There aren’t many people asked about the Cleveland-Boston series that give the Indians a chance to win it, even with home-field advantage.
It all comes down to the Indians’ precarious pitching situation. Not saying that a divisional series against Cleveland is a layup, but this matchup is tailor-made for the Red Sox who have a distinct advantage with their starting pitching.
That’s why longtime respected Cleveland Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes was right on the money when he wrote a couple of weeks back that the Indians wouldn’t survive the divisional round given that they’ve lost their No. 2 and No. 3 starters in Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to injuries.
Hoynes received a rash of unpleasantries from the team. And then a few of the more immature ones decided to use an expletive-laced rant against Hoynes during their little AL Central clinching party.
MLB Network’s Mike Lowell, the 2007 Red Sox World Series MVP, also thinks the Red Sox should be favored to beat the Indians. Watch out Mike, who knows what they’ll call you. Lowell thought it might be important to gain home-field advantage, but he still thought the Red Sox could beat the Indians without it.
“I think a lot of unproven guys would have to step up for Cleveland,” Lowell said. “Not that you root for anyone to be hurt. I don’t think the Red Sox are upset that Salazar and Carassco are on the shelf. The advantage either way — home field or not — has to go to the Red Sox. The offense is definitely better and the pitching sways their way, at least on paper.”
Former Mets GM Steve Phillips also believes the Red Sox had a huge pitching advantage in the series. Let’s not forget that the Red Sox beat this team 4-2 during the regular season when they had their full arsenal of pitchers. The Indians won their division, a much weaker one than the one the Red Sox play in, based on their rotation, which was the best in the American League for most of the season.
Terry Francona has tabbed Trevor Bauer as the Indians’ No. 1 starter in the playoffs since ace Corey Kluber has been dealing with a quadriceps injury. Bauer was 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA during the season. In two starts vs. the Red Sox this season Bauer has lasted six innings and allowed six runs on 10 hits for a 9.00 ERA.
Now the worm could turn here. There’s always that possibility. But Bauer is pretty erratic, and the Red Sox offense is capable of punishing that type of pitcher.
Kluber could be much tougher, but we won’t know how he reacts with his leg until he gets out there. He’s 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in two starts vs. the Red Sox this season, which is fair but definitely poses the best chance for the Indians to win a game he pitches in. He’s going to match up against David Price in Game 2 after Bauer and Rick Porcello go in Game 1.
Price, who pitched for Detroit for a lot of 2015, was 2-1 with a 1.27 ERA against the Indians in four starts in 2015 and 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA against the Indians this season, striking out 10 over six innings in his only start against them. Porcello also made just one start and pitched well for 5⅔ innings in his only start.
”I’ve faced them a lot the past couple of years so I think I know their lineup pretty well,” Price said. “They have a good lineup. You have to pitch your best.”
If you think Porcello has the edge vs. Bauer and Price and Kluber are fairly even, then the No. 3 and No. 4 starters could hold the key to the series. This is where the Indians could run into some trouble.
Both Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz have pitched very well. John Farrell even noted that one of the main reasons for Boston’s very good September was because of the way these two guys emerged. The Indians would go with veteran righty Josh Tomlin in Game 3, go back to Bauer on three days’ rest in Game 4 and to Kluber in Game 5.
Farrell said he has discussed pitching scenarios with his coaching staff. It doesn’t appear the team would push the envelope on anyone unless they faced elimination and were in a desperate situation. So you’ll likely see Boston go four deep.
By losing home-field advantage the Red Sox have essentially given the Indians a little more confidence. The Indians do hit well at Progressive Field (.288, .827 OPS) and not so much on the road (.237, .697 OPS). But if it comes down to pitching, the Red Sox seem to have a distinct advantage.
“We respect any opponent we’re playing, but we’re very comfortable on the road,” said bench coach Torey Lovullo, who has already started to formulate a game plan against the Indians. “It’s playoff baseball. A wide-open atmosphere.”
Lovullo said he feels the Red Sox match up well against the Indians, but “we match up well against anybody. We have to execute in a number of different ways.”
Lovullo will stress that his pitchers will have to control the Indians’ running game. The Indians led the AL with 132 stolen bases.
“Things started to crystallize over the past 24 hours, so a few of our coaches have jumped ahead a little bit to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are. They have a lot of energy and they’re playing very confident baseball.”
The Red Sox limped in so to speak, but Farrell indicated even though they lost five of their last six, “We’re still very confident. We’re very confident in how we’ve played on the road. That’s what we’re dealt with and we’ll deal with it.”