Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana (41) throws out Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko (not pictured) in the third inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

After dropping two of three to the Royals on a short road trip, the Red Sox return to Fenway Park to face the Cleveland Indians in a four-game series. Cleveland is currently in first place in an American League Central that looks up for grabs -- at least until the Tigers remember they are supposed to be good -- and it's on the strength of... well, I'm not sure what, really. They've given up five more runs than they've scored, but are 17-13 despite this.

Game 1: Derek Lowe (37-2/3 IP, 0.8 K/BB, 163 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (32-1/3 IP, 2.7 K/BB, 95 ERA+)

Game 2: Ubaldo Jimenez (35-2/3 IP, 0.8 K/BB, 96 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (32-2/3 IP, 1.1 K/BB, 46 ERA+)

Game 3: Josh Tomlin (34-2/3 IP, 3.9 K/BB, 83 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (32-1/3 IP, 2.1 K/BB, 80 ERA+)

Game 4: Justin Masterson (42-1/3 IP, 1.2 K/BB, 79 ERA+) vs. Daniel Bard (31-2/3 IP, 1.3 K/BB, 87 ERA+)

How in the world does Derek Lowe have the highest ERA+ of any of these eight starters despite walking more hitters than he's struck out? The answers are what you'd expect -- small sample, a hint of luck, a dash of grounders -- but still. He'll be taking on Josh Beckett, who missed his last straight with a lat problem, as well as a, "Let's get Aaron Cook into a game" issue.

I almost bought tickets to Friday night's contest without looking at who was pitching. I don't think I've ever been so happy to not buy tickets to a game before. Over/under time of game: 4.5 hours.

Josh Tomlin has a league-average punch out rate mixed with his excellent control, and he'll be taking on a hurler who can miss bats, but also miss the strike zone. Doubront's ERA has suffered more than any other Red Sox starter, in terms of how much damage the bullpen has caused to it. Fair Run Average is a run estimator that doesn't include the runs that score due to relievers letting in inherited runners. Doubront's ERA might be 5.29, but his FRA is just 3.65. By Baseball Prospectus's scale, that's considered "great."

Old friend Justin Masterson returns, and he hasn't had a great start to the year. He'll be facing off against a pitcher who he was traded instead of in Daniel Bard. Bard registered just one strikeout in his last appearance, but, in contrast to the start against the Athletics in which he wasn't sure what to do without his slider, he logged 15 outs on the ground to compensate. Had he just learned to ignore the baserunners a little more, Boston and Bard both would have had another W right now.

Offensively, the Indians are a mix of holes and production. Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Jack Hannahan (wait, Jack Hannahan?) are all well above an OPS+ of 100, and the primary reason the Indians have scored nearly as many runs as they've allowed. The rest of the lineup -- especially Michael Brantley and Casey Kotchman -- are the reason they haven't scored more than they've allowed.

The bullpen is a similar mix of low and lofty ERAs, with closer Chris Perez his usual joy ride of ups and downs that ends up with him being okay, and then a mix of relievers who miss bats, miss the strike zone, or both. Nick Hagadone, who was packaged with Masterson in the Victor Martinez deal, has been dominating in his 9-1/3 innings in the bullpen, but another old friend, Dan Wheeler, has as many homers allowed as strikeouts, and more runs and walks allowed than both.

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