The Boston Red Sox won the crowded AL East to earn a playoff spot for the first time since winning the World Series three years ago, pitting them against AL central champions, the Cleveland Indians.
The storyline for the Red Sox took the right kind of turn over the last month and maybe more, separating themselves from the Blue Jays and Orioles. They did lose five of their last six games, but before that had a streak of 11 consecutive wins. The Indians enter the postseason with three consecutive wins in Kansas City, but also have a lot more injury problems to worry about, not to mention being possibly overwhelmed by the best offense in the majors. Boston rank first in runs, OBP, slugging and batting average. The Indians are a top 5 pitching team and top 10 hitting team, but the injuries and inconsistency could be too much to handle for them.
Lets not forget the Terry Francona angle: The Indians manager since 2013 led the Red Sox to two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. Facing a former team is always special, and certainly when it’s in the postseason. John Farrell, the current Red Sox manager, took over in 2013 (after the disastrous Bobby Valentine experiment), winning the World Series and then finishing bottom of the division for two straight years.
Previously this season: The Red Sox and the Indians met six times during the regular season, including the opening series which was filled with postponements due to rain, ending up giving us only two games, split between the teams. In a later 3-game series the Red Sox took 2-for-3, and after the All-Star break the two teams met for a single game, won by Boston.
Starting pitchers: The Red Sox are starting with Rick Porcello on the mound, which is about the best they can do. He won 22 games this season, more than anyone in the majors, also posting the highest strikeout to walk ratio in the league, 5.91. He posted a career best 3.15 ERA and a 1.009 WHIP. He faced the Indians once this season, helping the Red Sox win 5-2, giving up two runs in 5.2 innings while striking out 5. Carlos Santana has a .931 OPS vs Porcello, hitting 3 home runs while batting .293. Jason Kipnis also does pretty well facing Porcello.
The battered Indians rotation leaves them with Trevor Bauer to start. The 25-year old pitched a career high 190 innings this season, posting a 4.26 ERA and a 1.311 WHIP, both career bests. He looked bad in both games against the Red Sox, giving up six runs in six innings of work, both games ending in losses for the Indians. He hasn’t faced Red Sox players too much, but both David Ortiz and Mookie Betts have hit home runs off of him.
Hot bats: Both Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz are coming in swinging and hitting into the postseason. Ramirez is batting a .294 with 10 home runs over the last 23 games, while Ortiz is batting .298 with 7 home runs over the same timeframe, while Mookie Betts has fallen off a bit lately. Meanwhile, for Cleveland, Carlos Santana has the best OPS in the American League over the last 30 days, batting .355 with six home runs in his last 25 games. Jose Ramirez is also worth a mention, with a .323 average in the last 24 games.