ALCS preview Indians vs. Red Sox

ALCS preview Indians vs. Red Sox

ALCS preview & pick: Indians vs. Red Sox
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The Indians and Red Sox tied for the majors’ best record after both teams finished the regular season 96-66. Now baseball fans will find out which club really runs the American League when they face off in the ALCS.

Boston won five of its seven meetings with Cleveland this year, outscoring the Tribe 34-25 during those contests. The Red Sox staff kept an ERA just over 3.00 against Cleveland and limited the Indians lineup to a .223 batting average.

Game 1 of the series begins this Friday in Boston’s Fenway Park. The BoSox will likely turn to Josh Beckett, who pitched a complete-game shutout against the Angels last week. Cleveland will give the nod to ace C.C. Sabathia, who is 1-1 in three career starts inside Fenway with a 2.35 ERA during those games.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Why they’ll win: The Tribe’s never-say-die attitude at the plate not only defeated the mighty New York Yankees, but also buried the majors’ most dangerous offense. Cleveland outscored New York 24-16 during the ALDS behind a .315 batting average.

The real story is the Indians’ ability to score runs with runners in scoring position and two outs. Cleveland is batting .444 in these situations, knocking in 13 of its total 22 RBI with its back against the wall.

Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko and veteran Kenny Lofton are all hitting over .300 in the postseason, and designated hitter Travis Hafner is batting .250 and has drawn five walks.

Cleveland’s offense was able to out-shine the rotation for the first time this season. However, the Indians’ arms did their part in getting to the championship series. C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona and Paul Byrd combined for a 2.84 ERA with 12 strikeouts during their starts. Third starter Jake Westbrook, who was beaten up in Game 3, has the ability to bounce back from rough outings.

If the starters do struggle, the Cleveland bullpen can pick up the slack. The Indians’ relievers hadn’t allowed a run to the Yankees during the ALDS before two solo home runs in Game 4. The bullpen has a 2.00 postseason ERA, thanks to the two Rafaels (Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt), Jensen Lewis and closer Joe Borowski.

Why they’ll lose: Cleveland’s pitching, so solid in the second half of the season, began to show weaknesses this week against the Yankees. Staff ace C.C. Sabathia got into trouble early in his Game 1 start, struggling with his command and walking six batters and giving up two home runs.

Westbrook collapsed under the pressure of pitching in Yankee Stadium, allowing six runs on nine hits in Game 3. He also struggled in his one start against Boston this season, getting lit up for five runs in six innings of work back in July.

Cleveland’s staff posted a 4.43 ERA versus the Red Sox this season, losing five of seven meetings. Boston’s hitters batted .282 in those games with eight home runs while the Indians order mustered only 3 ½ runs per game.

BOSTON RED SOX

Why they’ll win: The Boston Red Sox have all week to rest and read up on their ALCS opponent. Boston finished off the Los Angeles Angels in three games this past Sunday, giving the team five full days off before the series with Cleveland starts.

This week gives the Red Sox staff time to recharge the arms that posted a 1.33 ERA during the ALDS. Solid opening efforts from starters Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling delivered the series. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is the likely choice as the fourth starter. If Wakefield’s ailing back holds him out of the championship series, youngster Jon Lester will probably take his place.

The time off also helps Boston’s backup hurlers, although the bullpen didn’t put in too many innings during the ALDS. Beckett’s complete game left the relievers to work only 5 2-3 innings against L.A., giving up just two hits and one earned run, all of which came in Game 3. Hideki Okajima, Eric Gagne, Manny Delcarmen, Jonathan Papelbon and the rest of the BoSox bullpen posted a collective regular-season ERA of 3.10 this year.

The near weeklong break helps Boston’s bats catch a breather after hitting .269 versus the Angels for 19 total runs. Youngsters Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury can recover from the frantic pace of October and veterans like Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell can rest their weary legs.

Sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who came into the postseason at less than 100 percent, have a chance to lick their wounds and build on solid efforts in the opening series. The two combined for four home runs and seven RBIs, and helped Boston hit .333 with runners in scoring position.

Why they’ll lose: Unlike Cleveland, a team that spreads its hits throughout the game, Boston separates huge scoring explosions with multiple hitless innings.

Outside of Ramirez, Ortiz and Lowell, the Sox don’t get much from the rest of the order. Without those big bats in the middle of the lineup Boston is hitting .209 (14-for-67) in the postseason. The team would have just nine RBIs and one home run.

Cleveland’s pitchers limited the meat of the Yankees order to just a .222 batting average and kept the dreaded New York offense to a collective .230 average for the series. If the Tribe can get around Big Papi, Manny and Lowell, Boston’s other bats might not have enough pop to battle Cleveland’s efficient offense.

Pick: Boston Red Sox in six games

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Re: ALCS preview Indians vs. Red Sox

ALCS Preview - Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox
October 10th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians will battle for the right to represent the American League at the World Series when the best- of-seven ALCS gets underway on Friday at Fenway Park.

These teams tied for the best record in the major leagues this season at 96-66, but by virtue of the Red Sox winning the season series, 5-2, they will hold home-field advantage.

After a one-year absence from the postseason, Boston returned in fine fashion, as it swept its way through the ALDS, besting the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in three games to reach the ALCS for the eighth time in team history.

The AL East champion Red Sox set the tone for the series in Game 1, as AL Cy Young Award candidate Josh Beckett tossed his third postseason shutout. After some Manny Ramirez ninth inning heroics lifted them to a Game 2 victory, postseason stalwart Curt Schilling tossed seven scoreless innings to get Boston back into this round for the first time since their world championship campaign of 2004.

Cleveland, meanwhile, had a surprisingly easy time in disposing of the New York Yankees in four games. Outside of their Game 3 loss, the Indians starting staff held the high-powered Yankees offense in check, as the Tribe's two Cy Young award hopefuls, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, limited the Bronx Bombers to just eight hits over the first two games.

After the Yankees bats woke up in a Game 3 win in New York, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge decided to stick with veteran Paul Byrd in Game 4 and it paid off. The AL Central champion Indians jumped out to an early lead and Byrd was tremendous, as Cleveland advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 1998 when it lost in six games to the Yankees.

This is the Indians' fourth trip to the ALCS.

These teams are no stranger to one another in the postseason, having met three times before in the divisional round. The Indians won two of those series, but the Red Sox got the best of them in five games the last time they squared off in 1999.

LINEUP

Boston's lineup is, of course, fueled by two players and that could be bad news for Cleveland's pitchers because Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are red hot.

Ramirez hit two mammoth home runs in the ALDS, including a game-winning ninth inning shot in Game 2, and hit .375 with four RBI, while Ortiz batted .714 with a two home runs and three RBI in the three-game sweep. It could be a very short series if those two can keep it going.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but way back when there was a time when Ramirez was the centerpiece of the Indians late 90's playoff teams. Obviously a lot has changed since then and the enigmatic outfielder loves hitting against his former team. He batted .417 against them this year, .370 last season and .357 for his career, with 15 home runs in 49 career regular-season games.

Mike Lowell was an unsung hero in the lineup all season and that trend continued in the postseason. The soon-to-be free agent third baseman, who batted .324 and knocked in 120 RBI in the regular season, hit .333 against the Angels.

Other than the big three, though, the Red Sox struggled for the most part at the plate in the ALDS, as regulars Coco Crisp (.200), J.D. Drew (.182), Jason Varitek (.182) and Dustin Pedroia (.154) all hit .200 or below.

The Indians lineup, meanwhile, is built around a core of catcher Victor Martinez, center fielder Grady Sizemore, and DH Travis Hafner. However, it was 40-year-old Kenny Lofton that set the tone for the Indians in their series with the Yankees.

Lofton hit .375 for the series, but was 5-for-7 through the first two games with four RBI and two runs scored.

Sizemore blasted a leadoff homer in Game 4 against the Yanks and hit .375 as well in the series with three runs scored. Hafner (.250, 1 HR, 2 RBI) never really got it going, but did have the winning hit in Cleveland's Game 2 victory.

Martinez also had a tremendous series, batting .353 with a home run and a pair of RBI. However, despite faring better against would-be base stealers this season, Martinez is still a liability behind the plate and unlike the Yankees, look for the Red Sox to test his arm early and often.

EDGE: RED SOX

STARTING PITCHING

Beckett will again take the ball in Game 1 for the Red Sox after his historic outing in the ALDS. Beckett, who was 20-7 this season with a 3.27 ERA, added to his already impressive postseason resume in Game 1 against the Angels, holding them to just four hits with eight strikeouts in his club's 4-0 win.

In his seven postseason appearances, spanning 51 2/3 innings, Beckett has pitched to a remarkable 1.74 earned run average.

Beckett, who retired 19 straight batters at one point, is also just the seventh pitcher in major league history to throw a shutout in back-to-back postseason starts, and the first since Orel Hershiser in Game 7 of the 1988 National League Championship Series.

The 27-year-old right-hander, though, has struggled in his career against the Indians and is just 1-3 against them in four starts with a 6.57 ERA.

Boston manager Terry Francona switched up his rotation for this series, as Schilling will pitch Game 2 with Daisuke Matsuzaka getting the call in Game 3.

While not as impressive as Beckett, Schilling proved again why he is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time with his Game 3 gem in Anaheim. Schilling scattered just six hits over seven scoreless innings to run his postseason mark to 9-2, while lowering his ERA to a sparkling 1.93 in his 16 playoff starts.

Matsuzaka, who showed signs of wearing down down the stretch, was not sharp in his ALDS start, surrendering three runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. He also walked three batters.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will get the start in Game 4 after being left off Boston's roster in the first round because of a sore back.

Cleveland will hand the ball to the left-handed Sabathia and then Carmona in Game 1 and 2, respectively.

Sabathia earned the win in his ALDS start against the Yankees, but was far from sharp. He held them to just three runs and four hits, but was in and out of trouble all night thanks to six walks.

The 27-year-old hurler, though, was 19-7 in the regular season, but one of those losses came against the Red Sox. However, he only allowed a run and five hits in seven innings of that one. For his career, Sabathia is 2-4 lifetime against Boston with a 3.91 ERA in seven starts.

Carmona, meanwhile, was brilliant in the ALDS. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up just a run and three hits in nine innings, while striking out eight. He did not get the decision, though, in his team's 2-1 extra-inning win.

After going a dismal 1-10 in his rookie year in 2006, Carmona bounced back with a brilliant campaign posting a 19-8 ledger to go along with a 3.06 ERA. One of his wins this season was a brilliant effort against the Sox, as he tossed eight scoreless innings to nail down the win.

Jake Westbrook and Byrd will likely go in Games 3 and 4.

EDGE: RED SOX

BULLPEN

Jonathan Papelbon came into spring training with the intention of starting, but when no one came in and took hold of the closer's role, Francona called upon his second-year pro to fill that spot once again. Papelbon responded with another sensational season with 37 saves and a 1.85 ERA.

Papelbon was only needed once in the series against the Angels and got the win with a brilliant 1 1/3 inning performance in Game 2.

Right-hander Hideki Okajima was dominant in the first half (2-0, 0.83 ERA), as he and Papelbon combined to form the best 1-2 punch at the end of games in the league. However, he struggled in September (8.10 ERA).

A little rest down the stretch may have been the answer, as he tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings against the Halos.

When Eric Gagne was acquired at the trade deadline, most people applauded the move. Gagne, though, was an utter disappointment, going 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and three blown saves in a Red Sox uniform. He pitched in garbage time of Schilling's clinching win on Sunday, but he served up a run and one hit in his one inning of work.

Gagne will likely not be used in a big spot, as Francona will count on Javier Lopez to get Cleveland's power lefties out.

Cleveland's bullpen is a bit underrated. It has three tremendous set up men in lefty Rafael Perez and righties Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt, but a shaky closer in Joe Borowski, who led the AL with 45 saves despite pitching to a 5.07 ERA.

Perez was exceptional for the Tribe in the ALDS, surrendering just a run and three hits with six strikeouts in six innings. How he fares against Ortiz in a big spot will be a key to this series.

Betancourt, though, has allowed just two runs on 10 hits in 14 innings against Boston, striking out 19. Ramirez and Ortiz are 1-for-11 combined with five strikeouts against him.

Borowski, meanwhile, will probably have to get a big out at some point in this series. He only appeared in one game against the Yankees and got the final three outs in Game 4, but not after serving up a solo home run. He will no doubt make things interesting.

EDGE: RED SOX

MANAGERS

Wedge, who is in his fifth season as Indians skipper, is likely on his way to an AL Manager of the Year Award after leading the Tribe to their first division title since 2001. He took a lot of heat for starting Byrd in Game 4, but it paid off and he will probably be questioned for some bullpen moves this series, but he sticks with what got him here.

The Fort Wayne, Indiana native sports a 415-395 record since becoming the Indians' manager prior to the 2003 season.

Francona is in his fourth year as manager of the Red Sox and has taken the team to the postseason in three of those seasons, including their first title in 86 years in 2004. The Red Sox are so well disciplined and rarely make a mistake in the field and all that is a credit to Francona.

EDGE: RED SOX

BENCH


With Crisp hurt for most of September, Boston got a look at its future center fielder in Jacoby Ellsbury and he answered the bell with a spectacular month. Francona seems to trust him and he could get a start or two in this series. He will also be used as a pinch-runner late in games.

Eric Hinske and Bobby Kielty will provide some pop late in the games, while Hinske can also play a number of positions.

Beloved former Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon brings plenty of playoff experience off the bench for the Indians and will be joined by Jason Michaels in late game pinch-hitting situations.

Nixon homered in his lone start in the ALDS, but also committed a crucial error in the Tribe's Game 4 loss.

In addition, look for Chris Gomez to see some action as a defensive replacement for Peralta, as well.

EDGE: RED SOX

PROGNOSIS

Like the Yankees found out, this is a far different Indians team the Red Sox will be facing then the one they saw in the regular season. Cleveland is clicking on all cylinders and pretty much had their way with the high-powered and heavily favored Yankees. The Red Sox, though, are just so good, not to mention Ramirez and Ortiz are white-hot at the moment. Cleveland's top two starters are as good as it gets, but Boston has a pair that may even be better. Not to mention you have to love the Red Sox matchups in Games 3 and 4. But then again people counted Byrd out in the last series as well. In the end, though, I think Boston will hit Cleveland's aces and that will be the difference.

Prediction: RED SOX IN SIX

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Re: ALCS preview Indians vs. Red Sox

Keys to winning the 2007 ALCS
October 10th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians will battle for the right to represent the American League at the World Series when the best- of-seven ALCS gets underway on Friday at Fenway Park.

These teams tied for the best record in the major leagues this season at 96-66, but by virtue of the Red Sox winning the season series, 5-2, they will hold homefield advantage.

After a one-year absence from the postseason, Boston returned in fine fashion, as it swept its way through the ALDS, besting the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in three games to reach the ALCS for the eighth time in team history and for the first time since its world championship campaign of 2004.

Cleveland, meanwhile, had a surprisingly easy time in disposing of the New York Yankees in four games. The AL Central champion Indians are in the ALCS for the fourth time and will be playing there for the first time since losing in six games to the Yankees in 1998.

These teams are no stranger to one another in the postseason, having met three times before in the divisional round. The Indians won two of those series, but the Red Sox got the best of them in five games the last time they squared off in 1999.

As an introduction to this ALCS matchup, let's take a look at the keys to winning the series for both clubs:

CLEVELAND INDIANS:

1. ACES


If Cleveland has any chance of winning this series it will have to get a win at Fenway in either Game 1 or 2 from one of its aces in Cy Young award candidates C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.

Sabathia earned the win in his ALDS start against the Yankees, but was far from sharp. He held them to just three runs and four hits, but was in and out of trouble all night thanks to six walks.

The 27-year-old hurler, though, was 19-7 in the regular season, but one of those losses came against the Red Sox. However, he only allowed a run and five hits in seven innings of that one. For his career, Sabathia is 2-4 lifetime against Boston with a 3.91 ERA in seven starts.

Carmona, meanwhile, was brilliant in the ALDS. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up just a run and three hits in nine innings, while striking out eight. He did not get the decision, though, in his team's 2-1 extra inning win.

After going a dismal 1-10 in his rookie year in 2006, Carmona bounced back with a brilliant campaign posting a 19-8 ledger to go along with a 3.06 ERA. One of his wins this season was a brilliant effort against the Sox, as he tossed eight scoreless innings to nail down the win.

2. BULLPEN

Cleveland's bullpen is a bit underrated. It has three tremendous set up men in lefty Rafael Perez and righties Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt, but a shaky closer in Joe Borowski, who led the AL with 45 saves despite pitching to a 5.07 ERA.

Perez was exceptional for the Tribe in the ALDS, surrendering just a run and three hits with six strikeouts in six innings. How he fares against Ortiz in a big spot will be a key to this series.

Betancourt, though, has allowed just two runs on 10 hits in 14 innings against Boston, striking out 19. Ramirez and Ortiz are 1-for-11 combined with five strikeouts against him.

Borowski, meanwhile, will probably have to get a big out at some point in this series. He only appeared in one game against the Yankees and got the final three outs in Game 4, but not after serving up a solo home run. He will no doubt make things interesting.

3. KENNY LOFTON

Forty-year-old Kenny Lofton set the tone for the Indians in their series with the Yankees. Lofton hit .375 for the series, but was 5-for-7 through the first two games with four RBI and two runs scored.

If Cleveland gets that kind of production again from him, the Indians may have a real shot here. He is one of the few Indians who have been to the postseason and the young players feed off of him. That was evident against the Yankees.

BOSTON RED SOX

1. JOSH BECKETT


Beckett will again take the ball in Game 1 for the Red Sox after his historic outing in the ALDS. Beckett, who was 20-7 this season with a 3.27 ERA, added to his already impressive postseason resume in Game 1 against the Angels, holding them to just four hits with eight strikeouts in his club's 4-0 win.

In his seven postseason appearances, spanning 51 2/3 innings, Beckett has pitched to a remarkable 1.74 earned run average.

Beckett, who retired 19 batters at one point, is also just the seventh pitcher in major league history to throw a shutout in back-to-back postseason starts, and the first since Orel Hershiser in Game 7 of the 1988 National League Championship Series.

The 27-year-old right-hander, though, has struggled in his career against the Indians and is just 1-3 against them in four starts with a 6.57 ERA.

2. MANNY/BIG PAPI

Boston's lineup is, of course, fueled by two players and that could be bad news for Cleveland's pitchers because Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are red hot.

Ramirez hit two mammoth home runs in the ALDS, including a game-winning ninth inning shot in Game 2, and hit .375 with four RBI, while Ortiz batted .714 with a two home runs and three RBI in the three-game sweep. It could be a very short series if those two can keep it going.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but way back when there was a time when Ramirez was the centerpiece the Indians late 90's playoff teams. Obviously a lot has changed since than and the enigmatic outfielder loves hitting against his former team. He hit .417 against then this year, .370 last season and .357 for his career, with 15 home runs in 49 career regular-season games.

3. BULLPEN

Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima are as good of a 1-2 combination as there is to close out a game. However, getting to those two could be a problem if Boston's starters, particularly in Game 3 and 4, are ineffective.

When Eric Gagne was acquired at the trade deadline, most people applauded the move. Gagne, though, was an utter disappointment, going 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and three blown saves in a Red Sox uniform. He pitched in garbage time of Schilling's clinching win on Sunday, but he served up a run and one hit in his one inning of work.

Manny Delcarmen has also struggled with his command at times and if those problems resurface, Boston could be in some trouble.

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Re: ALCS preview Indians vs. Red Sox

Red Sox add Wakefield to ALCS roster
October 11th, 2007

Boston, MA (Sports Network) - The Boston Red Sox announced Thursday that starting pitcher Tim Wakefield has been added to the club's roster for their American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians.

Wakefield was left off the ALDS roster with soreness in his back, but threw five simulated innings and 77 pitches on Tuesday. He is now tentatively scheduled to pitch Game Four in Cleveland.

Wakefield, the veteran right-handed knuckleballer, finished with a 17-12 record and a 4.76 ERA in 31 starts for the AL East champions. However, the 41-year-old hurler missed a scheduled start on August 31 with a back injury and ended the season just 1-2 in his last five starts, allowing 39 hits and 24 earned runs over his final 24 2/3 innings.

To make room for Wakefield, the club removed third-string catcher Kevin Cash from the roster. Cash played 12 games after being called up in mid-August.

Game 1 of the series is set for 7:00 p.m. (et) Friday at Fenway Park. Twenty-game winner Josh Beckett goes for the Sox, opposed by the Indians' C.C. Sabathia.

In a switch from the American League Division Series, when Beckett was followed by Daisuke Matsuzaka for Game 2 against the Angels, Francona has moved Curt Schilling to Game 2 followed by Dice-K for Game 3.

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Re: ALCS preview Indians vs. Red Sox

Kielty gets start over Drew in right field in ALCS opener
ASSOCIATED PRESS

BOSTON -- Bobby Kielty will start in right field instead of J.D. Drew for the Boston Red Sox in Friday night's AL championship series opener because of his success against Indians starter C.C. Sabathia.

''He was brought in here to give us some right-handed punch,'' Boston manager Terry Francona said Thursday.

Kielty, a switch-hitter, is 9-for-29 with two homers and four strikeouts in his career against the Cleveland lefty. Drew has faced Sabathia three times with three strikeouts.

Drew played all three games in the AL division series against the Los Angeles Angels and went 2-for-11 with three RBIs. Kielty didn't play in the series.

Boston signed Kielty to a minor league contract on Aug. 6 after he was designated for assignment by Oakland, and the Red Sox brought him up on Aug. 18.

''I've seen the ball well out of his hand,'' Kielty said. ''There's no question when hitters have success against pitchers they always feel mentally more confident.''

Drew struggled much of the season after signing a $70 million, five-year contract as a free agent before the season. He hit .270 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs but hit well late in the season. Kielty hit .231 in 52 at bats for Boston.

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