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ALCS has makings of even matchup of heavyweights

ALCS has makings of even matchup of heavyweights

ALCS has makings of even matchup of heavyweights

OAKLAND -- In the jubilant moments after the Tigers climbed to the next rung of the postseason ladder with Thursday's 3-0 win in Game 5 of the American League Division Series over the A's, in a cramped clubhouse that smelled of champagne and cigar smoke, the Tigers hadn't begun to focus on their next assignment. That will be to play the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series with a trip to the World Series on the line.

"I just know we've got Boston coming up and that will be a fun series, as well," Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer said.

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The ALCS begins at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Fenway Park, televised on FOX.

ALDS

"If you watch the Red Sox, they have a tough club," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "[Dustin] Pedroia, [Jacoby] Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Big Papi [David Ortiz]. I'm not saying they're tougher than Oakland. I'm saying they're a more veteran club. Oakland is a younger club.

"We're going to Boston and we'll see how this all plays out."

All indications point to a classic matchup. "We expect a great series," Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez said.

On paper, these teams are pretty evenly matched. Boston and Detroit were 1-2 in the Major Leagues in both runs scored and OPS. Boston hit two more homers. Detroit had a slightly better staff ERA (3.61 to 3.79). The most glaring difference is stolen bases. The Red Sox had 123 during the regular season while the Tigers ranked dead last with 35.

The Tigers were 4-3 against the Red Sox in 2013, winning three of four at Comerica Park in June and dropping two of three at Fenway in September. The last time they met, Boston belted eight home runs and won 20-4 in a game started by Rick Porcello, who was in the bullpen during the ALDS.

Of course, it's hard to put too much emphasis on what happened during the regular season. Allen Webster, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster each started a game for Boston against the Red Sox while Porcello and Jose Alvarez started once for Detroit against the Boston.

The Red Sox hold the home-field advantage after winning 97 games in the regular season.

"This team loves playing at Fenway, loves the atmosphere that's created there," Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays.

Boston should be more rested. The Tigers made their third cross-country trip in a week when they flew to Boston immediately after punching their ticket for the ALCS on Thursday. Then, they'll have barely 36 hours to get ready to play again. Then again, the adrenaline rush of playing at this time of year may make that a moot point.

By disposing of the Rays in four games, the Red Sox have the option to keep their rotation in the same order: Jon Lester, followed by John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy.

By not clinching until Thursday night, the Tigers will have ALDS Game 3 starter Anibal Sanchez available to start Game 1 of the ALCS. That's not the worst scenario -- Sanchez led the AL in ERA, after all at 2.57 -- but it does mean that 21-game winner Scherzer will most likely not be available until Game 2 and that Justin Verlander, who was dominant in two ALDS starts against Oakland probably won't pitch until Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.

Sanchez should be an interesting storyline. Originally signed by the Red Sox out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2001, he was traded to the Marlins along with Hanley Ramirez in the deal that sent Josh Beckett to Boston in November 2005. The following season, Sanchez made his second big league start against the Red Sox (4 1/3 innings, seven earned runs) and hasn't pitched against them since.

Lester was 2-0 despite a 4.26 ERA in two starts against Detroit this season.

The Tigers will have to pay special attention to Ortiz and Ellsbury. Ortiz had four homers and seven RBIs against the Tigers this season while batting .357. Ellsbury hit .320 with a .939 OPS with much of the damage coming at Comerica Park. And both players are coming off an impressive ALDS against the Rays.

The Tigers and Red Sox are both charter members of the American League and have been playing each other since 1901. But this will be the first time they've met in the postseason.

It wouldn't be a shock if they end up playing each other seven times before the World Series begins.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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