No team is expected to cruise to a division title and reach
the playoffs any easier than the Detroit Tigers. Jim Leyland's crew raced to the AL Central
crown by a 15-game margin in 2011, and begin this campaign as prohibitive -650
chalk to successfully defend that flag.
No team enters the 2012 campaign with more to prove than the
Boston Red Sox after their disastrous collapse a year ago. New manager Bobby Valentine will be under
pressure to get the BoSox back to the postseason immediately.
The two teams meet in Motown on Thursday when Major League
Baseball continues its shotgun start to the 2012 season. Boston and Detroit are scheduled to
get underway at 1 PM (ET) with ESPN2 providing the broadcast of the 1,980th
regular season meeting between the old foes.
Lefty Jon Lester gets the ball for the Red Sox opposite reigning AL MVP
and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander for the Tigers.
To nobody's surprise, Verlander and the Tigers are carrying 137-148
chalk in the early baseball odds.
SBRodds is listing 7 runs for the game total and heavy to the UNDER.
implosion last September led to changes at the top of the organization as well
as in the dugout. Ben Cherington has
assumed GM duties after former front office wunderkind
Theo Epstein left for Chicago's
North Side. The often mercurial and abrasive Valentine replaces Terry Francona
as field boss, and the former manager and ESPN analyst likely enters the season
already on the hot seat with many wondering if Bobby V's act will play in
The season is already off to an inauspicious start for
Valentine and the Red Sox after a late shake-up to the rotation and
bullpen. Andrew Bailey, acquired from
Oakland in the offseason to take over closer duties for Jonathon Papelbon who
went to the Phils via free agency, injured his right thumb a couple of weeks
ago in a spring training game. The
right-hander will require surgery and isn't expected to be ready to pitch again
until midseason. Alfredo Aceves and Mark
Melancon, picked up in a winter deal from Houston,
are the two candidates to step in for Bailey, as is hard-throwing Daniel Bard
who was originally supposed to be part of the starting rotation.
That rotation has a few question marks of its own with Josh
Beckett also experiencing a bum right thumb this spring, Clay Buchholz working
his way back from an injury-marred 2011 schedule and young lefty Felix Doubront
expected to be part of the mix after just 23 MLB games and three starts on his
resume. Thursday's starter Jon Lester is
seemingly the only sure thing Valentine and Boston have for the rotation to begin the
Lester has answered the call for at least 31 starts each of
the past four seasons, posting a 3.33 ERA in those 813.1 innings of work. Boston
is 80-48 when their top southpaw starts, with Lester 65-32 on his personal
ledger. One bugaboo in that span is the
Red Sox losing all three of his outings vs. Detroit while Lester owns a 5.89 ERA in those
games. Boston was 10-8 in his 18 road starts last
Verlander was money everywhere he pitched in 2011. Detroit
backers posted a modest profit of 1.75 units when their ace hurled at
home. The Tigers lost three of his first
four starts at Comerica before that turned around with an 11-5 mark for the
season. Verlander was -180 to -265 chalk
in 12 of those games. Interesting
enough, the lone home start that he wasn't a decided favorite came against
these Red Sox on May 29 in the nightcap of a doubleheader forced by a rainout a
day earlier. Boston closed at -110 to -115 with Beckett on
the hill, and Verlander pitched into the eighth of a 3-0 Tigers victory.
Despite Verlander's award-filled 2011 campaign, he's really
not the biggest story for the Tigers entering 2012. The signing of Prince Fielder to a
mega-contract during the winter helped fill the void left by the offseason
injury to C/DH Victor Martinez. The beefy
first sacker clocked 230 round-trippers during his 6+ seasons in Milwaukee, and should
create a devastating back-to-back punch in the lineup with Miguel Cabrera.
The downside is Cabrera will have to play third a lot in
order to keep both him and Fielder in the lineup at the same time, and that
will be a concern defensively.
Boston took five of the six
games from Detroit a year ago, is 19-6 vs. the
Tigers since the start of the 2008 season, and has won 10 of its last 14 trips
to Comerica Park.
The lone win for Detroit
in 2011 came in that May 29 start by Verlander.
All signs point to a sunny but chilly afternoon in the Motor City,
with temps in the upper 40s for the start and a 10-12 MPH breeze out to
right. Both teams have Friday off before
resuming their series Saturday afternoon when it should be a little warmer.
Taking a Chance: At first
glance, the Tigers around -140 are very tempting with Verlander on the
mound. This could wind up being the
cheapest price we see on Verlander this season at home; there certainly won't
be many moneylines lower than -140. The
concern, however, is Verlander's propensity for getting off to slow
starts. Since the start of the '08
season, Verlander has made 22 starts in March-April, and the Tigers have won
just eight of them while their big righty has posted a 5.45 ERA in those 133+
innings. The flip side is there aren't
many Red Sox hitters who have had a lot of success facing Verlander, and the
current state of Boston's
bullpen also concerns me. My MLB pick is
OVER 7 (+100).