GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 12, 2013

Sox starters must bring nothing short of 'A' game

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Here come the Detroit Tigers — and their awesome, stingy playoff rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez.

It will be the Red Sox vs. Tigers fighting it out in an American League Championship Series that pits cigarette-smoking, old-school manager Jim Leyland against the much less-experienced John Farrell and also features two of the game’s best sluggers, David “Big Papi” Ortiz and triple-crown king Miguel Cabrera.

What could be better than this? Not much else if you’re a baseball fan.

Game 1 is tonight at 8:07 p.m. here at Fenway Park. Jon Lester will start for Boston.

Improved starting pitching is the biggest reason the Red Sox made it to the ALCS. Boston’s 3.79 staff ERA during the regular season was the club’s best since 2002 (3.75) and significantly better than last year’s horrendous 4.70.

Sox starters combined for a 3.65 ERA in their ALDS victory over the Rays, earning them a solid “B” in my grade book.

But to out-pitch the Detroit starters — and limit a lineup that includes Cabrera and former Boston catcher/DH Victor Martinez (.361 average during the second half), the Sox need to bring their “A” game and nothing short of it.

John Lackey recently said, “One run feels like three in the postseason.”

But being down one run to Verlander or Scherzer in the postseason, well, that might feel more like six runs.

It’s simple. Clay Buchholz can’t groove a meatball to Miguel Cabrera with two runners on and a three-run lead like he did with Evan Longoria in Game 3 of the ALDS.

Lackey, meanwhile, can’t give up four runs in 5.1 innings like he did in Game 2. He needs to be the bulldog who earned some monster playoff victories with the Angels, including a win in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.

Lackey’s teammates have been excited to see what he can do in the playoffs after such a strong season and with a 3.35 postseason ERA on his resume.

“Whether it’s April 5 or Oct. 5, you’re going to get the same John Lackey and get the same intensity and same mindset,” Lester said. “I’m just glad that he signed over here to have another opportunity to win another World Series.”

Lester himself needs to give the same type of effort, if not better than he did in Game 1 of the ALDS when his fastball had some extra life, averaging 94.2 mph (brooksbaseball.net). He also commanded the fastball well (67.7 percent for strikes).

Will Middlebrooks said about Lackey and Lester: “They are really fun to play behind. Good tempo. Keep us on our toes.”

Well, Lackey and Buchholz need a better tempo than they had in their first starts.

Farrell, who will keep the same 25-man roster in the ALDS, still hasn’t announced the rest of his rotation.

Don’t be surprised if he goes with Buchholz in Game 2 Sunday at Fenway and pitches John Lackey on the road in Game 3. In the ALDS he did the reverse.

Buchholz has struggled at Detroit’s Comerica Park with a 7.08 ERA in four career starts. It might be wiser to give him Game 2 and 6 both in Boston.

Lackey, meanwhile, has a 4-1 record and 3.83 in six career starts at Comerica.

There also remains the possibility of pitching Jake Peavy in Game 3 and Lackey in Game 4. Peavy, therefore, would pitch a potential Game 7. Peavy was Boston’s second best starter in the ALDS behind Lester.

Peavy allowed just five runners (no walks) in 5.2 innings Tuesday.

The right-hander had been craving the chance to pitch in the playoffs and threw just 74 pitches.

Farrell pulled him because the next batter, James Loney, had previous success against Peavy.

The intense righty has a 4.15 ERA in five career starts at Comerica.

“Jake’s just getting the ball and going and working hard and working fast — never giving in,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.