Friday, October 12, 2007

ALCS Preview: Red Sox v. Indians

ALCS: Boston v. Cleveland The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians square off beginning tonight at Boston's Fenway Park shortly after 7:00 pm ET. While Boston is favored to win the series and move on to the World Series, the Indians are not about to just roll over. In their 4-game win over the Yankees in the divisional series, they displayed not only superb starting pitching from the likes of C.C. Sabathia (who will face Josh Beckett in Game 1), Fausto Carmona (right) and Paul Byrd, but exceptional middle relief by Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt. The Cleveland bullpen canceled out New York's hitters in the late innings, as they did throughout the regular season to every other team in the league. Through the second half, the Cleveland bullpen was the most dominant in the majors and that momentum has carried through to the playoffs. Offensively, Cleveland relies on solid fundamental baseball, moving runners over, stealing the occasional base, sacrificing and keen baserunning skills than Boston's power game. Their top hitter was catcher Victor Martinez, who led the team in the three most important categories with a .301 batting average, 25 homers and 114 RBI. Martinez gets plenty of people on base in front of him, especially leadoff man Grady Sizemore, Ryan Garko and late-season addition, Kenny Lofton. DH Travis Hafner provides more power and bats in front of Martinez. Hafner knocked 24 out of the park and totaled 100 RBI during the regular season. If Cleveland has balance, the Red Sox have one of the more powerful lineups, especially in the 3, 4 and 5 slots, as Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz (right) and Mike Lowell combined for 76 home runs and 325 RBI in the regular season, despite Ramirez, arguably the most dangerous of the trio, missing nearly 30 games late in the season. The Sox have plenty of good bats up and down the lineup, though Julio Lugo's .237 batting average and .294 on-base percentage are a concern. What's not a problem is game one starter Josh Beckett, who was the most dominant pitcher in the AL for almost the entire season, and he's proven to be even better in the post-season. Boston's sweep of the Angels in the divisional series started with a Beckett shutout in game 1. After Beckett, Curt Schilling has been named the #2 starter, pushing high-priced Daisuke Matsuzaka back to game 3. If Boston decides not to pitch Beckett in game 4, that duty would fall to workhorse knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who can be virtually unhittable or banged around the yard, depending on the flutter-ability of his famous pitch.
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The Red Sox and Indians finished with identical 96-66 records, tops in the majors, and while pitching is solid for both teams, their hitters will not be kept entirely in check. Bottom line, is that the Indians actually have an edge with Carmona over Schilling. After game two, this could go either way, but the Indians late-inning pitching advantage is obvious and their clutch hitting has carried them thus far and should continue. Boston has had bullpen issues for most of the season and those may become magnified in this short series. If the Indians get a split in Boston, they will have the upper hand. Prediction: Cleveland advances to the World Series in 7 games.

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