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ALDS Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox

Revenge is a dish best served after roughly nine years.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The long wait is over — the Cleveland Indians are in the playoffs. Not some Wild Card, one-game B.S. like in 2013 either. They are in, and they are hosting the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS after surging late and sweeping the Kansas City Royals to secure the No. 2 seed. Now can they make the best of it and avenge 2007?

This is not a new matchup for either team. The last time they met in the playoffs was that fateful October nearly nine years ago in the ALCS. The Indians crumbled late in Game 7 and allowed eight runs in the final two innings. Boston would go on to to win the World Series that year, their second in a four-year span, while the Indians would not find themselves in any kind of playoff appearance until the 2013 Wild Card.

In 2016, the Indians dropped the series matchup to the Red Sox, 2-4. Five of those six games came before June, however. Before the Indians really began to assert themselves as a playoff contender. The only game after June 1 was an August 15 make-up game that the Tribe dropped, 2-3, to Drew Pomeranz, whose role in this series will be limited to the bullpen, at most.

The Game 2 matchup of this series, David Price against Corey Kluber, was also the Opening Day matchup. Price and the Red Sox took that game, 2-6. The Indians offense was stifled on that cold April night, but they bounced back in the second (and final, due to rain) game of the opening series.

The weather for the first set of games in Cleveland should be pristine with temperatures in the mid-70s with not even a percent of rain expected. Sunday’s Game 3 in Boston could be a different story, with roughly a 40 percent chance of rain around first pitch (4:00 p.m. ET).

Pitching matchups

Game 1 — Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) vs. Rick Porcello (RHP)

Trevor Bauer may not have any postseason experience, but Rick Porcello does not have much more. In his career, he has started just two playoff games. Both for the Detroit Tigers and both in 2011. Porcello has had some good seasons in his seven-year career, but nothing quite like 2016.

His 3.15 ERA and 3.40 FIP are both career-lows by wide margins. His previous low in ERA was 2014, with the Tigers, when he had a 3.43 ERA in 204.2 innings. Speaking of which, he also set a new high in innings pitched in 2016 with 223.0 — just the second time in his career he crossed the two century mark in IP.

Porcello finished the season with 13-straight quality starts, which are defined as pitching six or more innings with three or fewer runs allowed. His most recent was against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he allows three earned runs in exactly six innings of work.

Porcello’s 21.2 strikeout rate is also the best of his career, while his 3.6 percent walk rate is his lowest by a full 1.3 percent. At 27 years old, he has had a breakout season and turned into a Cy Young candidate.

Opposing Porcello will be Trevor Bauer, who is still waiting on a breakout season of his own. This year was close, though. Bauer finished 2016 with a career-best 3.99 FIP, but his ERA inflated to 4.26 due to some rough outings. His strikeout rate also dropped to a career-low 20.7 percent — although his walk rate dipped to 8.6 percent from the 10.6 percent of batters he walked last season.

Although he has looked flat-out dominant in some of his starts, such as the eight innings of two-hit ball with 13 strikeouts he threw against Toronto on August 19, Bauer has had several implosions this season. Always a tinkerer and experimental on the mound, the 25-year-old seems like he just needs to get out of his own head at times. Let’s hope he is the type of pitcher who thrives on the concentration required in the postseason.

Game 2 — Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. David Price (LHP)

After an abysmal start to the season, David Price has rebounded to a serviceable pitcher for the Red Sox with a 3.99 ERA and a 3.60 FIP in 230.0 innings. Granted, a serviceable pitcher is probably not what Dave Dombrowski and the Boston front office envisioned handed him a seven-year, $217 million deal in the offseason.

Price was the starting pitcher in the Red Sox’s 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday — their final game of the season, and the same game that sealed Boston’s fate as the No. 3 seed. Price was far from the reason the Red Sox lost, having only given one earned run in five innings, but he was pulled after 80 pitches.

Despite some decent peripherals, and a passable FIP, Price ended up giving up too many runs throughout 2016. His 1.17 home runs per nine innings was the second-most of his career, behind only his rookie campaign in which he allowed 1.19 home runs per nine.

Price allowed two or fewer runs in all but two of his final 10 starts, although both of those poor outings were relatively recent — six earned runs allowed against the New York Yankees on September 27 and five allowed against the same Yankee squad on the 17th.

In Price’s lone start against the Indians this season, on Opening Day, he shut down the Tribe lineup for six innings, holding them to just two hits and two earned runs with 10 strikeouts. That double-digit strikeout effort was his first of seven on the season. It was also one of just a handful of starts in which he did not allow a home run.

Now that Corey Kluber is done giving us a heart attack with a strained groin, he is expected to start Game 2 of the ALDS. The Klubot left his September 26 start against the Detroit Tigers early with tightness in his right thigh. An MRI later revealed the minor injury as a strain and he was listed as day-to-day. Given the recent injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, an injury to Kluber was the last thing anyone has wanted.

Outside of the one fluke injury, Kluber has been a workhorse for the Indians again in 2016 — one of the most consistent pitchers in the league with a shot at the AL Cy Young. He finished fifth among AL starters in innings pitched (215.0), fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.50), fourth in earned run average (3.14), first in fielding independent pitching (3.26), and second in FanGraphs WAR (5.1) behind a three-way tie consisting of Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello (5.2 each).

Kluber has faced the Red Sox twice this season. One was good, one was not so good. The good start came on May 20 when Kluber pitched seven strong innings, allowing two earned runs off of five hits as the Indians down the Red Sox, 4-2. His bad outing was on Opening Day against Price — he allowed four runs off of nine hits in 5.1 innings. Kluber struck out just five Red Sox batters in that debut outing; one of only five times this season he has failed to reach six strikeouts in an outing.

Game 3 — Sunday, 4:00 p.m. ET: Josh Tomlin (RHP) vs. TBD

The Red Sox have not announced their Game 3 starter yet, but Eduardo Rodriguez seems to be the favorite to start the pivotal game in the series. If Rodriguez does get the start, it would be the second-year pitcher’s first playoff start. In 107 innings for the Red Sox this season, Rodriguez carried a 4.71 ERA and a 4.43 FIP.

Rodriguez finished the season strong, however, with three-straight starts of five or more innings with three or fewer runs allowed. In his last two starts combined, Rodriguez threw 10.1 innings with 22 strikeouts and seven walks. Rodriguez has yet to face the Indians in 2016, although he did face them once last season — 8 IP, 5 SO, 1 H, 1 ER.

Another option for the Red Sox could be Clay Buchholz. It wouldn’t be great for Boston. This is far from the same Buchholz from the late ‘00s -- he gives up a ton of home runs and he has a major issue with walks in 2016. As good as Rick Porcello and — at times — David Price are, you really see the weakness in the Red Sox rotation when you dig this far.

The Indians have not technically announced Josh Tomlin as the third starter yet, either, but I feel confident enough to call it. The Little Cowboy has had a rough season, overall. The regression monster has feasted on his corpse. However, since a demotion to the bullpen, he has emerged as something else entirely.

In his last four starts of the season, Tomlin allowed five earned runs and — most importantly — only one home run. He also did not walk a single batter in that span. Tomlin may never replace Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar, but if he can hold the fort the way he has recently, the Indians could be in luck for Game 3.

That’s exactly what Tomlin did in his only start against the Red Sox this season, too. In 7.2 innings back on August 15, Tomlin held the Sox offense to three runs off of seven hits and no walks. As with any Tomlin start, the key will be not giving up home runs.

Games 4 & 5 (if needed)

Who knows what will happen here? Assuming the series goes this long, one team is going to be in panic mode, which means the crazy scenarios could come out. The Red Sox would be likely to re-use David Price and Rick Porcello as much as possible. Cleveland could do the same with Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber on short rest if they want, or they could trust their season in the hands of rookie Mike Clevinger.

How to watch

Game Date Time TV
ALDS Game 1 Thursday, Oct 6 8:08p ET TBS
ALDS Game 2 Friday, Oct 7 4:38p ET TBS
ALDS Game 3 Sunday, Oct 9 4:08p ET TBS
ALDS Game 4 TBD (If needed) TBD (If needed) TBS
ALDS Game 5 TBD (If needed) TBD (If needed) TBS

Whoever wins between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays will kick off the ALDS round against the Texas Rangers at 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday, giving the Indians and Red Sox the primetime 8:00 p.m. slot.

All five games, as needed, will be covered by a TBS crewed comprised of Sam Ryan, Ron Darling, Ernie Johnson, and Cal Ripken Jr.

Team in a box

Boston Red Sox -- Offense AL Rank Pitching AL Rank
Record 93-63 R/G 1st (5.42) ERA 4th (4.00)
AL East 1st OBP 1st (.348) HR/9 1st (1.10)
Last 10 5-5 SLG 1st (.461) BB/9 9th (3.06)
Home (Away) 47-34 (46-35) Steals 6th (83) SO/9 5th (8.51)

Yeah, what do you want? The Red Sox are a freakishly good team. Especially on offense. The only thing they do not lead everyone is stolen bases, because it’s hard to do that when David Ortiz is 1/9th of your lineup. Other than that, though, this is just an incredible lineup from top to bottom.

As a group, the Red Sox also have the highest BABIP in the AL at .320, so maybe some luck is involved. But it’s not that simple. They also have the highest hard-hit percentage among AL teams (33.4%), and they are one of the best teams at evenly distributing the ball all over the field.

Red Sox batters show remarkable patience at the plate, and when they do swing at something outside of the zone they make contact an AL-leading 68.6 percent of the time. As you may expect, their overall contact rate is also best in the AL at 81.6 percent; a paltry 0.1 percent better than the Mike Trout-led Los Angeles Angels.

Their pitching looks equally as good, collectively, but a lot of that is Rick Porcello’s greatness this season, as well as David Price’s not terrible-ness. You’d be surprised how far too well-above-average pitchers can make your staff look. Not to mention Steven Wright, who has not pitched since August 31 when John Ferrell made the greatest managerial decision of all time by having his star pitcher pinch run. Predictably, he dove back into second base an injured his shoulder.

Boston Red Sox Roster

Position players

The playoff rosters are not set in stone yet, but we have a pretty good idea of what kind of lineup the Red Sox are going to send out there. No matter who it is, it’s going to hurt.

Right or wrong, Mookie Betts is probably going to win the MVP. If no one named Mike Trout played baseball right now, I would have no qualms with that. Betts has been phenomenal for the Red Sox this season. His 7.7 fWAR is second in the AL beyond you-know-who, and his wRC+ is eighth in the league. He also leads the Red Sox in stolen bases with 26 — the only Boston position player with more than 20.

The Red Sox’s excellent outfield is rounded out by Jackie Bradley Jr. and rookie sensation Andrew Benintendi. In just 34 games this season, 22-year-old Benintendi has made a name for himself in Boston’s star-studded offense. He is sixth in wRC+ on the team, which does not sound great, but he has a 120 wRC+ — this offense is just that good. He has an 8.5 percent walk rate, which is solid for a rookie, and a BABIP of .367, which is probably not high coincidentally.

Obviously, the story of this series (whether we want it to be or not) is going to be David Ortiz. The 40-year-old designated hitter is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame and making his final trip around baseball. All. Season. Long. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for those of us who are already sick of hearing about it, Ortiz has been fantastic in his swan song season.

Ortiz’s 38 home runs are not a career-high, but Big Papi has not hit that many dingerz in a decade. His 163 wRC+ is also the highest it has been since 2012, as is his .401 on-base percentage.

I have nothing against Ortiz personally, but much like Tim Tebow, he has gotten so much relentless coverage that I have grown to hate him. I would love nothing more than to see the Indians end his season now before he gets too close to the World Series and ESPN and the baseball world implodes in on itself in one glorious tongue bath.

Bullpen

The Red Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel in the offseason from the liquidating San Diego Padres. Acting as the Red Sox’s closer, Kimbrel leads all Boston relievers with a 1.2 fWAR as well as one of the bullpen’s best FIP at 2.92. He never makes things easy, though, with a whopping 5.09 walks per nine innings.

Thirty-six-year-old Brad Ziegler came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks midseason and has looked great for the Red Sox in 29.2 innings. His 1.52 ERA and 2.71 FIP would both be some of the best of his career over a full season. Maybe it’s not even worth nothing, but Ziegler effectively lost the Red Sox their shot at home-field advantage in this series with a shaky eighth inning in his last outing against the Blue Jays. So, thanks!