Red Sox ALCS Game 6 Match-up: Clay Buchholz vs Miguel Cabrera

Jim Rogash

Miguel Cabrera is playing through his own pain and still managing to inflict some on Red Sox pitchers. Clay Buchholz can't simply overpower him, but he can make him a non-factor if he can just execute his pitches.

If I can paraphrase Torii Hunter for a moment: If you had a Tiger and it had an injured groin and abdominal muscle, couldn't run, couldn't field, couldn't go the other way, what's he going to do? Destroy mistake pitches.

Prior to Game 5 of the ALDS against Oakland, Miguel Cabrera had looked like a shadow of his former Tiger-y self. He had just two extra base hits in September and through the first four games of the ALDS Athletics pitchers held him to just four hits, all singles. It was bad enough that Rob Neyer wondered if he should be on the field for that final game. Even including his critical Game 5 homer, his line for that series was just .250/.286/.400.

In the ALCS, Cabrera has still shown every sign of the same debilitating injuries and he is still a far cry from being the MVP-caliber player that he was before September. However, he is hitting a much more reasonable .278         /.350/.444 in this series and while his Game 2 home run off Clay Buchholz is his only extra base hit of the series, he has hit several long singles that even someone with the last name "Molina" would have reached second on. Most significantly in this tight series, Cabrera has scored or driven in a run in four of the five games played. He may not be himself and maybe you can get him with mid-nineties fastballs away right now, but Cabrera has been making the Red Sox pay for any mistakes they make when he is at the plate, especially in big at-bats. Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz paid the highest cost for a mistake to Miggy in Game 2 and keeping the Tiger slugger from finding the seats again is an important key to winning Game 6.

Buchholz doesn't have a mid-nineties heater, averaging around 92 mph on his fastball over the last two seasons. That means the Red Sox starter can't simply rely on blowing pitches on the outside edge of the zone by Cabrera the way Lackey and Tazawa did in Game 3 when Cabrera was held hitless. Instead, in Game 2 Buchholz used a mix of cutters away and fastballs down in the zone to both sides of the plate and the occasional change up, his go-to out-pitch. Cabrera took advantage of poor execution on the change for his home run blast, teeing off on an 80 mph offering that stayed at the top of the zone and found the middle of the plate.

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That pitch was the definition of a mistake pitch. Based on Saltalamacchia's target, it appears that Buchholz intended to put the ball low and inside, where it would look like a hittable pitch before dropping off the table, getting him back to even in the 1-0 count. This isn't the first time in these playoffs that Buchholz has gone to that pitch, and it also isn't the first time the plan has backfired. Evan Longoria took Buchh deep on an inside change that failed to hit the target in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS one at-bat after the same pitch froze him for a strikeout looking.

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Buchholz's plan against Cabrera wasn't the problem in Game 2, it was his execution. He did get the Tigers' slugger to whiff on the other change-up he threw, and it would be foolish to abandon a pitch with a 20 percent whiff rate against the most important hitter in the lineup in the ALCS. Buchholz needs to follow the same plan in Game 6 he used in Game 1. He needs to attack Cabrera away early in the count, using the cutter and his fastball to try to get the hobbled third baseman to ground out. When does get the chance to put Cabrera away, he should have no hesitation about returning to his change. If he buries it low in the zone, it is as good as any pitch in baseball.

However, he also needs to be very careful anytime he tries to come inside and especially if he is coming inside with the change. Cabrera is struggling against heat away and giving him a chance to hit a slow pitch in his wheelhouse is just helping him out. A pitcher like Buchholz, who lacks the top-shelf velocity needs to go inside to stop Cabrera from sitting on the cutter away, but on those pitches, it would be better to miss badly in the dirt than to let the ball creep back into the zone. In this match-up execution is everything. If Buchholz doesn't hang any changes, he has the arsenal to stop the unstoppable Miguel Cabrera.

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