Fresh off a 7-3 homestand, the Red Sox will look to continue their recent winning ways in Detroit against a Tigers team that just took three of four from the New York Yankees. This will be no easy task, though, as the Tigers have gotten off to a hot 20-15 start (12-4 at home) despite being considered non-contenders by many before the start of the season. The Tigers success so far has been the result of a well-rounded team, as Detroit ranks in the top-10 in hitting (wOBA), pitching (FIP), and fielding (UZR).
The Red Sox might not have to worry about the full force of the Tigers rotation, though. With top starters Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, and Rick Porcello having all pitched in the last 2 days (thanks to a day-night doubleheader against the Yankees on Wednesday), the only way the Red Sox will see any of them will be on 3 days of rest. Instead, the Red Sox will be slated to face Max Scherzer in the opener and Dontrelle Willis in game 2 with game 3 being undetermined at the moment.
Scherzer, having come over from the Diamonbacks as part of the 3-way Curtis Granderson trade, had a lot of hype coming off a successful sophomore campaign, but has struggled to start the year off, with a 6.81 ERA. His FIP, while better, is still an ugly 5.22. His strikeout rates are way down, with contact rates having increased 4%. This is probably best explained by a 2 MPH drop in his fastball velocity, leaving the pitch very hittable. Scherzer will go up against the Red Sox' young gun in Clay Buchholz, who has struggled in his last two starts, allowing 9 earned runs in 10.2 innings with only 3 strikeouts and 8 walks.
Dontrelle Willis, meanwhile, is actually having a better season than Rick Porcello by almost every measurement (xFIP being the main exception, and then it's only a .03 difference) after a few years of futility where he appeared all-but-done. Willis is the type of pitcher who the Red Sox can take advantage of, however, allowing 4.60 walks per 9 innings. If the Sox are patient, and the umps are willing to call balls, they should have plenty of baserunners. With Jon Lester taking the mound to oppose him, the Sox have a great shot at taking game 2.
So far, the rotation has been able to rest easy when they've gotten through the 6th inning, as Joel Zumaya, Jose Valverde, and Fu-Te Ni have all looked good early, with Phil Coke and Brad Thomas contributing some fairly lucky innings. Looking more closely, though, the Tigers may not want to rest easy with close leads until the 9th inning.
Of the 3, Joel Zumaya is without a doubt for real. He has gotten his walks under control, and can now cash in on his tremendous 99 MPH fastball, resulting in big strikeout numbers and few runs. Jose Valverde has managed to keep the ball on the ground at a ridiculous rate as he has started to rely more and more on his splitter, but if his batted ball profile returns to normal some he should have a lot more problems holding opponents scoreless. Finally, Fu-Te Ni is something of an enigma, with huge striekout and walk totals despite not having much raw stuff and relying more on a mixture of offspeed pitches to record outs. If the Sox can stay patient with him, they could have success.
Offensively, the Tigers are riding some hot bats, and some good luck. A league-leading .324 BABIP gives their offense a feel of unsustainability, though it is backed up by a 21.8 LD% (2nd only to the Dodgers). The greatest beneficiary of this to date has been rookie outfielder Austin Jackson, whose .345 average is likely to drop back to Earth as his .481 BABIP regresses, and his 29.1% K-rate rears its ugly head. He has been hitting line drives at a tremendous rate (36.3%), but that's not likely to stick around either.
The real big bat in the offense is Miguel Cabrera, who is hitting unusually well even for himself, with a line of .376/.458/.662. He, too, is benefiting from a high BABIP, but even accounting for luck, he's a frightening bat. Cabrera is backed up by a solid at bats in Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen, who should put up a fight against any Red Sox pitcher. Also producing is rookie Brennan Boesch, a relatively unheralded prospect who has none-the-less come out of the gate on fire in his first 60 plate appearances with a .368/.383/.684 line (again, aided by BABIP). Of course, 50 plate appearances is hardly a relevant sample size, and it seems unlikely that Boesch will keep it up.
Game 1 starts at 7:05 tonight. Go Sox!