Despite leading the Red Sox to two World Series titles, Terry Francona never won the AL Manager of the Year Award. That could change this year as Francona’s Cleveland Indians are atop the AL Central and one of the hottest teams in baseball.
The Tribe will be around +140 series underdogs, however, for their lone visit of the season to Fenway Park starting Thursday night.
Francona spent last season working for ESPN. He was hired by the Indians in October, getting the job over Sandy Alomar Jr., who was the team’s interim manager for the final six games of 2012. Francona had plenty of ties to the franchise, working in the front office in 2001. He also spent 62 games in 1988 as a player with Cleveland, and his father Tito played for the Tribe from 1959-64.
Cleveland, which is the +300 second favorite to Detroit to win the Central, was swept three games at home by the Red Sox from April 16-18, being outscored 19-8, but has been mostly rolling since. The Indians have really stepped it up against star pitchers, going 7-1 against past Cy Young Award winners this season entering Wednesday’s game against the Tigers’ Justin Verlander. The Indians lead the majors in home runs and slugging percentage.
Zach McAllister (3-3, 2.65) is scheduled to start Thursday. He lost to the Red Sox on April 18, allowing three runs and six hits in five innings. It was his shortest outing of the season, although he did strike out seven. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a tiebreaking homer in the fourth inning. Dustin Pedroia has the most career at-bats versus McAllister, going 3-for-9 with two RBIs.
Justin Masterson, dealt by Boston to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez deal in 2009, starts Friday. Masterson (7-2, 2.83) is the Tribe’s clear-cut ace and hasn’t allowed a run over 16 innings in his past two starts. The Sox tagged him for four runs and 11 hits in five innings April 17. Masterson has a career 3.80 ERA in 99.1 innings at Fenway. Mike Napoli is hitting .313 with a homer in 16 at-bats against Masterson. David Ortiz has one home run in 13 at-bats.
Scott Kazmir (2-2, 6.35) goes Saturday. The lefty once was a rising ace with Tampa Bay, a two-time All-Star, but his career went downhill fast and he didn’t pitch in the majors for nearly two years. Kazmir won the fifth spot in Cleveland’s rotation this spring. Kazmir, 29, hasn’t faced Boston since 2010. He has allowed nine runs over eight innings in his past two starts. Pedroia feasts off Kazmir in his career, hitting .515 with a homer in and just one strikeout in 33 at-bats.
On Sunday, Cleveland starts Corey Kluber (3-3, 5.19). He pitched Tuesday against Detroit and allowed three runs and eight hits in 6.1 innings in the loss. Kluber threw an inning of relief April 17 against the Sox and allowed a run and three hits. No Red Sox player has more than three at-bats against him.
Former Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher has done the most damage to Boston pitching among Tribe hitters this season, batting .273 with a homer and two RBIs. Cleveland batters hit only .198 with 27 strikeouts in that first Boston series.
This post is presented by Bovada.
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