The Boston Red Sox are going back to where it all began.
The Red Sox are matched up against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division series, which begins Thursday night at Progressive Field, the site where Boston beat the Tribe 6-2 on Opening Day. Both clubs have come a long way since then, though: The Indians won the American League Central with the second-best record in the AL (94-67), while the AL East champion Red Sox were right behind them (93-69).
Boston and Cleveland met only six times this season, but between manager Terry Francona, first baseman Mike Napoli and closer Andrew Miller, there are plenty of familiar faces in the Indians’ dugout. So, who has the edge in this ALDS reunion party? Let’s break it down.
Head-to-head matchup: 4-2 Boston
STARTING ROTATION (PROJECTED)
Game 1 at Cleveland: Rick Porcello, RHP vs. Trevor Bauer, RHP
Game 2 at Cleveland: David Price, LHP vs. Corey Kluber, RHP
Game 3 at Boston: Clay Buchholz, RHP vs. Josh Tomlin, RHP
Game 4 at Boston (if necessary): Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP vs. Bauer
Game 5 at Cleveland (if necessary): Porcello vs. Kluber
The Indians started the year with a better rotation, but injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco set them back. While Bauer and Kluber are a solid 1-2 punch, Tomlin doesn’t inspire much fear. For Boston, concerns linger outside Porcello, who should win the AL Cy Young Award. Price’s postseason struggles are well-documented, and even though Rodriguez and Buchholz have pitched well lately, both are easily capable of imploding against the Indians’ strong lineup. In the end, though, Porcello’s dominance and Price’s pedigree give Boston the edge.
Advantage: Red Sox
Red Sox’s projected bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Matt Barnes, Robbie Ross Jr., Drew Pomeranz, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree
Indians’ projected bullpen: Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Kyle Crockett, Jeff Manship, Cody Anderson
Boston posted the lowest bullpen ERA in baseball in September, but anyone who has followed this group knows it has major question marks. Kimbrel allowed runs in three of his last four outings to raise concerns about his postseason reliability, while the eighth inning will fall to the 41-year-old Uehara or the erratic Kelly. The Indians, meanwhile, acquired a stud in Miller at the trade deadline to pair in the back end with Allen, who hasn’t blown a save since mid-August.
Red Sox’s projected starting lineup: 2B Dustin Pedroia, SS Xander Bogaerts, DH David Ortiz, RF Mookie Betts, 1B Hanley Ramirez, CF Jackie Bradley Jr., 3B Brock Holt, C Sandy Leon, LF Andrew Benintendi
Key bench players: Chris Young, Travis Shaw, Aaron Hill, Christian Vazquez
Indians’ projected starting lineup: DH Carlos Santana, 2B Jason Kipnis, SS Francisco Lindor, DH Mike Napoli, 3B Jose Ramirez, RF Lonnie Chisenhall, LF Rajai Davis, CF Tyler Naquin, C Roberto Perez
Key bench players: Yan Gomes, Juan Uribe, Brandon Guyer, Coco Crisp
First things first: The Indians have a solid, balanced lineup. Napoli is coming off a career year, Lindor and Ramirez both hit over .300 and Kipnis and Santana provide extra pop. Cleveland even scored the second-most runs in the AL. But guess who put up 101 more runs than the Tribe? The Red Sox, who got MVP-caliber seasons from Betts and Ortiz, a 30-homer, 111-RBI campaign from Ramirez and excellent production from Bogaerts and Betts. Against any other AL opponent, Cleveland has the offensive edge. Not here.
Advantage: Red Sox
The Red Sox have an exceptional defense, especially in the outfield, where Betts and Bradley rank second and third in the AL, respectively, in outfield assists. Only Detroit made fewer errors than Boston in the AL this season. Cleveland’s X-factor is its run game: The Tribe boasted the most steals (134) and the highest success rate (81.2 percent) of any AL club in 2016. The Red Sox went 20-24 in one-run games this year (although they fared better in close games down the stretch), while the Indians’ 28-21 record in one-run contests ranked fourth-best in the AL.
PREDICTION — Red Sox in 5
Given the injuries in the Indians’ rotation and the strength of the Red Sox’s lineup, Boston is the better team on paper. Cleveland has a balanced offensive attack and a strong bullpen, though, and Francona is one of the best managers in baseball. The Tribe are good enough to push this series to a Game 5 in Cleveland, but that’s where Porcello and the Sox will send them packing.
Thumbnail photo via David Richard/USA TODAY Sports Images