The American League Division Series will go, at most, five games.
When you think about it, that doesn’t seem like much, especially after playing 162 games (or 161 in the case of the Cleveland Indians). But even in a relatively short period of time, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into.
That’s certainly the case in both American League Division Series, especially with the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays renewing their newfound rivalry … you might have heard what happened last time they met.
But there’s no shortage of juicy storylines for the matchup pitting the Boston Red Sox against the Indians.
In fact, we went ahead and ranked some of the biggest storylines for the best-of-five series.
9. Mike Napoli returns to Boston
Mike Napoli only spent two-plus seasons in Boston, but the first baseman/designated hitter made a considerable impact during his time with the Red Sox. He was an integral part of Boston’s 2013 World Series-winning club and is looking to do the same in Cleveland. It’s worth pointing out Napoli has pretty good numbers at Fenway with 33 home runs in 201 career games.
8. A matchup of two of the best shortstops in the game
This might be the coming out party for Xander Bogaerts and/or Francisco Lindor. We saw Bogaerts on the big stage in limited action in 2013, but he’s now a huge part of the Red Sox’s core, representing a dangerous bat in the middle of one of baseball’s best lineups while also playing adequate defense at a premium position. It’s possible, however, he’s upstaged in this series by Lindor, the Tribe’s shortstop phenom. Lindor was a top-10 player in WAR as a table-setter who puts the ball in play a lot. Defensively, there’s a strong case to be made for him as baseball’s best defensive shortstop. These two are among the best at their position.
7. Indians’ home-field advantage
Cleveland was much more successful at home this season, which means Boston’s 1-5 end to the season could loom large when it’s all said and done. The Indians won the second-most home games (53) in all of baseball, and only the Red Sox scored more runs at home than the Indians did in the American League.
6. Yan Gomes’ injury
The Indians released their ALDS roster Wednesday afternoon, and maybe to the surprise of some, it included Yan Gomes. The catcher missed 68 games down the stretch due to shoulder and hand injuries, but he returned in the final weekend, promptly homering in his first at-bat. He’s a defensive rock behind the plate, and while his .176 batting average looks awful, he has some pop. Just having him back might be a boost. But what can he give the Indians over a five-game series? And will carrying three catchers end up limiting Terry Francona’s options?
5. Will Craig Kimbrel’s struggles carry over?
The stats certainly suggest 2016 was the worst of Craig Kimbrel’s career. That’s obviously very relative, and the Red Sox closer did suffer a knee injury, but he certainly didn’t finish the season on an inspiring note. Kimbrel allowed six runs in just three innings over his final four outings, including an alarming six walks and just three strikeouts. Not ideal. If he can’t figure it out in a hurry, the Red Sox are in big trouble.
4. The Indians’ starting pitching/injury issues
Speaking of pitching question marks, it’s hard to predict what we’ll see from the Cleveland starters. We know Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin are lined up for Games 1 through 3, but what you’ll get out of any of them is impossible to know. Bauer spent time in the bullpen this season, and while he’s got great stuff when he’s on, he’s a bit of a wild card. Kluber’s a former Cy Young Award winner, but he dealt with a quad injury down the stretch, and if that starts bothering him again, the Indians are likely done. Game 3 starter, Josh Tomlin, has a 5.79 career ERA at Fenway Park. And no one seems to know what will happen in a potential Game 4.
3. Andrew Miller vs. David Ortiz
Two of the most important players in this series are David Ortiz and Andrew Miller. It’s likely they’ll have plenty of showdowns in this series, especially because Francona is more than willing to use Miller in any high-leverage situation, no matter the inning. So if Ortiz comes up in a big spot in the seventh and Miller is ready, that’s going to be the matchup. The numbers favor Miller, too, as Ortiz has just one hit (and three strikeouts) in seven career at-bats against the big lefty.
2. David Price’s playoffs past
When the Red Sox signed David Price to a historic contract in the winter, the deal came with one obvious “Yeah, but.” Yeah, everyone knows what Price can do in the regular season, but what about the playoffs? The left-hander has allowed 33 runs in eight career postseason starts, and his 5.12 career playoff ERA jumps off the page. All it takes, though, is one dominant postseason to change the narrative, and the Red Sox obviously hope this is the year that their $217 million man is money in October.
1. Terry Francona vs. his former club (and one of his best friends)
There are plenty of storylines in this series with players and coaches squaring off against their former teams (including Red Sox manager John Farrell, who pitched for the Indians and spent time in Cleveland’s front office), but none will get as much attention as Francona clashing with the Red Sox in the playoffs for the first time since an ugly divorce from Boston. Obviously both sides have downplayed that storyline, but given how it ended for Francona in Boston (after two World Series titles, mind you), one imagines Francona would love nothing more than to send his former team packing — even if it means going through one of his best friends in Farrell, which is another plot line all by itself.
Thumbnail photo via David Richard/USA TODAY Sports Images