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Series Preview: Red Sox at Indians

A look at the upcoming three-game set in Cleveland.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation Blog

Let’s Go Tribe

The Opponent in one sentence

The Indians are way more talented than this will give them credit for, but they were the first team to clinch their division despite having the same record as the Rays, who are 18.5 games out of first place.

Record

85-67

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 2, Indians 2

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These games don’t really mean much for Cleveland, as they are essentially locked into the three seed in the American League playoff bracket. That said, they haven’t been playing their best baseball of late. The Indians did win their last series against the White Sox, but before that they lost their previous two and split the one before that. Overall, they are 5-7 in their last 12.

Pitching Matchups

9/21: Chris Sale vs. Trevor Bauer, 7:10 PM ET

Friday’s lineup is going to be hilarious, but the pitching side of things is certainly going to be worth watching. Chris Sale looked better in his second outing than he did in his first, and hopefully he can continue to take strides forward in this one. Ideally, he’s going to throw five innings on Friday, and we’ll certainly be watching his command. With the game being meaningless, we don’t have to worry about fluky results, but instead can focus simply on how he looks. I’m not really worried about the stuff, but his command has been a bit inconsistent in his two outings since returning from injury, so watching how sharp he is will be paramount over his final two starts before the postseason begins.

New York Mets v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Bauer, like Sale, was at one point a frontrunner for the Cy Young award, but an injury derailed that campaign. The righty has been out since August 11, but he’ll make his return to the mound on Friday. Also like Sale, Bauer is working his way back up for the playoffs, so don’t expect a full start out of him. That said, if he’s still the same guy he was before the injury, Bauer will be tough to beat when he is on the mound. This is doubly true since most of the Red Sox regulars will likely sit for the day. In 25 starts this year, Bauer has pitched to a 2.22 ERA with a 2.39 FIP and a 2.43 DRA. He’ll offer a mid-90s fastball along with a curveball, a slider and a cutter.

9/22: Rick Porcello vs. Mike Clevinger, 7:10 PM ET

It’s been a weird and frustrating run of late for the 2016 Cy Young winner. Porcello has had a major issue with the long ball for weeks now, and it’s something he’ll really need to sort out before the postseason, as the American League is loaded with power. He has gotten decent enough results in his last few starts — well, at least he hasn’t put the team out of games — but he also isn’t pitching deep into his starts. For most of his tenure with the Red Sox, the inning-eating has been his most valuable quality. Some of that is probably saving some bullets for the postseason, but it’s worth noting Porcello has not made it through six full innings August 20, coincidentally against Cleveland. Of course, he did allow five runs in that start, too. His last quality start August 14 in Philadelphia.

It’s easy to get overshadowed when you spend all year in a rotation that features Corey Kluber, Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, but Clevinger has been really underrated this year. The young Indians starter, spending a full season in the major-league bullpen for the first time in his career, has made 30 starts this season and has pitched to a 3.06 ERA with a 3.44 FIP and a 3.43 DRA. He strikes out more than a batter per inning, and has improved his walk-rate to a more average level. The righty has been particularly impressive in the second half, pitching to a 2.31 ERA in 11 starts with almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings and an opponents’ OPS of .611. Clevinger will throw a mid-90s fastball along with a slider, a changeup and a curveball.

9/23: TBD vs. Adam Plutko, 7:10 PM ET

The Red Sox haven’t announced a starter for this game yet, but my guess would be that it will be some combination of Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson, Drew Pomeranz and William Cuevas. Going out on a limb there, I know! They likely have a strategy in mind already, but if they need to use long relief before Sunday things will change, so there’s no point in announcing it just yet.

Plutko is more of a fill-in for this Indians team, as he’s not going to factor into postseason plans for Cleveland. He has spent time in both the rotation and the bullpen as well as spending some time in the minors this season. In the majors, he has tossed 70 innings with a 5.27 ERA, a 5.93 FIP and a 6.88 DRA. The Red Sox did get a look at the righty in August, plating five runs over 4 13 innings. Plutko will feature mainly a low-90s fastball and a slider.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Old Friends

Terry Francona is the greatest manager in Red Sox history, and frankly it’s going to be near-impossible to pass him simply based on the momentous championship in 2004. He’s been gone for nearly a decade now, but he’s as beloved as ever. Of course I also need to mention, as I always do, that is was pure garbage the way he was treated on the way out the door. The Red Sox should never be allowed to skate by for that.

Andrew Miller was one of the very, very rare successes of the Bobby V era, and while the former manager certainly wasn’t the only reason for Miller’s breakout he does get some credit. Either way, Miller turned into an elite arm with the Red Sox, then netted them Eduardo Rodriguez in a trade. Miller has and still does remain an elite back-end arm.

Rajai Davis was acquired late last season by the Red Sox as a running option late in games. He didn’t make much of an impact in his time here.

Notable Position Players

Jose Ramirez is one of the best players in all of baseball and one for the favorites for the AL MVP award. I think he’ll finish out of first place there, but he’s had a great year. The infielder walks more than he strikes out, impacts the game on the bases and in the field, and hits for big power. He’s scary, is what I’m saying.

Francisco Lindor may actually be the best player on the Indians, despite Ramirez having a slightly better season in 2018. Lindor is a blast to watch, as a defensive wizard at shortstop, a machine on the bases, a legitimate power threat and possessing strong plate discipline. He and Ramirez just may be the best double play combo in baseball.

Edwin Encarnacion has been dragged down a bit by a low BABIP and he’s striking out a bit more than he used to, but the Indians slugger can still smash dingers and draw walks.

Josh Donaldson just started playing again after coming over in a somewhat controversial waiver trade, but he’s still trying to get going. He’s shown some flashes, but is yet to hit his stride in a very small sample.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Brantley has quietly had a strong year at the top of Cleveland’s lineup. Brantley almost never strikes out and makes good contact, all of which helps mask his average power.

Yonder Alonso has been a little disappointing this year, though he’s been better in the second half and is still a real power threat.

Jason Kipnis is probably miscast as an outfielder, and at the plate he’s had a disappointing year largely due to poor quality of contact.

Yan Gomes has hit for solid power this year and is a fine hitter for the catcher position, but his plate discipline can be exploited when approached correctly.

Melky Cabrera doesn’t really hit for much power, but he puts the ball in play and can have success that way. For example, he killed the Red Sox the last time these two teams played.

Bullpen Snapshot

Brad Hand and Cody Allen make up a strong closing duo for the Indians. Hand is a premier lefty while Allen is great from the right side, and Francona is not afraid to mix and match based on matchups.

Miller and Adam Cimber, meanwhile, make up a platoon set-up pair. Miller hasn’t quite been himself in a year marred by injury, and Cimber hasn’t been the same since coming to Cleveland from San Diego in July. Still, there’s plenty of talent here.

Injuries

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 was supposed to come back some time this month from his calf injury, but his injury hasn’t healed as expected. At this point, who knows if he’ll play again in 2018.

Leonys Martin is battling a really serious bacterial infection right now and he won’t 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.

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

Nick Goody was hoping to make a comeback this year, but he ended up needing surgery on his elbow and will now be focused on making it back for the start of 2019.

James Hoyt went down with an injury a couple weeks ago, though the specifics weren’t made clear. He’ll be out all season.

Weather Forecast

There’s going to be some cool, fall weather in Cleveland this weekend, but they shouldn’t have issues getting the game in.