If it feels like every time the Cleveland Indians are in the postseason that they face the Boston Red Sox, you are only partially right.
For the fifth time in 12 playoff trips, the Indians will meet up with the Red Sox. Previous series have not been short of some entertaining ball games for both sides, and this season should prove no different.
The Indians (94-67) enter the series as underdogs against the mighty Red Sox (93-69) lineup that finished tops in the Majors with 878 runs scored while leading the game in all three triple slash numbers (.282/.348/.461) as a team. While the Boston lineup got plenty of hype and credit for what they did, the underrated Cleveland lineup scored the second most runs in the league while putting up a .262/.329/.430 slash. The Tribe pitching staff was slightly better than the Sox, finishing second in the league in ERA as a team, for starters, and for relievers, while their ALDS opponent was third in starting ERA, fourth in team, and fifth in relief.
Boston’s Game 1 starter Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15 ERA) had easily the best season of his eight-year career. One of those wins came against the Indians, who he defeated with five and two-thirds innings of two-run baseball. Both runs were driven in by Jason Kipnis with a two-out, two-run single in the second inning of the game.
He was impressive in the first half of the year, going 11-2 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 18 starts, but he stepped it up a notch after the All-Star break, putting up an identical 11-2 record while dropping his ERA more than a run at 2.62 in 15 starts. His WHIP was a minuscule 0.85 in the second half and he tossed all three of his complete games in the final three months of the season.
Porcello has thrived against Indians pitching in his career, going 10-4 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 22 starts. This includes a 5-3 mark in 12 starts at Progressive Field with a 2.84 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.
INDIANS AGAINST PORCELLO
Kipnis leads the club with eight RBI against Porcello, thanks to frequent at bats against him while he pitched in Detroit. Kipnis has ten hits, including a double and a homer. Carlos Santana is tops with three homers against him and has a pair of doubles, but has driven in just four runs in the 46 plate appearances. Santana hit a career high 34 homers and 87 RBI this season and finished eighth in the league with a .366 OBP. He also had a perfect 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, with 99 strikeouts and 99 walks for the season.
Rajai Davis has three hits in nine trips to the plate against him. Lonnie Chisenhall has four doubles in 24 career plate appearances off of him. Yan Gomes is 5-for-13 in his career against the former Tigers pitcher with two doubles, but is not in the starting lineup against the right-hander.
It has been one whirlwind season for Trevor Bauer, who survived a brief banishment to the bullpen to start the season to become one of the more important players on the roster, saving a rotation that dealt with ineffectiveness and multiple injuries.
Bauer appeared twice against the Red Sox this season, once in relief and once as a starter. The 25-year-old’s first relief appearance of the season came against the Sox in the season opener – he allowed a two-run homer to David Ortiz in the 6-2 loss. He later faced them in his fifth start of the season, going five innings while allowing four runs on eight hits with no strikeouts and two walks, the only time in 35 appearances this season that he did not register at least one K.
In his career, he has made only one other start against the Red Sox, working just an inning and two-thirds while allowing five runs on six hits in a loss last season.
RED SOX AGAINST BAUER
The Red Sox lineup has little experience against Bauer, with Xander Bogaerts leading the way with just six plate appearances against him.
Ortiz might be the biggest concern for Bauer, and rightfully so. Big Papi led the Majors with 48 doubles, a .620 slugging percentage, and his 1.021 OPS this season in his swan song. He tacked on 38 homers and drove in 127 runs. He owns an .800 average against Bauer in five career at bats with two doubles, a homer, and three RBI.
MVP candidate Mookie Betts has put up similar production, going 3-for-5 with two doubles, a homer, and four RBI in his career against Bauer. The 23-year-old, who will celebrate his birthday on Friday, was an All-Star for the first time this season while hitting .318 with a .363 OBP, adding in 42 doubles, 31 homers, and 113 RBI in an incredible breakout at the plate.
AN UNDERDOG STORY
The chips are stacked against the Indians again. Story of their season, right? No Michael Brantley, a long absence from Gomes, and the team is down two of their top starting pitchers for the ALDS. Season over, right?
While that was a story line that became a media frenzy, the truth of the matter is that the Indians have prevailed and triumphed in the face of adversity all season long. Now, despite home field advantage in the ALDS, they are the underdogs against a Boston club that hung around the AL East race all season and got hot just in time to capture the division title, but could not get the wins it needed to force the Indians to play an inconvenient makeup game on Monday, let alone clinch the home field spot from Cleveland for the series.
In three of the four previous playoff series against the Red Sox, the Indians have had home field advantage. They went a combined 8-4 in those three matchups, winning each of the first two series.
ROCK THE RED
The Indians are strongly encouraging their fans to Rock the Red while Rallying Together for the two home games at Progressive Field on Thursday and Friday. It seems like an odd decision if nothing else – their opponent is the Red Sox, whose primary color is…no surprise…red.
Boston fans travel well. Obnoxiously well. While the decision by Indians management to bring a red theme to their fan base may have conflicted with the mass majority of the postseason gear that the team sold in advance of the series, it could go a long way in drowning out the visual of a big Boston infiltration of Progressive Field. Now if only the Cleveland faithful can silence them. Much of that will come from what the Indians bats can do against Porcello early in the contest.
|Santana DH||Pedroia 2B|
|Kipnis 2B||Holt 3B|
|Lindor SS||Betts RF|
|Napoli 1B||Ortiz DH|
|Ramirez 3B||Ramirez 1B|
|Chisenhall RF||Bogaerts SS|
|Crisp LF||Bradley Jr. CF|
|Naquin CF||Leon C|
|Perez C||Benintendi LF|
|Bauer SP||Porcello SP|
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images