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Tigers-Red Sox promises to be enticing matchup

Great show in store thanks to iconic franchises starring household names @RichardJustice

BOSTON -- Welcome to the sweet smell of success. That's what this American League Championship Series, which begins on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, represents.

The Tigers and Red Sox are grand old franchises with huge fan bases and big expectations. Both are accustomed to playing October baseball. Both expect to be in the mix for a championship every single season.

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When this ALCS ends, these two teams will have combined to win five of the last 10 AL pennants. The Red Sox won two World Series titles during this run, the Tigers none. So there's that.

This ALCS will have big stars -- Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in one dugout, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz in the other.

Likewise on the mound, with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez for the Tigers, and Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz for the Red Sox.

In Jim Leyland the Tigers have a manager who has been in charge for 3,499 regular-season games, the 14th-most in history. He has taken three teams to the World Series, won it once and is almost universally respected inside the game both as a man and a manager.

The Red Sox have John Farrell, and in just his third season in a Major League dugout, he has been hugely responsible for leading Boston to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

Looking for a favorite? Good luck.

Maybe it's the Red Sox, since they will have had three days off to rest, refocus and line up their pitching. Lester will get the ball in Game 1, with Lackey and Buchholz probably going Games 2-3 in some order.

Verlander, having pitched the AL Division Series clincher against the A's on Thursday, won't be available until Game 3.

But that's no real break for the Red Sox. Sanchez, who will start Game 1, led the American League with a 2.57 ERA. For Game 2 the Tigers are likely to hand the ball to Scherzer, who is a near slam dunk for the AL Cy Young Award thanks to his 21 victories and 240 strikeouts.

Offensively, these are big teams. The Red Sox led the Majors in runs, finishing just ahead of the Tigers. Pitching-wise, the Tigers were third in the regular season in ERA, the Red Sox sixth.

As for that probable Game 1 matchup, Sanchez hasn't faced the Red Sox since 2006, when he was with the Marlins. In just his second Major League appearance, he allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. Lester faced the Tigers twice this season and beat them both times.

In the end, it's a series that will come down to stars being stars. Red Sox leadoff men Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino reached base 20 times over their four-game Division Series against the Rays and scored nine times.

Everything the Red Sox do offensively flows from those two. They're both fast, they're both aggressive, and when they're applying that kind of pressure, Pedroia, Ortiz, et al., are in a perfect place to deliver.

So the Tigers will have a simple first task: Keep Ellsbury and Victorino off base. That was also the Rays' mantra in the first round, and they were unable to do it. Boston hit .286 and averaged 6.5 runs per game against Tampa Bay.

The Tigers have had a tougher time of it. Cabrera hadn't homered in 52 at-bats before he connected off A's right-hander Sonny Gray in the fourth inning of ALDS Game 5 on Thursday.

Partly because of Cabrera's slump, the Mariners, White Sox and Astros were the only AL teams to score fewer runs than the Tigers in September. But on Thursday, in his team's most important game of the season, Cabrera delivered the home run that broke a scoreless tie and put the Tigers on top to stay.

This ALCS has so many players who have accomplished so much that it's logical to assume some of the stars will shine.

Ortiz or Fielder?

Lester or Verlander?

Go ahead and take your pick. Mainly, though, it's one of those series that simply will make for great theater, with a bunch of household names and a couple of baseball's iconic franchises fighting it out for a trip to the World Series.

Enjoy the show.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U