Heading into the series against Boston the Tribe are 7-12, good enough for dead last in the division, albeit they are only 3.5 games back. Cleveland finished last season right at the .500 mark and right in the middle of the AL Central. After trading away C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers mid-season, the Indians failed to ride the left arm of eventual Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee into the post-season. Despite another solid season from stud outfielder Grady Sizemore (33 HR/90 RBI/38 SB), the offense struggled overall. Aside from Lee, no other Indians hurler managed double digit wins.
C.C. is gone leaving the Indians with a lot of questions regarding their starting rotation. Cliff Lee was great last year, but is off to a rough start thus far in 2009. Pitching is what is hurting this team right now, and that's not good news for Cleveland given how hot the Sox's bats are. One pitcher that is not hurting this Indians club so far is Aaron Laffey. Laffey, through 3 starts, is 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA. If he can control his walks (10 in less than 19 IP), he could be a solid contributor to this staff in 2009.
From an offensive standpoint the Indians are looking much better than last year's version of the club. Cleveland's 102 runs scored are good for 7th in the MLB (Boston is 4th with 109). How are they doing it? Power is definitley one of the factors as they are 4th in the league with 25 through 19 games (Boston is 5th with 24). Victor Martinez looks to be a force again (.397 with 5 long balls) and of course Grady Sizemore continues to abuse pitchers with his combination of speed and power. Sizemore has 6 HR and 18 RBI already to go along with 3 base thefts.
Versatility on offense. This team can hurt you with power as I stated earlier, but they also have that element of speed that keeps them from becoming too one-dimensional or predictable. They are 4th and 12th in the MLB in home runs and stolen bases through 19 games respectively.
Pitching, pitching and pitching. Only two teams have a worse ERA than Cleveland's 5.98 (one of those two teams is the Yankees...just had to include that). The Indians staff has walked 82 batters to this point, tied with Milwaukee for highest in the league. They've also given up the fourth most HRs in the entire league.
INDIANS' KEYS TO SUCCESS IN 2009
This ball club needs to get better starting pitching. Laffey has been great, but Lee needs to return to his Cy Young Award winning form if they want to have any chance to compete in a division that is relatively deep and even. The bats are fine, but as we've seen time in and time out, pitching wins ball games. A 5.98 ERA is not going to get that done.
HOW THE SOX CAN BEAT THEM
As you can probably predict after reading the above, the Sox just need to abuse the starting pitchers early and take advantage of this struggling staff. The bats are hot in Boston, and that should continue against Cleveland. There's no reason to think otherwise. Cleveland will feature a rotation of Lee, Reyes and Carmona. Lee is 2-4 with a 5.13 ERA against Boston in his career and he was touched for 5 runs in 7 innings in his start last year against the Sox. Carmona has faired equally poorly against the Red Sox in his career going 1-4 with 2 blown saves during his time out of the 'pen. Reyes has yet to face Boston. If Boston can cool off Martinez and keep Sizemore off the base paths there's no reason to expect this 11 game winning streak to be halted any time soon.