Key matchups in the ALCS

BOSTON -- David Ortiz hosted his Red Sox teammates for a barbecue at the two acres of his home here Thursday, a night away from the grind. Sort of. There are six televisions in the Ortiz home, and what filled the screen of each was the Detroit Tigers, playing their Game 5 against the Oakland A's.

Boston and Detroit go back to work tonight in the American League Championship Series. Here are 10 crossroads to watch, as the Tigers or the Red Sox navigate their way to the World Series.

1. Detroit's starting pitchers versus the relentless Boston hitters

The backbone of the Tigers’ success is their rotation, which in this series will start with Anibal Sanchez, followed by Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and bat-breaking Doug Fister. In the regular season, Detroit starters led the majors in innings (1,023) and had about 10 percent more strikeouts than any other rotation.

The Tigers’ rotation is the modern-day version of the Braves’ rotations of the '90s. But what the Red Sox hitters do better than anybody is wear on starting pitchers. Through their collective at-bats, they damage pitch counts like no other team.

Total number of pitches seen in 2013, by team:

Red Sox -- 25,664

Twins -- 25,027

Athletics -- 24,500

Indians -- 24,409

Mets -- 24,331

Diamondbacks -- 24,288

Rays -- 24,219

Mariners -- 24,138

Tigers -- 24,040

Blue Jays -- 23,955

Reds -- 23,955

When Leyland spoke with the media Friday, he said the same thing that a lot of the Red Sox hitters have been saying: Boston’s ability for extended at-bats is not about taking pitches. Taking strikes, he said, would be good for the Tigers.