A rainy week in Boston is due to clear up just in time for the ALCS to begin tonight. In a way, it’s good they had such a big gap scheduled, because there would likely have been rain delays or postponements had the ALCS been due to start Wed or Thurs.
Both teams have had plenty of time to study each other, and when they finish their studying, they might feel like they were looking in the mirror. The 2 teams are very similar. Not only were they tied for the best record in baseball, but they both have #1 starters with almost identical stats and who are considered the top 2 contenders for the Cy Young award, #2 starters who are currently dominating, very good #3 starters, and quality, mature-but-inconsistent #4 starters.
They have 2 of the best bullpens in the league. They both have good, deep offenses. They’re even similar in personnel. Many Red Sox are former Indians. Pitching Coach John Farrell was with Cleveland last year, and was responsible for player development throughout their organization for the last several years, so he has been personnally responsible for much of their current success. Coco Crisp started his career in Cleveland; most of his career so far was there. Francona and Farrell both played together there in 1988. Tavarez pitched there. Several veterans on the Sox spent a year or two there at some point in their career.
Then of course, there’s Manny Ramirez, who spent the first half of his career there.
What are the differences? The biggest one is payroll. The Red Sox spend more than twice as much as the Indians. Kudos to the Indians for doing just as well with less money.
So how to pick a winner in this series? It’s difficult. I think the series will go to 7 games. Either team could win.
Who gets the edge? The Red Sox have small edges in several important areas that I can see:
- Fielding. Cleveland had 93 errors (Good), while Boston had 81 errors (Great). Even adjusting for the fact that Cleveland had 4% more total chances, there’s still a difference that gives a slight edge to Boston.
- Closer. This one is actually a big advantage. Borowski: 5.07 ERA, 85% save rate, 1.43 WHIP. Papelbon: 1.85 ERA, 92.5% save rate, 0.78 WHIP!
- Veterans. The Red Sox have a lot of guys with playoff experience and big game experience.
- Home field advantage – ‘Nuf Said.
- Manny and Papi – When these teams met earlier in the year and traded 1-0 victories (with Sabathia and Carmona), Manny and Papi were both in hitting funks. In the last 2 weeks, they’ve both been locked in, and hitting better than at any time this season. Cleveland has a good, balanced offense, with their top 7 in at bats all between .266 and .301, with 6 of them between 18 and 25 homers (5 over 20) which compares well to the REST of the Red Sox lineup, but they have nothing to compare to Papi and Manny when they’re hot.
Cleveland has slight advantages in these areas:
- Starting Pitching is slightly better
- Middle Relief is slightly better.
- Trot Nixon – the fact that this guy is a huge clutch player with a long history of coming up big off great pitching in key situations in Fenway Park… just… scares… me!
Overall, the advantage goes to Boston.
Right now, the Red Sox can say for the first time all year that they’re fully healthy with both Manny and Papi hitting well. The Red Sox lost a lot of 1-run games mid-season when those 2 hitters were slumping. If they’d had years resembling their previous 2 years, the Red Sox would have won over 100 games, easily.
Cleveland has been playing consistently well all year. They played a little bit better down the stretch, but mostly, they’ve been consistent.
While I give kudos to Cleveland for being consistent, and in many ways that’s more impressive, it seems like the Red Sox have a higher gear they can get to, and they’re finally getting to it right now.
I expect the Red Sox to win this series in 7 games. They’re just too balanced. Starters, relievers, defense, power hitters, on-base hitters, speed, baserunning.
Speed and baserunning! I forgot to mention. Believe it or not, the Red Sox have the advantage there!
The Red Sox stole 96 bases and were caught 24 times, for an 80% success rate.
The Indians stole 72 bases and were caught a ******** 41 times, for a 63.7% success rate.
Against the dominant starters, small-ball might be the key to winning, and the Sox can play that game better.
For Game 1, looking at Beckett vs Sabathia:
Sabathia hasn’t pitched in Fenway this year. His first playoff start, vs. the Yankees, was OK, but not great, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits in 5 innings with a small strike zone and uncharacteristically high number of walks.
Beckett had a 4.17 ERA in Fenway. His first playoff start, vs. the Angels, was dominant, with a complete game 4 hit shutout.
I think Sabathia will pitch better than his first playoff game, and go deeper. He’ll probably finish about 7 innings and give up 2 runs.
Beckett should go about the same, giving up about 1 run.
Final score: 3-1 Red Sox.
Unless Trot Nixon once again comes up late in the game with a chance to tie or win it. Then all bets are off. 🙂