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ALCS Preview: Indians vs. Red Sox

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 12, 2007

Records -  Indians 96-66, Red Sox 96-66
Runs Scored
-  Indians 811 (6th), Red Sox 867 (3rd)
Runs Allowed - Indians 704 (3rd), Red Sox 657 (1st)

The Boston Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians five out of seven times during the regular season, had a Pythagorean record of .624 to Cleveland's .564, and played a tougher overall schedule than the Indians did.  Yet they scored only one run in 15 innings against dual Cleveland aces C.C. Sabathia and C.C, Fausto.  We take a closer look at this pairing of two excellent teams.

Catcher

Jason Varitek had an average year by his standards at the plate, but a great one by his standards behind it.  He was still grossly ineffective on both sides of the ball compared to Victor Martinez, the best overall catcher in baseball until Joe Mauer can prove that he can stay healthy.  No amount of leadership skills can make up for the difference in tangible quality between these two backstops.

Kelly Shoppach is probably better on both sides of the ball right now than Cap Varitek, and allows Ryan Garko to become the most dangerous pinch hitter in the postseason when he does start.  Doug Mirabelli will catch Tim Wakefield in Game 4.  Mirabelli has hit .195 over the past two seasons.

Edge: Indians

Infielders

Kevin Youkilis is an Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins Award favorite in the AL, though Ryan Garko's numbers against non-White Sox teams aren't fantastic (just a .278 BA).

Moving over one infield spot, Dustin Pedroia has been the American League's best overall second baseman since the end of April, while The Asdrube has been very solid since his August callup.  While a huge upgrade over Josh Barfield, Cabrera can't match up with Pedroia for sure.

Jhonny Peralta will be providing Youkilis with some stiff competition for that AGotM Award, while Julio Lugo has batted 83 points higher in the second half.  Lugo still isn't coming particularly close to justifying his contract, but he's not too much worse than Peralta right now (although he is a .190 hitter on the road).

At age 33, Mike Lowell is coming off his best season in three years.  Whoever signs him to a long-term contract this offseason will surely regret it, but for this series, Lowell is far superior to Casey Blake (at least at Fenway). 

Edge: Red Sox

Outfielders

A lot of people would be surprised to learn that Grady Sizemore had a better offensive season than Manny Ramirez did.  The rest of the outfield for both teams is surprisingly weak; a bunch of platooners, in fact.  No, Boston fans, Jacoby Ellsbury is not a bona fide .353 hitter at this stage of his career.  No, Cleveland fans, Franklin Gutierrez isn't anything more than an exploitable hacker at this stage of his career.  

Edge: Even

Designated Hitter/Bench

Travis Hafner had a down year, giving David Ortiz an obvious edge, as he had a career year despite hitting 19 fewer homers than he did in 2006.  Even if these two sluggers had identical stats for the year, you would have to give Big Papi an edge because of his incredible clutch play.

Both squads have reasonably strong benches due to the outfield platoon situations, but the aforementioned Garko/Shoppach factor gives Cleveland a slight edge.

Edge: Red Sox

Starting Pitchers

The postseason hasn't seen a 1-2 punch like C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona since the days of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in Arizona.  Jake Westbrook's overall numbers did not look good this year, but he had a 3.94 ERA at home and a 3.44 second half ERA after he had fully recovered from an April injury.  Paul Byrd is not spectacular, but he beat the Red Sox earlier in the year, and his last three starts in the postseason have been solid.

Beckett had a season somewhere in between Sabathia's and Carmona's in terms of quality, and Curt Schilling is one of the best postseason performers of all time.  The Indians have seen Dice-K twice this year, and so should not be fooled by his unusual delivery.  Tim Wakefield has a 4.64 career ERA in Jacobs's Field, and had an 8.76 ERA in five September starts.  It is frankly shocking that Terry Francona would consider doing anything other than long relief with the sore old man.

Edge: Indians

Bullpen

Two fantastic bullpens match up here.  But Jon Papelbon is certainly a surer option at the end than JoBo 45/5 Borowski, and I'm not prepared to believe that Eric Gagne is as bad as he appeared in his debut month with Boston; he had a 3.27 ERA this year outside of August.

Edge: Indians

Final Word

It's hard to imagine the Red Sox winning a game in Cleveland, and it's even harder to imagine the Indians doing worse than a split  with their pair of aces in the first two games.  I picked Cleveland to win the World Series in March, and that was before I had ever even heard of Fausto Carmona, so I'm certainly not going to back down now.

Prediction: Indians in five




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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