ALDS 2016: Red Sox vs. Indians Position-by-Position Breakdown, Predictions
On Thursday night at Progressive Field, the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians will meet for the sixth time in postseason play.
Each team has won two series, with Cleveland also taking a one-game tiebreaker playoff in 1948.
That's interesting for historical context, but it doesn't have any bearing on the 2016 American League Division Series.
At one point, this would have been a clash between the Indians' stable of power arms and Boston's deep, potent lineup.
Injuries, however, have decimated Cleveland's rotation, leaving the Tribe to lean on its bullpen and a lineup that raked at home.
How do the two clubs stack up position-by-position, and who will prevail? Let's take a look.
Sandy Leon (BOS): 78 G, .310 AVG., .845 OPS, 7 HR, 35 RBI
Yan Gomes (CLE): 74 G, .167 AVG., .527 OPS, 9 HR, 34 RBI
Roberto Perez (CLE): 61 G, .183 AVG., .579 OPS, 3 HR, 17 RBI
The Indians got abysmal offensive production from the catcher position in 2016, which is why they tried unsuccessfully to acquire All-Star Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline.
Lucroy is in Texas with the AL West champion Rangers after vetoing a deal to Cleveland. And the Indians are left with a combination of Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, both of whom are hitting below the Mendoza Line.
The Red Sox counter with Sandy Leon, who had a solid season at the plate overall, though he hit just .213 in September and October.
Leon's biggest contribution in the series could be limiting the Indians on the basepaths. Cleveland paced the AL with 134 stolen bases this season, but Leon gunned down an impressive 41 percent of would-be thieves.
Advantage: Red Sox
Hanley Ramirez (BOS): 147 G, .286 AVG., .866 OPS, 30 HR, 111 RBI
Mike Napoli (CLE): 150 G, .239 AVG., .800 OPS, 34 HR, 101 RBI
Mike Napoli struggled against the Red Sox this season, hitting .095 in 21 at-bats against his former team. But the 34-year-old was a boon overall after signing a one-year, $7 million deal with Cleveland. He tied for the team lead in home runs (34) and led the club with a career-best 101 RBI.
Hanley Ramirez, however, was even better offensively, with an extra 47 points of batting average and 66 points of OPS.
Ramirez also finished stronger, hitting .307 with a 1.045 OPS in September and October compared to Napoli's marks of .140 and .612.
Advantage: Red Sox
Dustin Pedroia (BOS): 154 G, .318 AVG., .825 OPS, 15 HR, 74 RBI
Jason Kipnis (CLE): 156 G, .275 AVG, .811 OPS, 23 HR, 82 RBI
This is an area of strength for both clubs.
If you're going on track record, this one belongs to Pedroia, a former AL MVP. But on 2016 output alone, it's too close to call.
Brock Holt (BOS): 94 G, .255 AVG., .705 OPS, 7 HR, 34 RBI
Jose Ramirez (CLE): 152 G, .312 AVG., .825 OPS, 11 HR, 76 RBI, 22 SB
The Red Sox appear likely to roll with Brock Holt at the hot corner, with Travis Shaw posting an anemic .194 average in the second half.
"You look at the quality, the consistent quality to the at-bats, and I think they've been there for [Holt]," Red Sox skipper John Farrell said, per NESN's Sam Galanis.
That may be true, but Holt's numbers are easily eclipsed by Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez, who hit .312 with 22 stolen bases and put up a .355 average with runners in scoring position.
Xander Bogaerts (BOS): 157 G, .294 AVG., .802 OPS, 21 HR, 89 RBI, 13 SB
Francisco Lindor (CLE): 158 G, .301 AVG., .794 OPS, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 19 SB
This might be the juiciest subplot of the series: two of the best young shortstops in baseball going toe-to-toe.
Xander Bogaerts posted better power numbers, while Francisco Lindor hit for a slightly higher average and stole more bases.
Andrew Benintendi (BOS): 34 G, .295 AVG., .835 OPS, 2 HR, 14 RBI
Chris Young (BOS): 76 G, .276 AVG., .850 OPS, 9 HR, 24 RBI
Rajai Davis (CLE): 134 G, .249 AVG., .693 OPS, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 43 SB
The Red Sox roll in with the platoon of lefty-swinging Andrew Benintendi and righty Chris Young. The 22-year-old Benintendi, in particular, is intriguing.
As Over the Monster's Ben Buchanan noted, "Now is not the time to start doubting what a talented young rookie can do for a playoff team."
Rajai Davis doesn't flash the power you'd typically like out of a corner outfielder. But he has game-changing speed, which can be a factor in a short series where 90 feet means a lot.
Jackie Bradley Jr. (BOS): 156 G, .267 AVG., .835 OPS, 26 HR, 87 RBI
Tyler Naquin (CLE): 116 G, .296 AVG., .886 OPS, 14 HR, 43 RBI
Tyler Naquin had a fine season, inserting himself into the AL Rookie of the Year conversation. But this one goes to Jackie Bradley Jr. all the way.
Bradley did his thing with the glove, checking in as the fourth-best defensive center fielder in the game. But the 26-year-old 2011 first-round pick added a heaping dollop of offense, posting career highs across the board and making his first All-Star team.
As Bradley put it to WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Jonny Miller (via CBS Boston), "Not too shabby for a defensive specialist."
Advantage: Red Sox
Mookie Betts (BOS): 158 G, .318 AVG., .897 OPS, 31 HR, 113 RBI, 26 SB
Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE): 126 G, .286 AVG., .767 OPS, 8 HR, 57 RBI
No offense to Lonnie Chisenhall, but this one defines no-brainer.
Mookie Betts isn't merely the best right fielder in this series. He's quite possibly the best right fielder in baseball. And he might be the AL MVP.
The 23-year-old broke out in every sense of the term, and he wound up posting the third-best WAR in the game at 7.7, behind only the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout (9.4) and Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant (8.4).
"The scary part is the best has yet to come for him," designated hitter David Ortiz said of his young teammate, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "You watch. He's going to do things for this franchise that no one has ever done before."
Advantage: Red Sox
David Ortiz (BOS): 151 G, .315 AVG., 1.021 OPS, 38 HR, 127 RBI
Carlos Santana (CLE): 158 G, .259 AVG., .865 OPS, 34 HR, 87 RBI
To his credit, Carlos Santana isn't blown out of the frame here, even with Ortiz's ludicrous goodbye stat line.
But Ortiz doesn't merely win on the numbers. He gets the nod for his sterling postseason resume, which includes a .962 OPS in 82 games, countless huge moments and three rings.
Can Big Papi make it four? It would be incredible. Then again, so is a 40-year-old dude doing the things he is.
Advantage: Red Sox
Red Sox's Projected Rotation
RHP Rick Porcello: 22-4, 3.15 ERA, 223 IP, 32 BB, 189 SO
LHP David Price: 17-9, 3.99 ERA, 230 IP, 50 BB, 228 SO
RHP Clay Buchholz: 8-10, 4.78 ERA, 139.1 IP, 55 BB, 93 SO
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez: 3-7, 4.71 ERA, 107 IP, 40 BB, 100 SO
Indians' Projected Rotation
RHP Trevor Bauer: 12-8, 4.26 ERA, 190 IP, 70 BB, 168 SO
RHP Corey Kluber: 18-9, 3.14 ERA, 215 IP, 57 BB, 227 SO
RHP Josh Tomlin: 13-9, 4.40 ERA, 174 IP, 20 BB, 118 SO
Game 1 starter Trevor Bauer coughed up 19 earned runs over his final four starts. Ace Corey Kluber is recovering from a quad injury. And Josh Tomlin lost six of his final eight decisions.
Quite simply, this isn't how Cleveland drew it up.
As for the Red Sox, they need Rick Porcello (4.41 postseason ERA) and especially David Price (5.12 postseason ERA) to overcome their October demons. And they'll hope to get something from Clay Buchholz, who went 3-0 in September, and 23-year-old sophomore Eduardo Rodriguez.
This isn't an unmitigated strength for Boston. But the Indians' unfortunate injuries tip the scales in the Red Sox's direction.
Advantage: Red Sox
Red Sox's Projected Bullpen
RHP Matt Barnes: 62 G, 4.05 ERA, 31 BB, 71 SO, 1 SV
RHP Heath Hembree: 38 G, 2.65 ERA, 17 BB, 47 SO
RHP Joe Kelly: 20 G, 5.18 ERA, 24 BB, 48 SO
RHP Craig Kimbrel: 57 G, 3.40 ERA, 30 BB, 83 SO, 31 SV
LHP Drew Pomeranz: 14 G, 4.59 ERA, 24 BB, 71 SO
LHP Robbie Ross Jr.: 54 G, 3.25 ERA, 23 BB, 56 SO
RHP Koji Uehara: 50 G, 3.45 ERA, 11 BB, 63 SO, 7 SV
RHP Brad Ziegler: 33 G, 1.52 ERA, 11 BB, 31 SO, 4 SV
Indians' Projected Bullpen
RHP Cody Allen: 67 G, 2.51 ERA, 27 BB, 87 SO, 32 SV
RHP Cody Anderson: 19 G, 6.68 ERA, 13 BB, 54 SO
RHP Mike Clevinger: 17 G, 5.26 ERA, 29 BB, 50 SO
RHP Jeff Manship: 53 G, 3.12 ERA, 22 BB, 36 SO
RHP Zach McAllister: 53 G, 3.44 ERA, 23 BB, 54 SO
LHP Andrew Miller: 26 G, 1.55 ERA, 2 BB, 46 SO, 3 SV
RHP Dan Otero: 62 G, 1.53 ERA, 10 BB, 57 SO, 1 SV
RHP Bryan Shaw: 75 G, 3.24 ERA, 28 BB, 69 SO, 1 SV
The Indians bullpen posted the fourth-best ERA in baseball at 3.45. The trade-deadline addition of Andrew Miller only strengthened the unit, which Cleveland will have to rely on heavily given its thin rotation.
The Red Sox pen was mostly solid as well, but there are red flags after closer Craig Kimbrel gave up six earned runs in his final four appearances.
This isn't a weakness for either side, but we'll give it to Cleveland, particularly with Miller ready to go multiple innings as needed.
Cleveland skipper Terry Francona won a pair of titles at the helm with Boston, so this isn't just any series for him.
Red Sox manager John Farrell, meanwhile, spent five seasons with the Indians as a player.
Farrell has also gotten himself a ring as a manager with Boston, and he owns a career .688 postseason winning percentage to Francona's .609.
Francona insisted his Beantown backstory won't affect him.
"That won't enter into anything," he said, per Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe. "I would be excited to play anybody anywhere. It's the playoffs."
Grading managers is always tough. Given their similar track records and intertwined history, it's especially difficult to judge Francona vs. Farrell.
So we'll call it a draw.
Sorry to hammer this point into the ground, but the Indians were dealt a crushing blow when they lost Carrasco and Salazar.
Now, they have to face arguably the best offensive team in baseball with two-fifths of their starting rotation sidelined. Even with home-field advantage, some dangerous bats of their own and a stout bullpen, that's a tall order.
It says here it'll be too tall.
Cleveland could certainly steal one, particularly with Kluber on the hill in Game 2. But we'll go so far as to call for a clean Boston sweep, with Ortiz, Betts and Co. going wild and the Sox's arms holding up their end of the bargain.
Prediction: Red Sox in three