The ALCS is a clash between two teams who began the season with different diamond dreams. Detroit couldn’t wait to get this year crackin’ after blowing a shot at manager Jim Leyland’s first Tigers World Series by falling to the less-talented San Francisco Giants in 2012. They got stomped too, 4-0.
Even after last year’s failures, the baseball world had them penciled in as the probable AL reps for this season’s Fall Classic.
The Oakland As (as they have been doing since the inception of the “Money Ball” philosophy) had the Tigers 2013 championship hopes shook to death, as they went up 2-1 on Detroit in a best-of-five ALDS before coming up a few immortal players (Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander) short of victory. It was an offensive version of Derek Jeter’s awesome backhand flip to nail Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi at the plate in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS. Oakland was up 2-0 in that series and a heady play by a baseball god changed everything.
Those were the early years of Money Ball. How ironic that for the past 15 years, stingy payrolls, sabermetrically influenced personnel decisions and the theory that buying superstars doesn’t ensure victory—those elements of Oakland’s executive philosophy that people lauded—were actually what kept it from beating star-studded squads in big games.
As TSL spit it in our ALDS preview, Detroit took it home in 5 and of all the teams entering these playoffs:
“…has the most pressure. The Tigers have been knocking on the WS door for years under Leyland and have come up short each time. They lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in his first season (2006) too. Neither team was a juggernaut and Detroit was heavily favored. Three-straight division crowns is a dope accomplishment, but not winning a WS creates added pressure for every postseason.”
Fortunately for Detroit, it was the great escape. The one that gets teams who have been on the cusp of greatness, over that hump and into a comfortable zone of domination. Too many times the underdog wins and superiorly talented teams fall because they couldn’t weather conditions that seemed like a progressing hurricane, but was really just a short-lived tropical storm.
Detroit handled Oakland’s flurry and maybe that’s the jump start the Tigers need to confidently complete their journey of “put up or shut up.”
Boston, on the other hand, was coming off its worst non-strike shortened season since 1965. By now, the baseball world is familiar with the uncharacteristic circus and locker-room slam dance that sunk the Red Sox to 69 wins last season. Detroit can’t stop now and may be on its P.Diddy, but Boston is on its Wiz Khalifa. The team’s “work hard, play hard” flow has them excited as hell to be a part of a winning cipher.
The organization had been, in the words of CEO/president Larry Lucchino, "chastened" by their collapse of 2011 and soul-sucking 2012.
With Boston having made some serious personnel moves this offseason and expecting some injured pitchers back, a franchise assessment team suggested that 86 wins and Wild Card contention would be a huge step in the right direction under first-year manager John Farrell.
The issues that plagued Boston in the past three years of non-playoff baseball—lack of depth, janky chemistry, underachievement, and of course we can’t forget eating fried chicken and chugging beers during the game—disappeared this season.
Now they are creeping towards another WS appearance and are another tough draw for Detroit, despite what the preseason prognosticators suggested. The memories of Bobby Valentine and his destructive touch are gone. An infusion of class-act, championship-pedigree vets like “The Flying Hawaiian” Shane Victorino and perennial leaders Dustin Pedroia and Papi Ortiz, give Boston confidence in this series. No player in these MLB playoffs touches Ortiz’s legendary postseason bravado.
“We were not a 69-win team (last season). We played to a 69-win level, but we weren't a 69-win team on talent. That gets overlooked," Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen said on a previous Boston radio interview.
The Red Sox proved that, when they led MLB with 97 wins, toasted the AL East and manhandled David Price and the Tampa Rays in the ALDS.
It was also a sweet ride that they’ve been able to enjoy, because it felt so much different than recent years. Now Bean Town has a chance to play an unfamiliar role of dream killers in its first-ever playoff meeting against Detroit. The Red Sox want to win, but history suggests Detroit kind of has to. Boston’s going to play loose, with house money and run out there beards swagging and Fenway Park swinging. Win or lose, they go into next season with a newfound pride, a rejuvenated fan base and a pendulum swing of hope that would over-rotate a trapeze artist.
Still, Jim Leyland’s not going out a sucker. Detroit in six…. Then they can lose to Donny Baseball’s LA Dodgers in the WS.