Middling offense faces another tall task in Verlander
Hits slow to come for Boston; Detroit's Game 3 starter unblemished since Sept. 18
DETROIT -- Boston's lineup finally started to show signs of life during the latter stages of Game 2, but the task at hand is about to become a lot more daunting when right-hander Justin Verlander takes the mound for the Tigers on Tuesday afternoon (4 ET on FOX).
The lack of production from the top-ranked offense in the Majors this season was the main storyline of the American League Championship Series until the Red Sox woke up from their postseason slumber against a struggling Tigers bullpen.
David Ortiz's eighth-inning grand slam and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's walk-off single in the ninth for a 6-5 win helped alleviate some of the pressure, but it's expected to be back on with one of the best pitchers in the game taking the mound and the series knotted at 1-1.
"They've been dominant," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Detroit's pitchers. "We feel like [Tuesday's] starter in Verlander is going to be a similar, if not a more difficult challenge than what we faced already.
"But we're not going to go through wholesale changes with an approach. Those guys have been locked in and you have to tip your hat to very good pitching, being able to shut down good hitting. ... The way they've thrown the ball and the consistency to the location, particularly the two guys that start the games out, it's been outstanding."
Boston's struggles on offense reached historic proportions before Dustin Pedroia's RBI double in the sixth inning of Game 2. Prior to that hit, the Red Sox had been held off the scoreboard for 14 consecutive innings and became the first team in history to be no-hit through five in back-to-back postseason games.
Farrell's squad went just 1-for-44 with a remarkable 26 strikeouts through those opening 14 frames and appeared well on its way to setting a record for the fewest hits in the first two games of any LCS in history. Seven hits late in the game saved the Red Sox from the embarrassment of breaking the mark set by Minnesota (seven) in the 1969 ALCS, but barring the unexpected, runs again will be hard to come by on Tuesday.
This wasn't supposed to be a problem for a team that led the Majors with 853 runs this season, but it became a reality when matched up against the league's best pitching staff. The old cliche in baseball is that good pitching usually beats good hitting, and at least when it comes to the starting rotation, that has been the case in this series.
"They threw the ball well," said Mike Napoli, who will get the start at first base in Game 3. "They're hitting their spots, they have good stuff, their numbers showed it throughout the year. We have a tough task [Tuesday], too. We have to go out there, keep chipping away and try to make things happen.
"Outside of the last two innings, they pretty much shut us down. We couldn't even get a hit. We drew some walks but we just have to produce as an offense."
It was Anibal Sanchez that started the Red Sox woes in Game 1 by not allowing a hit while striking out 12 through six scoreless innings. Max Scherzer matched that performance by carrying a no-hitter into the sixth of Game 2.
In total, Boston struck out 32 times through the first two games of the series, which set a Major League postseason record. It's a continuation of a trend that has now seen Tigers pitchers record 11 or more strikeouts in three straight postseason games, dating back to Game 5 of the Division Series against Oakland. That ties them with the 2010 Giants for the second most all-time in the postseason.
Verlander started the streak against the A's, and he'll look to keep it going against the Red Sox at Comerica Park. His 13-12 record and 3.46 ERA this season was rather uncharacteristic for the nine-year veteran, but he finished on a high note and hasn't allowed a run since Sept. 18 against Seattle.
"It's a good challenge," catcher David Ross said of Verlander. "All in all, their whole team is a good challenge. They have a great lineup, they have great starting pitchers, they have Cy Young winners, ERA leaders over there, they have 20-game winners.
"They're a total package team and this is what the Championship Series is all about. You're playing the best team in the American League, we feel like they are, let's play it out. We're looking forward to the challenge. This is what you work so hard for, it sounds like a broken record, but it's the truth."
One positive that Boston can take away from its performance against the Tigers' rotation is that in both games the pitchers were forced to labor on the mound. Sanchez only managed to get through six because of a high pitch count while Scherzer was taken out after seven for the same reason.
That gave the Red Sox an opportunity to expose Detroit's bullpen. The problem is that it won't be quite as easy against Verlander, considering his ability to throw upward of 130 pitches in any given start.
"He's probably one of the most durable starters in all of baseball," Farrell said. "To maintain the type of stuff that he has over the course of a given game -- whether that's 110 to 130 pitches -- it speaks to the work ethic that he has, the repertoire of pitches that he has, and a competitive streak in him that we all see.
"Whether you're watching on TV, whether you're watching at field level. He doesn't come by his success by accident. It's a talented and extremely driven pitcher."