The 2016 ALDS seems like a long time ago. The Cleveland Indians had no business winning with all their pitching injuries and the powerhouse Boston Red Sox were ready to make an easy trek to the World Series. Instead, the Indians swept and began their magical run to an American League championship and an at-bat away from winning it all.
Now, nine months later, and the Red Sox look like a bit of a dysfunctional mess. Maybe not a complete mess — and they will probably still compete for the American League East crown — but recent off-the-field issues with David Price, coupled with his injury, have the Sox reeling heading into this three-game set against the surging Indians.
While the Tribe were busy extending their winning streak to nine games (10, if Josh Tomlin doesn’t get hurt midway through his start Sunday), the Red Sox have gone 3-7 over their last 10 and handed over the East to the New York Yankees. Worst of all, the Red Sox lost two-of-three to the Kansas City Royals, who need to start losing any day now, please.
But it’s not all bad for Boston; it rarely is when you have a .538 winning percentage. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez, acquired last week in a trade with the San Francisco Giants, is off to a hot start with his new team: 5-for-14 with two home runs. Similarly, 20-year-old rookie Rafael Devers has gone 6-for-23 in five games since his debut.
The real issue for Boston has been pitching. Unfortunately, the Indians will run head-first into the only pitcher worth a damn in the Sox rotation this season, but they’ll also face Doug Fister. So it all evens out.
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Mike Clevinger (RHP) vs. Doug Fister (RHP)
Doug Fister had a trio of pretty great seasons with the Detroit Tigers many moons ago. Over a three-year span (including a half-season with the Seattle Mariners), the man with the best name in baseball was worth 11.4 fWAR. His 2011 season was almost Cy Young worthy with a 2.83 ERA and 3.02 FIP, even though he rarely struck anyone out. He was just effective in his own weird way.
Well, that stopped working and he’s been trending sharply downward since. Now 33 and still with a name that will be brought up in 20 years in a “Player Names You Won’t Believe Existed” post somewhere, Fister has a 7.46 ERA and 5.79 FIP with the Red Sox this season.
Fister twisted his way out of the starting rotation after three starts in which he allowed 12 runs over 14.2 innings. He made one spot start on July 20, but his only appearances since have come out of the bullpen, and one of them was a 2.2-inning performance in which he allowed two runs off three hits. With David Price sidelined, Fister has been thrust back into the rotation; he’ll make the start against the Indians on ESPN’s Monday Night Baseball.
For the first time in over a month, Mike Clevinger didn’t look great against the Los Angeles Angels in his last start. He allowed five runs off nine hits, but he still struck out five and only allowed two walks. From here on out, any start in which Clevinger doesn’t walk a bunch of batters will be considered passable in my book. That’s always been in his issue, and I don’t think his nasty stuff is going to suddenly become hittable. He just has to control it.
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Carlos Carrasco (RHP) vs Chris Sale (LHP)
Indians fans know Chris Sale well from his time on the Chicago White Sox. Most recently he’s been a punchline as the pitcher who cut up jerseys he didn’t like, but there has always been a notion that the Indians “have his number,” at least by some fans.
That’s not necessarily true, but the Indians have gotten to the star pitcher a few times in his career, 2013 especially. His two worst starts against the Tribe came during that magical season: a 4.1-inning games in which he allowed eight runs off eight hits, and a 5.0-inning game where he allowed five runs off 10 hits.
Back in the real world, Chris Sale is an outstanding player, and the Red Sox shouldn’t feel too bad about parting with Yoan Moncada for him. Sale leads all American League pitchers with a 6.6 fWAR (a full 2.5 wins over the second-place Corey Kluber), a 1.91 FIP, and a 2.37 ERA, and a 36.7 percent strikeout rate. He’s been absolutely incredible for the Red Sox, despite allowing far more fly balls than he ever has in his career. It just so happens fly balls don’t matter much when you’re also striking out more than a third of the batters you face.
Carlos Carrasco can’t seem to stop allowing runs every start, but at least it’s normally not a lot. He hasn’t thrown a shutout since June 21, and he’s allowed at least two in his last four outings.
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) vs. Rick Porcello (RHP)
Rick Porcello was the American League Cy Young Award winner last season. Please stop laughing, it’s true. With a 3.15 ERA and 3.40 FIP, voters decided he was more worth of the trophy than Justin Verlander, leading to an outstanding tweet from Kate Upton.
Surprisingly enough, Porcello couldn’t follow up his “Cy Young season” very well. He currently sports a 4.55 ERA and 4.33 FIP, which are both well above his career norms. He is striking out batters at a great clip — 20.7 percent, second highest of his career — but he’s also giving up almost two home runs per nine innings.
Speaking of giving up home runs, here’s the paragraph about Trevor Bauer. Though, to be fair, Trevor hasn’t allowed a home run since June 28. He just hasn’t been great in a few starts since then, for various reasons. His last start was an absolute gem, though: six strikeouts over eight innings, one run off seven hits.
Whiffable force versus non-strikeoutable object
Chris Sale, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer are all pitching in this game, representing three of the top-15 highest strikeout rates in the American League. Unfortunately for them, neither the Indians nor Red Sox strike out a whole lot. The two teams have some of the lowest team-strikeout rates in the league at 18.3 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively. The only team in the majors to strike out less this season is the Houston Astros, who have whiffed just 17.4 percent of the time.
ESPN can’t resist putting the Red Sox on national TV, but at least they aren’t playing the Yankees for once. The Indians will be on ESPN tonight as well as Wednesday. Also worth noting, the Tuesday matchup will be on MLB Network.
Boston Red Sox roster
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