The Red Sox can relate. Just as the Red Sox started getting used to their position atop the American League East in July, the Yankees took them down a peg, literally. Although panic mode has not set in for the Tigers yet, the downfall that everyone outside of Detroit has been predicting for months seems more realistic than ever due to their five-game losing streak. However, Francona is not surprised by the success the Tigers have had this season.
"Not when you look at their team. I know the turnaround is dramatic. I think there are probably several reasons for that," Francona said. "Part of what happened last year and the year before, they let guys play that weren't ready, not that they weren't ready, but they weren't ready to be "the" players ... because they have 400-500 [games] under their belts now, they're ready to become better players and some of those guys aren't carrying the load."
"With injuries, now they have some guys in the middle of the order ... Brandon Inge doesn't have to hit fifth. He's hitting eight or ninth ... they're a different team."
The two teams will do battle for the first of three games on Monday night at Fenway Park, with Josh Beckett taking the mound for Boston and southpaw Nate Robertson making the start for Detroit.
"Their pitching has been so good. They've been so consistent in all aspects of their game," said Francona, who had his first coaching stint in the Majors as a third-base coach with the Tigers in 1996. "They can hit the ball out of the ballpark, they can run a little bit, they can bunt when they need to. They've got a good team. Their bullpen ... they just bring in arm after arm. They got a good thing going."
The series may end up being a turning point for both teams and a determinant in playoff positioning, or lack thereof. The Red Sox took two out of three games from the Tigers in June and possess the best winning percentage at home in the Majors at .691 (38-17).
The teams have played 1,930 games against each other since 1901 and have prevented each other from October glory on more than a few occasions. The Tigers finished second to the Red Sox in 1915, 1946, 1967 and 1988, with the latter two years being decided by one game. The Tigers edged the Red Sox in the old AL East by one-half game in 1972.
In the last three years, the Red Sox are 12-1 against the Tigers at home. They are 22-7 overall in the past three years.
"They took a 10-year downturn, and now it's coming back. You can see [Tiger fans] wanted to like the team [and] they just needed a reason ... they got a pretty good reason."
Beckett has not pitched more than six innings in his last four starts, and he has not won an outing since July 24. In his last start, he allowed three runs and six hits over six innings against Kansas City.
He is 6-2 with a 3.84 ERA at home this season. This is his first career start against Detroit.
BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (13-6, 4.92 ERA)
Things unraveled for Beckett after he retired the first 10 Royals he faced in his start on Wednesday. He allowed three runs (two earned), all in the fourth, once he was given a four-run lead. He spaced out six hits and struck out five. Monday's start marks Beckett's third against an AL Central foe in 2006.
DET: LHP Nate Robertson (10-8, 3.82 ERA)
Robertson has lost his last two starts, but both of them were better performances statistically than the back-to-back victories he posted before that. He lasted seven innings against the Twins but gave up three runs in a 4-2 defeat opposite Tiger killer Brad Radke. He gave up eight runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings in his only career start at Fenway Park last year.
Player to watch
Coco Crisp has two home runs in 22 at-bats against Robertson in his career.
On the Internet
Official game notes
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Tuesday: Red Sox (RHP Curt Schilling, 14-5, 3.89) vs. Tigers (RHP Jeremy Bonderman, 11-5, 3.76), 7:05 p.m. ET
Wednesday: Red Sox (LHP David Wells, 1-2, 6.23) vs. Tigers (RHP Justin Verlander, 14-5, 2.95), 7:05 p.m. ET
Friday: Game 1, Red Sox (LHP Jon Lester, 6-2, 4.09) vs. Yankees (RHP Chien-Mien Wang, 13-4, 3.69), 1:05 p.m. ET