Remember how the sweep they suffered at the hands of these expected cellar-dwellers portended the Sox' slide into irrelevance?
Ah what context 45 games can provide. Were the Sox at top condition back in early April? Hardly. But what we could not have known was that we were just one of what would be a number of stepping stones on the Indians' way to the top of the league, where they now sit with a 29-15 record. That sweep doesn't look quite so bad anymore.
So can we expect a repeat of the events that occurred the last time the Sox stopped off in Ohio? Probably not. While the Indians are tough competition any day--even moreso at home, where their record stands at an unbelievable 18-4--there are a few things that might give the Red Sox reason to feel better about things.
1. The pitching matchups
We just sat through a series which included starts from Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield, solid as they may have been. You know what that means? It's time for Buchholz - Beckett - Lester!
In turn, the Indians will send out Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona, and (probably) Mitch Talbot.
On the one hand, Masterson has been amazing this year. On the other hand, the Sox have one of the best left-handed lineups in the game today, and Masterson just hasn't been that impressive against southpaws, allowing a line of 326/.380/.434 to them this year.
Fausto Carmona, meanwhile, could need to be damn near perfect with Beckett opposing him. Given his last start against Chicago (eight earned runs), he might not be in the best form to provide said perfection.
Finally there's Mitch Talbot, who seemed to be doing a number on the Sox the last time these two teams faced off, but was pulled from the game after throwing more than 100 pitches while recording just one out in the fifth inning. There's also the fact that he hasn't made a Major League start in over a month, being forced to the DL after just his second appearance of the season.
Buchholz is going strong, Beckett is a Cy Young contender, and while Lester has been slumping, well, he's Lester. I'll take our bunch any day.
The Indians have one of the best lineups in the league when they're healthy. But Grady Sizemore was barely back before he hit the DL again, and he's been joined by the one real major threat the Indians had left in Travis Hafner.
While their current lineup doesn't have too many easy outs, it's also got a number of guys suffering through slumps and down years. Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana aren't producing like we know they can, and while impressive seasons from Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt LaPorta (!) are enough to keep the lineup looking strong, it's not nearly as scary as it is healthy.
3. Screw it, we're just going to go out there and beat the tar out of 'em
Forgive me some hubris, but for once, I want to go into a series against a strong team and not be thinking about how this has a chance to drop us right back down in the AL East, and how this is the last thing we need.
The fact is that the Sox are one terrible Matt Albers appearance away from a 9-game winning streak. During that period they swept the Yankees in New Yankee Stadium, knocked off aces like C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander, and have generally played like a team with all the fires of hell at their backs. Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz are quickly becoming a 3-4-5 combination the likes of which this city hasn't seen since the height of the steroid era, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury are actually showing some legitimate competence with the bat and oh yeah, we've still got Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford stinking up the place. How long is that going to last?
The Indians have more than proven themselves this year, young though it may be. They've got a nice big league in the AL Central, and already beat us down once this year. We're in a fight. We need this more than they do. Maybe we go in there and get our asses kicked. Maybe I'm eating crow come Thursday. But for right now this team has to be feeling pretty good about their ability to beat anyone, and so so will I.