Series Preview: Red Sox Look to Recoup in Cleveland

It appears as though our Red Sox, who made the biggest splash this off-season, did so with a veritable belly-flop of titanic proportions. Suffice to say, we’re all asking the same questions:

Will Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury ever recover from their injury-riddled 2010 seasons or have they become nothing more than glorified platoon players for the remainder of their careers?

Should Terry Francona start using the DH role for Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s spot in the lineup?

What is the return policy on all these Carl Crawford jerseys? Better yet, how about on Crawford himself?

Will anyone notice if we all just become Baltimore Orioles fans?

Yes, just three games into the 2011 season -- one that, at least initially, began with enormous expectations -- and Red Sox fans everywhere are already abandoning ship.

At least that’s what everyone else around Major League Baseball seems to assume.

While that’s obviously not the case and nobody is asking those questions, at least not us rational folk, it’s certainly not easy to simply move on and forget that Texas-sized trouncing our shiny new team took last weekend in Arlington. However, that’s precisely what Red Sox Nation -- and more importantly, the Red Sox themselves -- will have to do in order to get back on track en route to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series title. Then again, perhaps we should start with win number one.

Hopefully, that first victory -- maybe even the second and third -- will come this week in Cleveland, where the Red Sox open a three-game set with the Indians later this afternoon.

A preview of the series, complete with each game’s probable starters, storylines to watch and maybe even a bit of optimism sprinkled in for a change of pace, is awaiting you after the jump. So, go ahead and jump! That is, unless you are one of the irrational Red Sox fans who have already given up hope, in which case you should probably take a step back from the ledge and relax a little.

 

SERIES OVERVIEW

 

 

Boston Red Sox (0-3) @ Cleveland Indians (1-2)

 

While the Indians enter the series fresh off a 7-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday -- one that saw them turn a triple play and ride seven strong innings from former Red Sox pitcher, Justin Masterson -- it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the Tribe thus far in 2011, either. Prior to the game on Sunday, the White Sox had beaten-up on the hometown Indians’ pitching to the tune of 23 runs in the series’ first two games, both defeats for Cleveland.

All-in-all, the Indians surrendered a grand total of 24 runs in their initial three games of the season -- or two less than our visiting Red Sox did in their first three. The one difference, albeit a distinct one, is that these two teams have less-than-synonymous expectations around the baseball world and with good reason.

It’s no secret that the Indians are a franchise in rebuilding mode. So much so, that Terry Francona directly admitted to holding Josh Beckett -- who starts game one of the series later today -- out of the Boston’s first series in an effort to allow him the luxury of working out the kinks in his first start of 2011 against a more, well, friendly opponent. I’m sure in retrospect, Josh wholeheartedly appreciates the gesture after having a front row seat this last weekend in Texas.

While Red Sox fans may still be a bit squeamish at the thought of what recently happened against the Rangers, perhaps slightly more so at even the possibility of an 0-4 start, one thing is for certain: An otherwise mundane mid-week series on the road against a hapless Indians squad will be significantly more interesting given what has transpired to this point.

So, at least we got that going for us.

 

 

Probable Starters

 

Game 1: April 5th, 7:05 PM ET 

 Josh Beckett (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Josh Tomlin (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

 

The Indians send out 26-year-old Josh Tomlin to start the series against the Red Sox. Tomlin, thankfully, is a right-hander, which bodes well for Boston’s lefty-heavy lineup. As a rookie last season, Tomlin became just the second Indians pitcher in over ninety years to last at least five innings in his first 12 career starts. In doing so, he racked-up a 6-4 record to go along with a 4.56 earned run average. In his 13 Spring Training innings, Josh allowed six earned runs and struck out nine. In 2005, Tomlin was a teammate of Clay Buchholz on the Angelina College baseball team.

Now, on to our guy.

What can you say about Josh Beckett’s 2010 campaign? A lot, if you stick with the negatives. When he wasn’t on the disabled list his performance on the field sort of made you wish he was. Of course, that’s not entirely fair as it was evident that even when he was able to perform he wasn’t at full-strength. All of the aforementioned circumstances led to a career-high 5.78 earned run average and Josh’s fewest starts (21) and wins (6) in a single season since 2002 when, coincidentally, he also started 21 and won six. If history tells us anything about Beckett, it’s that he has an strange affinity for odd-numbered years and he seemingly never has back-to-back disappointing seasons; a good sign heading into 2011 after a poor 2010. Beckett is at his best when he faces adversity and is put in big game situations. One of the last times he demonstrated this was, oddly enough, in the 2007 ALCS’ game five against the Indians. Down three games to one, Josh powered through the pressure to dominate the Indians in Cleveland and lead the Red Sox back from the brink of defeat on the way to their last World Series title. Also, for what it’s worth, Beckett’s lone start against the Indians last season was undeniably his best as he fired eight innings, allowing just one run on three hits, striking out eight and walking zero. With an 0-4 start potentially looming and needing to prove something on a personal level, look for Beckett to pitch with purpose in his first start of 2011. What that means, only time will tell.

 

GAME 2: April 6th, 7:05 PM ET

 

 Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Mitch Talbot (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Mitch Talbot, the Indians’ game two starter, did not have an effective Spring, but did manage to win 10 games and sport a respectable 4.41 ERA in 28 starts last season as part of a team that lost 93 games. Talbot faced the Red Sox just once in 2010, allowing five runs (two earned) on six hits, while walking four and striking out two in his four innings of work en route to a no decision. Despite holding opposing hitters to a .276 average a year ago, it appears Talbot represents a favorable chance for Boston’s offense to find their groove.

With the unpredictability of our own starting pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, that’s a groove that we’ll likely need.

After winning 33 games in his first two seasons with the Red Sox after coming over from Japan, Matsuzaka has managed just 13 wins combined in 2009-10. Spring Training was a microcosm of his first four years with the Red Sox as he struggled mightily in his first three starts (8 2/3 IP, 12 H, 11 ER) before turning it around and looking brilliant in his final three (16 2/3 IP, 10 H, 3 ER). A model of inconsistency, it’s hard to expect anything except the unexpected when Daisuke toes the rubber. However, much like Beckett, Matsuzaka enters 2011 with much to prove and not a whole lot expected of him.

 

GAME 3: April 7th, 12:05 PM ET

   Jon Lester (0-0, 8.44 ERA) vs. Fausto Carmona (0-1, 30.00 ERA)

Like Cleveland’s game one starter, Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona matched a mark not seen in the Indians’ organization for over ninety years -- his is only slightly less gratifying. In his first start against the White Sox this season, Carmona tied the team record for most runs (10) surrendered in an Opening Day game and managed to do so in just three innings of work. His Spring Training numbers, aside from a March 8th start against Arizona, were much more indicative of the type of pitcher Carmona has the potential to be. In his final four starts of the Spring, Fausto gave up just five earned runs in 21 innings. In his career against the Red Sox, Carmona is 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA. While he represents the toughest pitcher that Boston will face in this series, it’s hard not to like the Sox’s chances in this game.

Amidst staff ace discussions all off-season leading up to his first career Opening Day start, Red Sox fans had high expectations for Jon Lester entering the season. Although he did little to affirm them last Friday, allowing a career-high three home runs and striking out zero batters for the first time in the big leagues, Lester did escape without being tagged with the loss. Those who watched the game will tell you that, outside of Ian Kinsler’s leadoff home run, Lester simply was a victim of a red-hot lineup. The ball that Nelson Cruz hit out of the park, in particular, was actually a great pitch. The key to Lester’s success this time around will lie in his ability to get ahead of hitters, something he had a hard time with on Opening Day (falling behind 1-0 to 12/25 batters faced). Despite a well-known issue with beginning the season slowly (4.95 ERA in 103 2/3 career innings during the months of March/April), it’s almost unfathomable to think that Lester will have much difficulty getting back on track against Cleveland. Although, with the way things have gone for the Red Sox to this point, almost has to be the operative word there.

 

Other News and Notes 

  • Red Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro, who sat out Sunday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers resulting from a partially torn finger nail, is still listed as day-to-day according to the Boston Herald on Monday. He is hitless in eight plate appearances on the season.

  • Indians centerfielder Grady Sizemore (knee) has begun the season on the 15-day disabled list following surgery and will not see any action against the Red Sox in their first series of the season. Sizemore took part in an exhibition game between Cleveland’s Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron affiliates and will partake in one more exhibition contest on Wednesday before beginning an official Minor League rehab assignment directly thereafter. He hopes to rejoin the team within the next couple of weeks.

  • The last time the Red Sox began a season 0-4 was in 1996 when they dropped their first five games of the season. They would end up finishing in third place in the American League East that season with a record of 85-77.

  • On Monday, the Red Sox announced a multiyear agreement with New Balance that recognizes the company as the official footwear and apparel sponsor of the Boston Red Sox. The team also revealed a 7.75-foot-tall and 70-foot-long, illuminated "New Balance" sign that sits atop one of Fenway Park’s new HD video boards in right field.

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