(SportsNetwork.com) - The Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers have been playing each other since 1901. However, when they take the field Saturday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, amazingly it will be the first time that they will be playing in the postseason.
These teams are as evenly matched as you will find.
Boston and Detroit finished the year 1-2 in the majors in both runs scored and OPS. While the Red Sox hit two more homers, the Tigers' staff had a lower ERA (3.61 to 3.79).
One year removed from a miserable 93-loss season, the Red Sox rebounded to win an AL East title behind an AL-best 97 wins. They are back in this round for the first time since 2008 after upending the Tampa Bay Rays in four games of the ALDS.
Detroit, meanwhile, finds itself back in the ALCS for the third straight year after a hard-fought five-game win over the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. Justin Verlander flirted with a no-hitter in the clincher and wound up giving up two hits over eight scoreless innings in the Tigers' 3-0 win.
The Tigers were 4-3 against the Red Sox in 2013, winning three of four at Comerica Park in June and dropping two of three at Fenway in September. In fact, the last time they met Boston smacked eight home runs and won, 20-4.
As an introduction to this ALCS matchup, let's take a look at some of the keys to winning the series for both clubs:
BOSTON RED SOX
1. TOP OF THE ORDER
Boston's lineup continues to be driven by 37-year-old designated hitter David Ortiz, who put forth his seventh 30-homer/100-RBI season and hit .309 to boot. Ortiz continued to thrive against the Rays and hit a pair of home runs with three RBI, while batting .385.
But it was the people hitting in front of him that deserve credit for the Red Sox win over the Rays.
Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury missed most of September with a compression fracture in his right foot, but showed no signs of being hampered in the ALDS, as the soon-to-be free agent went 9-for-18 and scored seven times with four stolen bases.
Boston was criticized for giving outfielder Shane Victorino a 3-year, $39 million deal this offseason, but the Flying Hawaiian was one of the team's top performers this season, hitting .294 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI, 82 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.
Not to mention Victorino has had a penchant for coming up big in the postseason, as he has driven in 33 runs in 50 playoff games. That was the case against the Rays, as he went 6-for-14 with three RBI.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia may have only hit .235 versus the Rays, but still drove in five runs and is, of course, the heart and soul of the team.
2. KOJI UEHARA
If you are looking for an MVP on this Red Sox team you may have to look to the bullpen where right-hander Koji Uehara stepped up in the wake of season-ending injuries to both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and saved 21 games while pitching to a remarkable 1.09 ERA.
Uehara, whose ERA was the best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more innings, also posted a mind-blowing 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings - the lowest WHIP in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50 innings, surpassing by a considerable margin the 0.61 standard set by Dennis Eckersley in 1989.
He didn't walk a batter over his final 22 appearances and posted a 0.72 in save chances.
Uehara saved two games against the Rays, but also surrendered a game-winning home run to Jose Lobaton in Game 3. Still, that was he only hit he allowed in his three innings of work.