reveal that right now. I think it's important that they hear it first. But there's some matchups in here that ‑‑ Salty's had good performances against some guys in the rotation. We'll look to mix and match. And it may be a strength of the combination on our side as opposed to facing an opposing pitcher."
And what of Jonny Gomes, who started Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series?
"Yes, there will be [an opportunity]," Farrell said. "And Mike Carp, as well. The strength of this team has been the depth of its roster. There are going to be some matchups that we think are more favorable in one case or another. And we've had ... complete confidence in every guy in our uniform. And they're going to be involved."
Red Sox working on plan of attack for Tigers sluggers
BOSTON -- The Red Sox handed out just 10 intentional walks during the regular season, the fewest in the Major Leagues.
Manager John Farrell doesn't plan on changing his policy any time soon, despite the thunderous bats in the middle of the Tigers' order.
Pitching around Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez isn't something the Red Sox intend to do. Actually, it's the exact opposite.
"Miguel Cabrera is my pick for best hitter in baseball," said reliever Ryan Dempster. "You have to be aggressive -- not just throwing the ball down the middle, but you better put the ball in the strike zone. If you're going to try to pitch behind in the count to a guy like that, you're not going to find yourself successful very long."
Because of his ability to adapt quickly and understand pitching patterns, Cabrera poses a threat beyond his 44 homers and .348 batting average. The Red Sox plan to attack him with a different strategy with each at-bat.
"I think anyone's mentality has got to be, 'If you execute pitches and stick to your strength, you can be successful,'" said reliever Craig Breslow. "I think anyone who would take the approach of being fearful of making a mistake or being worried about what Cabrera and Fielder are going to do [are] probably handicapping themselves."
Cabrera hit .421 with a .522 on-base percentage, two doubles and one home run in five games against the Red Sox this season. He has a .526 lifetime average over 24 plate appearances against Game 1 starter Jon Lester and a .333 average off Game 3 starter John Lackey. Where the Red Sox might have the advantage is in late-game situations, when they can use Breslow (Cabrera is 1-for-5 off him), or even Dempster (1-for-4) and Felix Doubront (1-for-6).
It's worth noting that Cabrera is 2-for-4 with two home runs off closer Koji Uehara.
"Somebody like him, as good as he is, you have to try to let him get himself out rather than nibble, because he'll take pitches and walk," said Clay Buchholz. "That's why he is who he is. We just have to find a way to work around him."
Fielder hit .250 with one double and a homer in seven games against the Red Sox this year. Martinez hit just .185 against the Sox, but he's been a hitting machine of late, with a .361 average over his last 66 games.
"You game-plan carefully," Farrell said. " And I wouldn't limit it to 3 and 4 [in the Tigers' order]. Because it's 3, 4, 5 the way Victor is swinging the bat.