The ALCS comes back to Boston

The ALCS comes back to Boston
October 12, 2013, 2:00 pm
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I woke up this morning, took a step outside my apartment, and saw a sidewalk scattered with leaves. As I walked down the street, I passed more than a few local businesses already repping Halloween. I saw guys in sweatshirts, women in scarves and a few poor dogs wearing those goofy dog sweaters. I walked into a coffee shop, and do you know what those psychos were doing? Playing Christmas music.
 
In others words, it’s officially Fall in Boston. Not Fall just because the Equinox says so. Fall because it can’t be denied. It’s getting darker early. It’s getting colder always. WINTER IS COMING.
 
But hey, this is nothing new. It happens every year. But it’s been five years since Boston’s seasonal transformation was accompanied by the ultimate fall attraction. The four most magical letters in the English language (when listed in succession on year’s when the Red Sox are still alive).
 
A – L – C - S
 
It’s beautiful. And you can feel it around Boston today. It feels like long, late, stressful nights. It feels like shattered remote controls and hours spent chewing on couch pillows. It feels damn good.
 
We spent most of this season trying to come with ways and reasons why the Red Sox wouldn’t make it this far. Part of that was a product of the expectations back in April and how unbelievably painful the last two season had been. Part of that was just being a Red Sox fan and knowing that a collapse hurts far worse when it catches you by surprise.
 
But while it wasn’t entirely clear — at least until recently — whether the Sox had enough to make it out of the American League, it was always a safe bet that the Tigers would eventually stand in the way. As it turned out, Detroit came pretty close to tapping out early; Oakland had them on the ropes. But now that they’re here, and the Tigers/Red Sox ALCS is a living, breathing thing, there’s no doubt that the best two teams made it. This is the match-up that the American League deserves.
 
On the surface, the Sox have the upper hand. First, because they have home field advantage. Home teams are 7-3 in the last 10 ALCS. (Then again, the Tigers didn’t have home field in last year’s ALCS, and won it in four games.)
 
There’s also the state of Miguel Cabrera. If healthy, Cabrera would have been the Sox scariest postseason opponent since 2007 Albert Pujols. He’s the best hitter in the game and it’s not even close. But right now, Miggy’s not even close. Give him credit for playing through his groin and abdominal injuries, and respect the fact that you could chop one of Cabrera’s arms off and he’d still scare you more than half the players in this league. But he’s not the same right now. Even with his home run in Game 5 against Oakland, the Sox should come into this series with the confidence that they can keep Cabrera under wraps instead wondering how they’ll work around his inevitable dominance. First step: No inside fastballs!
 
Meanwhile, the Sox are healthier than they’ve been all season. Obviously, the starters could have been better against Tampa, but from Lester to Buchholz to Lackey to Peavy, there’s a track record that leaves you confident, regardless who’s starting for the other side. Not to mention, the Bridge to Uehara, which was under construction for most of the regular season, is finally finished. Of course, in the post season, a reliever’s only as good as his last pitch, but heading into the ALCS, it’s hard to imagine either Craig Breslow or Junichi Tazawa feeling better or more confident than they do right now. And at the plate, the Sox offense will do what the Sox offense do: Grind out at-bats. Wear down starting pitchers. Work their way into a Tigers bullpen that makes the Bridge to Uehara look like The Nasty Boys.
 
It won’t be easy, and there’s a very real chance that the Sox fall short. Obviously. This is the ALCS. It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to get weird. Anything can happen. And above all else, the Tigers are a really good team.
 
But the Red Sox are better.
 
They were better for an entire 162 games season. They’ve been better in the playoffs. Between that, home field advantage and the state of Cabrera, this is Boston’s ALCS to lose. I’d say that’s putting unnecessary pressure on the team if I wasn’t confident that they believe the exact same thing.
 
Either way, here we are. It’s the middle of October. The Patriots are already six weeks into their season. The Bruins are officially back in the game. It’s getting darker and colder. Everything in the world is pumpkin-spiced. Christmas music is somehow already cracking the rotation.
 
And the Red Sox are still playing baseball.
 
It’s been a long time coming, but the ALCS is back.
 
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine