SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
Last year’s AL champs have been a little disappointing at times this year but they’ve turned it on of late, still have a well-balanced roster and are probably closer to the Astros than the rest of the American League.
Up. For the second consecutive series the Red Sox are forced to play one of the hottest non-Dodgers teams in all of baseball. Although Cleveland is coming off a loss in their last game, they had won their previous nine. That streak included sweeps of both the Blue Jays and the Angels and featured wins of just about every shape and size.
7/31: Doug Fister vs. Mike Clevinger, 7:00 PM ET
After David Price hit the disabled list, the Red Sox announced that they’d be sending FIster back to the rotation to take Price’s spot. With Brian Johnson also dealing with arm troubles, it likely came down to Fister or Hector Velazquez with the former coming out on top. Personally I would have went with the latter, but Fister has shown some flashes this year. Depending on how serious Johnson’s injury is, this could be Fister’s last chance. If he gets shelled, I could see this being his last appearance with the organization.
Clevinger is one of the more exciting young arms in the game and the righty has been quite effective in his second taste of the majors. Over 14 appearances (13 of which have been starts) and 70 1⁄3 innings the 26-year-old has pitched to a 3.10 ERA and while his 4.15 FIP isn’t great his 3.35 DRA shows it’s possible he’s not performing over his head. On the one hand, he does suffer from some lapses in command as he’s walked over four batters per nine innings and can be prone to the long ball. On the other hand, his stuff is fantastic and he strikes out over ten batters per nine innings. Prior to his last outing Clevinger was on a tremendous run with six consecutive starts in which he allowed no more than two runs, but he was rocked for six in 4 1⁄3 innings against the Angels in his last time out. Clevinger will feature a low-to-mid-90s fastball to go with a changeup, slider and curveball. All three of his secondaries get a ton whiffs.
8/1: Chris Sale vs. Carlos Carrasco, 7:10 PM ET
Tuesday is Sale Day, the best day of the week. Lately, it seems like these are the only days we can be confident in a Red Sox win, and this one might be a little different as it’s a battle between two ace-caliber pitchers. Still, there’s no pitcher in the American League who Sale doesn’t match up with. He’s been phenomenal all year and has been on an even more special run of late. He is fun to watch, in my opinion.
On pure stuff and talent level, Carrasco is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. By the numbers, he’s never been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it feels like he should put up better numbers than he has over his career. This season, over 20 starts and 123 1⁄3 innings, the righty has pitched to a 3.58 ERA with a 3.57 FIP and a 3.16 DRA. Like Clevinger, his best quality is the ability to induce strikeouts, but he also has outstanding control. Where Carrasco gets into trouble is with hard contact as he has a tendency to leave some pitches over the middle of the plate from time to time. The Red Sox will have to take advantage of those opportunities if they want to score of Carrasco, who has allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his last nine starts. The 30-year-old features a mid-90s fastball, a slider, a changeup and a curveball. The slider is his scariest pitch.
8/2: Rick Porcello vs. Trevor Bauer, 7:00 PM ET
Last year, Porcello was probably made to a look a little better than he actually was by his run support, but even without that he was fantastic for most of the season. This year has been the opposite. The utter lack of offense in his outings has made his season seem like a disaster, but he hasn’t been quite as bad as it seems. That being said, it hasn’t been anything near perfect for the 2016 Cy Young winner. He’s been better of late, though, and has a 3.06 ERA in the month of July. As long as he keeps that up, it’s on the offense to get to where it needs to be and win games.
At this point, Bauer might be most famous for missing time in the postseason after a drone-related injury. It’s probably better for him than focusing on his numbers, or at least his results. Over 20 starts and 106 1⁄3 innings this year Bauer has pitched to an atrocious 5.25 ERA. His peripherals (3.87 FIP and 4.42 DRA) paint a prettier picture, but Bauer has underperformed compared to his peripherals over his entire career. He’s always had potential for strikeouts and he’s showing that off with over a strikeout per inning in 2017, but his command takes long stretches off and it leads to big bursts of offense. Bauer throws a mid-90s fastball and sinker to go with a curveball and a cutter.
Terry Francona is, of course, the greatest manager in Red Sox history. While I was disappointed to see him go after the 2011 season and would have preferred keeping him around, I understood going in a different direction (though not the direction they went in). Sometimes, people in positions of authority just lose their influence over a group over time and it’s in everyone’s best interest to move on. It’s possible that’s what happened here. Either way, letting him go wasn’t the team’s biggest sin during this time. The way they trashed him through leaks to the media on the way out of the door was a low point for the organization and probably the most angry I’ve ever been. Francona was fine, because of course he was, but in no world did he deserve the treatment he got and the organization will never live down that behavior.
Andrew Miller is arguably the best reliever in baseball, and is definitely among the top two or three in the game. He started rising to that level improbably in the Red Sox organization, and even more improbably it came under the supervision of Bobby Valentine. That’s right, Bobby Valentine played a big role in creating one of the best relievers in baseball. Life is weird. Miller has only gotten better since leaving Boston, and while the Red Sox did get Eduardo Rodriguez back when they traded Miller it’s still disappointing they didn’t make a bigger push for the lefty in free agency the following winter. He’s been great for a few years now, but he really made a name for himself on the national stage in last year’s postseason.
Jose Ramirez is one of the most underappreciated players in the league and is going to be a problem for the rest of the American League for a long time. He has elite contact skills, makes solid contact more often than not, has hit for huge power this year and plays good defense at the hot corner. Oh, and he’s only 24 years old.
Francisco Lindor hasn’t been quite as good as some expected him to be this year, but he’s still been safely above average with the bat and should probably improve simply based on his luck on balls in play. Lindor is a special player with the bat in addition to being one of the better defensive shortstops in the game.
Edwin Encarnacion was a potential Red Sox target last winter though he was never realistic after it came out that they wanted to stay under the luxury tax. He ended up going to Cleveland on a three-year deal and things have started well. He’s striking out a bit more than he did in his prime but he’s drawing a ton of walks and hitting for plenty of power. The Red Sox could use that kind of bat in their lineup to be sure.
Michael Brantley has always been one of my favorite players but injuries have kept him out in recent years. The outfielder has finally been mostly healthy this year and is riding his elite contact skills to another solid overall season.
Carlos Santana is such an interesting player as he’s never going to give you a high batting average despite low strikeout rates. However, he is among the most patient hitters in baseball and when he’s going right he hits for enough power to be a well-above-average hitter.
Bradley Zimmer is the outfielder Cleveland opted to keep over Clint Frazier, and while there’s plenty of swing and miss in Zimmer’s game there’s also a ton of loud contact.
Yan Gomes has bounced back some from his atrocious 2016 but there’s still not much power in that bat anymore.
Joining Miller in the back of Cleveland’s bullpen is Cody Allen to form one of the scarier one-two punches in the league. Miller gets most of the headlines in this duo, particularly after his postseason performance, which makes Allen one of the more underrated relievers in baseball. The righty walks a few more batters than you’d like but his fastball/curveball combination is gives batters fits more often than not.
Bryan Shaw is usually the pitcher called upon to go before Miller and he’s a nice change of pace in the bullpen. He’s not nearly as dominant as either Miller or Allen, but he keeps the ball on the ground on a consistent basis and induces plenty of weak contact.
Jason Kipnis is generally the team’s starting second baseman and one of their most recognizable faces. He’s just starting his rehab assignment in Triple-A so he may not return for this series but he’ll be back soon after.
Lonnie Chisenhall has been outstanding when he’s been healthy for Cleveland this year but he went down earlier in the month with a calf injury and it’s not clear how much time he’ll miss.
Boone Logan was brought in to give the bullpen a second left-handed threat after Miller, but he’s been out since the middle of June with a lat injury and isn’t expected back any time soon.
Cody Anderson is starting pitching depth but he underwent Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the year and will miss all of 2017.
It looks like it’s going to be a clear and sticky week in Boston, with humidity through the roof. That’s no fun for people in the stands, so drink a little water in between your beers if you’re at any of the games this week. The good news is there’s no rain in the forecast so these games should go off without a hitch.