Last time the Detroit Tigers (24-12) saw the Boston Red Sox (20-20), the latter were celebrating a 4-2 series victory in the American League Championship Series en route to an eventual World Series title. Detroit was considered by many to be the favorite to represent the AL in the Fall Classic in 2013, but the resurgent Red Sox had other ideas behind new manager John Farrell.
But Boston has struggled during the early stages of 2014, falling to .500 with a loss on Thursday after starting last season 23-17 through 40 games in 2013.
Veteran David Ortiz continues to defeat the tests of time, as the 38-year-old leads his team in batting average (.303), home runs (11), RBI (25), on-base percentage (.393) and slugging percentage (.586). Ortiz leads an offense that has largely underperformed compared to last season when it led the MLB in runs scored by more than 50.
Boston has been effective in reaching base during 2014, owning the third best AL on-base percentage despite ranking 10th with a .247 average. The Tiger starters will have to throw strikes to a lineup that has drawn 166 walks this season.
Max Scherzer hopes to regain his control on Friday and keep the Red Sox from building on that impressive walk total. The defending Cy Young Award winner walked four Twins on May 10 and has allowed the second-most free passes on the Tigers' roster in 2014.
An inflated walk rate represents one of the very few weaknesses that Scherzer has shown in his eight starts this season. The 29-year-old recorded seven quality starts in his first eight appearances and is tied for first in the AL with a 2.04 ERA.
Scherzer struggles against two of the more potent offensive weapons in the Boston lineup, as Ortiz and catcher A.J. Pierzynski combine for a .375 average (18/48), four home runs and 13 RBI against him. Ortiz played a major role in Detroit losing both of Scherzer's ALCS starts, blasting a grand slam to cement a five-run comeback in Game 2.
Scherzer owns a career 2-4 record against the Red Sox in the regular season, and has gone 1-1 against them in each of the last two seasons.
Boston will send out ace Jon Lester to oppose Scherzer, hoping that the 30-year-old continues to anchor an otherwise shallow rotation.
Lester owns a mediocre 4-4 record despite a 2.75 ERA. He has featured pinpoint control during 2014, walking just 13 hitters in over 55 innings of work.
The lefty dreads facing the Tigers, who feature gaudy numbers against him in his career. Five of the starters in Detroit's Friday lineup hit better than .460 against Lester in their careers, and the roster as a whole owns a .377 average against him. Rajai Davis hits .306 against Lester, including five extra-base hits and five RBI.
Shortstop Danny Worth will start for Detroit after chipping in with two hits on Wednesday. Manager Brad Ausmus will likely give Worth a chance to earn the long-term starting spot amidst the dramatic struggles of Andrew Romine at the plate. Worth owns a .500 average against Lester with an RBI and a walk in his career.
Detroit enters the first game of this three-game series on a three-game winning streak after sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in their own ballpark. The Tigers have won five of six games against the AL East this season (all against Baltimore) and boast the top record in the MLB.
The teams will play another night game on Saturday before playing on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball in the series finale.