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Series Preview: Red Sox vs. Indians

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A look at the big four-game set against the Indians

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

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Let’s Go Tribe

The Opponent in one sentence

The Indians remain in the top tier of the American League despite being the worst, record-wise, this year largely because they’ve been destroyed by their bullpen for most of 2018.

Record

71-52

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 0, Indians 0

Trend

Up. For a good chunk of this season the Indians were struggling to pull away with their division despite the American League Central likely being the worst in baseball. That’s changed, of course, and they are starting to get rolling as we get into the dog days. Cleveland has won seven of their last eight, nine of their last eleven and twelve of their last fifteen. They’ve won every series since their second after the All-Star break.

Pitching Matchups

8/20: Rick Porcello vs. Corey Kluber, 7:10 PM ET

It seems that Porcello has been alternating between dominant performances and really bad ones of late, and he is due for one of the bad ones this time around. Of course, these patterns aren’t set in stone and we know there’s a chance Porcello can always go on a run in which he has his best stuff and best command at the same time. It won him a Cy Young two years ago. That’s not to say I expect that in this start or just generally through the rest of the season, but he’s usually been good at avoiding blow-ups. Cleveland’s lineup is a big test and they will take advantage of his mistakes, so if he doesn’t have his best command this could be another tough start like the one in Toronto two outings ago.

The Red Sox draw the toughest draw of the series right off the bat, with Kluber obviously being one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball. The 2017 Cy Young winner hasn’t been quite the same in 2018, but that’s far different from saying he’s been bad. The righty still has a 2.68 ERA through his 25 starts with a 2.66 DRA, though his 3.34 FIP is worse than we are used to. The issue for Kluber, insofar that there’s really been an issue, is that his strikeout rate is way below where we’re used to with him. After striking out over a batter per inning for four years in a row, including almost 12 per nine last year, his rate is down to 8.6 per nine this year. Still, he’s on a great run of late with a 1.78 ERA over his last four starts while allowing an OPS of just .497. Kluber will feature a low-to-mid-90s two-seam fastball along with a cutter and a slider.

8/21: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Shane Bieber, 7:10 PM ET

After dominating his first two outings in a Red Sox uniform, Eovaldi has fallen back down to Earth a little bit. He had one awful outing in Baltimore two starts ago, but his last one really wasn’t that bad. It was really only disappointing in the context of his first two starts. He allowed three runs in five innings and gave up seven hits, but only one of the runs was earned. Ultimately, that start is probably along the lines of what we can expect from the righty. That is to say he should be fine, but not great, and keep the team in the game while needing a little offense to put them over the top more often than not. That’ll be fine, even if the expectations were originally set out of whack at the start of his tenure.

If you just look at the results, you won’t be all that impressed by Bieber. The rookie has been a lot better than his ERA would indicate, though, at least through his first 12 starts of his career. The 23-year-old righty has a 4.37 ERA in his first 68 major-league innings, but he’s striking out over a batter per inning, walking only two per nine and has allowed a solid seven home runs. That has led to an impressive 3.19 FIP along with a 3.51 DRA, both of which suggest he’s been significantly better than the ERA indicates. Over his three starts in August, Bieber has pitched to a 2.70 ERA with 20 strikeouts and five walks in 16 23 innings. The righty features a mid-90s fastball along with a slider and a curveball.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

8/22: Brian Johnson vs. Carlos Carrasco, 7:10 PM ET

The Red Sox lefty has certainly taken to his role filling in wherever the Red Sox have needed him, and in particular he has filled in admirably in the rotation for a significant portion of this season. It’s unlikely this will be his role in October, of course, but he’s going to be a big part of their road to get to the postseason. Johnson has taken a bit of a step back in his last few starts, but most of us were expecting that at some point anyway. The truth is that he is not going to dominate most times, and a lineup like Cleveland has the potential to take advantage if he’s not at his sharpest. Still, on most nights he should be good enough to not give the game away, which is enough given how good the Red Sox offense is.

Carrasco has been one of the most consistently effective starters in all of baseballs for a few years now, though he’s largely been overshadowed by Kluber ahead of him in the rotation. However, in each of the last three season’s he’s posted an ERA+ above 130 while striking out at least a batter per inning. This season, though by DRA he’s taken a very slight step back. Things were actually a bit shaky for the righty for most of the first half, but over his last eight appearances (which includes one relief appearance) he’s been dominant. Carrasco has pitched to a 1.35 ERA over that 46 23 -inning stretch with 58 strikeouts and just six walks. He’ll feature a pair of mid-90s fastballs along with a slider and a changeup.

8/23: David Price vs. Adam Plutko, 1:05 PM ET

With Chris Sale currently on the disabled list, Price is obviously the best pitcher on the Red Sox. There have been times in his tenure when that would not be a positive, but this is not currently the case. The veteran lefty has been absolutely dominant of late for Boston and really looks to have turned a corner after spending too long trying to hold onto his old identity. He’s now featuring his cutter and changeup much more often, and his command of both offerings has been immaculate. Since he was lit up in New York at the start of July, he has pitched to a 2.42 ERA over 44 23 innings with 50 strikeouts and just eight walks.

This is easily the most favorable pitching matchup for the Red Sox in this series, as Plutko serves as a fill-in arm for Cleveland rather than being a mainstay in their rotation. The righty only has 52 innings of major-league ball over his career, with 48 of them coming this year. He has not been good in 2018, pitching to a 4.62 ERA with a 5.70 FIP and a 6.44 DRA. He has struggled to miss bats, and while his control is solid he’s caught the middle of the zone far too often. That’s not going to work for anyone, but particularly not for an extreme flyball pitcher like Plutko. He features a low-90s fastball along with a slider and a curveball.

Old Friends

Terry Francona is far and away the most recognizable old friend for the Indians, and it’s always a pleasure to think back to the Francona days. Things ended in rocky fashion between him and the Red Sox — I will never forgive ownership for how he was treated out the door — but he is the best manager in team history and won two World Series in Boston. If you want to get really sad, just think about how much fun the “rivalry” between Francona and Don Orsillo was.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Miller was also pretty decent with the Red Sox, I’d say. The 2012 season was pretty much entirely miserable and not a year any of us want to remember, but it’s worth remembering this is when Miller burst onto the scene as a dominant reliever and he’s credited (*gulp*) Bobby Valentine with helping him get there. Miller has proven that’s no flash in the pan and has been one of the game’s elite relievers for the better part of the decade.

Rajai Davis does not have the cachet of Francona or even Miller, as he spent just a couple months with the team in 2017. Davis was acquired last August as a running specialist for the stretch run, and you have to figure the Red Sox will look to make a similar acquisition this year.

Notable Position Players

Jose Ramirez is, quite simply, one of the elite players in baseball and he’s arguably Mookie Betts’ (and J.D. Martinez’) biggest competitor for the MVP. Like Betts, Ramirez is an all-around star who plays great defense at both second and third, shows off elite plate discipline and consistently makes great contact. He’s having an absolutely bananas season for the Indians this year.

Francisco Lindor should not be forgotten and along with Ramirez he gives Cleveland perhaps the best long-term one-two punch in all of baseball. The shortstop plays incredible defense, hits for big-time power and and gets on base at a high clip. In fact, for as much star power as Lindor already has there’s a chance he’s a little underrated due to how great Ramirez has been this year.

Michael Brantley was coming off a few seasons in which he struggled mightily with injuries, but he’s reminded everyone how good he can be at the plate when healthy. Brantley doesn’t have the kind of power you traditionally expect from left fielders, but he never strikes out and always hits for a high average.

Yonder Alonso was a relatively big signing for Cleveland this winter after the first baseman’s breakout 2017, and while he’s not a great hitter he provides real power in the middle of the lineup.

Jason Kipnis has had a disappointing year, as he’s not hitting for much power and really he’s not hitting the ball with authority very often in general.

Yandy Diaz has spent most of the season in the minors but he’s an exciting player who also has large muscles. (Or, as Celtics fans would say, he has a thick, jacked frame.)

Yan Gomes has had a solid bounce-back year behind the plate for Cleveland, and he helps make up for poor plate discipline by hitting the ball hard when he does make contact.

Melky Cabrera was a late addition to the roster but at this point in his career his biggest contribution at the plate is merely putting the ball in play.

Greg Allen is the Indians everyday center fielder right now, but his main value comes in the field and on the bases.

Bullpen Snapshot

Cody Allen has always been a little overshadowed by Miller, but he’s the one who has handled closing duties for years now in Cleveland and he’s done it extremely well. The righty has taken a bit of a step back this year, however, with all three of his three-true-outcome rates heading in the wrong direction.

Brad Hand was acquired from the Padres at the deadline and is one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. His Indians career has gotten off to a good start as well, and Hand can be expected to share closing duties with Allen this week if the Red Sox have a string of lefties coming up for the ninth.

Miller has actually had a bit of a tough year that has been marred by injury. When he has been on the mound he’s still missing bats and inducing weak contact when contact is made, but he’s also struggled mightily with control. He’ll still throw in high-leverage spots, however.

Adam Cimber was the other big piece coming to Cleveland in the Hand trade and he was incredible in San Diego for most of the year. However, he’s been dreadful with the Indians since the trade.

Injuries

Edwin Encarnacion is out with a hand and biceps injury, though things don’t appear too serious. He hit in the cage a bit on Sunday and it seems possible that he could return to the lineup at some point during this series.

Trevor Bauer had been a Cy Young contender all year, but he suffered a fracture in his tibia and he could miss the rest of the regular season. The Indians seem to think there’s some hope for him to return in late September, but it’s unclear how realistic that is.

Danny Salazar was supposed to be a key part of Cleveland’s rotation, but he’s missed the entire season and won’t return until 2019.

Lonnie Chisenhall has been affected by a major calf injury all year and while he’s played sparingly he’s not expected back until September.

Leonys Martin is battling a really serious bacterial infection right now and it’s not clear if he’ll even be able to play again this year, though this is obviously much more serious than your typical season-ending ailment and goes beyond just being able to play baseball.

Tyler Naquin is out with a hip injury and it looks likely he’ll miss the rest of the season.

Josh Tomlin doesn’t play a big role in the Indians bullpen, but he should be able to return to his long-man role soon.

Nick Goody has been out with an elbow injury since May but they are hoping he can make a return to the bullpen relatively soon.

Cody Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in March of 2017 but is still working his way back after a number of setbacks.

Weather Forecast

The Red Sox and Indians shouldn’t have too much trouble with the weather this week, with the one potential threat being some showers on Tuesday.