Extra MustardSI On CampusFantasyPhoto GalleriesSwimsuitVideoFanNationSI KidsTNT

ALCS preview

Hungry Indians try to knock off another East power

Posted: Thursday October 11, 2007 4:31PM; Updated: Thursday October 11, 2007 6:17PM
Print ThisE-mail ThisFree E-mail AlertsSave ThisMost PopularRSS Aggregators
Catcher
Victor Martinez, Indians Jason Varitek, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.301 .374 .505 25 114 133 .255 .367 .421 17 68 106
Martinez bats cleanup and is the key to this lineup thanks to his ability to cover the plate and drive in runs. A switch-hitter, he'll get to bat from the left side, where he is more potent, for most of this series because Boston lacks a lefty starter. His defense has improved markedly -- he threw out 32 percent of would-be basestealers. The Captain bounced back from a poor 2006 at the plate with a fine season, and he's still the guy you want handling your pitching staff. He doesn't throw well, but the Indians have only two threats on the basepaths -- Grady Sizemore and Franklin Gutierrez.
Edge: Indians
NOTE: OPS+ is OPS normalized to the league and adjusted for park effects. Greater than 100 is above average and less than 100 is below average, provided by Baseball-Reference.com.
First Base
Ryan Garko, Indians Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.289 .359 .483 21 61 123 .288 .390 .453 16 83 120
This matchup is closer than you might think. Garko, a converted catcher, isn't much help on defense, but he can make up for any wrongs with his power, an asset that also comes in handy off the bench when Martinez plays first base and Kelly Shoppach catches. You have to love Youkilis' defense and on-base skills. He cooled down considerably after an amazing start but had a decent September (.810 OPS). No bonus points for his dancing, however.
Edge: Red Sox
Second Base
Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.283 .354 .421 3 22 107 .317 .380 .442 8 50 115
Cabrera, a 21-year-old rookie, took the second base job from the struggling Josh Barfield for good on Aug. 15 and sparked the Indians to a 30-12 finish. His range and sure hands are what got him to the majors, and the switch-hitter has been a surprise at the plate too. He woke up on the morning of May 3 sporting a .172 batting average but batted .335 with an .862 OPS the rest of the way to silence critics. He doesn't have a lot of range on defense but at least he's reliable (six errors). This matchup is also a close call, but Pedroia gets it on experience.
Edge: Red Sox
Third Base
Casey Blake, Indians Mike Lowell, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.270 .339 .437 18 78 106 .324 .378 .501 21 120 128
He settled in at third base after Andy Marte was benched and did a serviceable job at the plate and in the field. But he's a cornerman who is prone to the strikeout and regularly bats near or at the bottom of the order. Known for second-half fades in the past, Lowell turned it up a notch this season with an .889 OPS after the break, compared to an .869 first half. He's batting behind on-base machines Youkilis, Manny Ramirez and Big Papi in the playoffs to take advantage of his newfound RBI mastery.
Edge: Red Sox
Shortstop
Jhonny Peralta, Indians Julio Lugo, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.270 .341 .430 21 72 105 .237 .294 .349 8 73 68
His defense is still below average, but you hear less grumbling about it because his power stroke returned after he hit only 13 home runs last season. You would think it would be tough to win with groundball pitchers and without a good shortstop, but the Indians prove otherwise. What is so difficult about playing shortstop in Boston? Lugo is the club's third different shortstop in three years to have an anemic season at the plate. At least he no longer bats near the top of the order.
Edge: Indians
Left Field
Kenny Lofton, Indians Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.296 .367 .414 7 38 105 .296 .388 .493 20 88 129
Death, taxes and Kenny Lofton in the postseason. Somehow, he always manages to hitch a ride on a playoff team. The Indians have found him to be quite useful since a midseason trade, thanks to his ability to hit right-handers (.313 BA, .838 OPS), something that Jason Michaels can't do. Is Ramirez finally in his decline phase? This was his worst season since 1994. One thing is for sure: He's healthy at the right time and he can still turn on an inside fastball. Just ask Francisco Rodriguez.
Edge: Red Sox
Center Field
Grady Sizemore, Indians Coco Crisp, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.277 .390 .462 24 78 127 .268 .330 .382 6 60 86
There has been a bit of a backlash against the Sizemore hype machine lately, at least until his breakout performance against the Yankees. What Sizemore's detractors should realize is that well-rounded players are often difficult to appreciate because they don't do any one thing at a superior level. He may never hit 40 home runs in a season, drive in 100 runs or steal 50 bases. Instead he might hit 25 homers with 80 RBIs and 30 steals every season. Crisp rebounded nicely from a disastrous start to at least make himself a useful cog in the Red Sox's offense, batting .301 with 16 steals and 44 RBIs over his final 86 games. You never heard Red Sox pitchers complain, though, thanks to his outstanding range in center.
Edge: Indians
Right Field
Franklin Gutierrez, Indians J.D. Drew, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.266 .318 .472 13 36 108 .270 .373 .423 11 64 108
Along with Cabrera, Gutierrez was one of the Indians' saviors this season. He's been the regular right fielder for most of the second half (ahead of Trot Nixon), sparking the club with his power and defense. Here's a big reason why the Red Sox ranked only eighth in the AL in home runs this season -- they got only 11 out of the high-priced Drew. After a hot September (1.072 OPS), he failed to tally an extra-base hit in the first round.
Edge: Indians
Designated Hitter
Travis Hafner, Indians David Ortiz, Red Sox
BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+ BA OBP SLG HR RBIs OPS+
.266 .385 .451 24 100 123 .332 .445 .621 35 117 176
Pronk is back. After injuries slowed him for much of the season, he's got his legs back under him and is driving the ball almost like his old self -- his September OPS of .965 was his highest since April (1.021). Against the Yankees, he set the tone with his patient approach, drawing five walks in four games. Papi quietly had the best season for anybody not named Alex Rodriguez. The difference between the two is that Ortiz doesn't go into a shell once the calendar page flips to October. In his most recent display of clutchness, Ortiz went 5-for-7 with two homers in the ALDS win over Los Angeles.
Edge: Red Sox
Rotation
Pitcher W-L ERA SO-BB ERA+ Pitcher W-L ERA SO-BB ERA+
Sabathia 19-7 3.21 209-37 138 Beckett 20-7 3.27 194-40 139
Carmona 19-8 3.06 137-61 145 Schilling 9-8 3.87 101-23 118
Westbrook 6-9 4.32 93-55 102 Matsuzaka 15-12 4.40 201-80 104
Carmona has not allowed more than three runs in a game since Aug. 31. He's a legitimate co-ace to Sabathia. Westbrook is a concern but at least his Game 3 start will be at home, where his ERA was a respectable 3.94 this season compared to 4.78 on the road. Byrd probably will get the Game 4 start on the heels of his ALDS-clinching victory over the Yankees. As long as he can keep the ball in the yard and have some line drives caught, he'll be alright. Beckett's postseason prowess is well-chronicled. What the Red Sox should worry about more is the rest of the staff. Though Schilling tamed the Angels, the Indians will be a different animal for the spit-and-vinegar version of Schilling, especially if the Tribe comes to the plate with the same focus and adherence to the game plan they had against the Yankees. Matsuzaka is a major question mark at this point, as is Tim Wakefield, the slated Game 4 starter.
NOTE: ERA+ is the ratio of the league's ERA (adjusted to the pitcher's ballpark) to that of the pitcher. Greater than 100 is above average and less than 100 is below average, provided by Baseball-Reference.com.
Edge: Indians
Bullpen
Pitcher SV ERA IP SO-BB ERA+ Pitcher SV ERA IP SO-BB ERA+
Borowski 45 5.07 65.7 58-17 87 Papelbon 37 1.85 58.3 84-15 246
Betancourt 3 1.47 79.3 80-9 300 Okajima 5 2.22 69 63-17 206
Perez 1 1.78 60.7 62-15 249 Delcarmen 1 2.05 44 41-17 223
Perez may be the key to this entire series. If he can neutralize Big Papi in the late innings, the Indians have a chance to advance. Betancourt is another horse that manager Eric Wedge can lean on, and between them there may not even be much left for the pliable Borowski to clean up. Among closers with at least 30 saves, Papelbon was the only one to throw below 60 innings. Suffice it to say he was handled with care in hopes that he would be fresh for October. Now we'll see if that strategy pays dividends. Okajima and Delcarmen are suitable setup men but are they ready to shoulder a heavy load? If Eric Gagne has to come in, hide the kids.
Edge: Indians
Defense
Cabrera is the only above-average defender in the infield. Gutierrez bolsters the outfield defense when he's in there instead of Nixon, which is usually the case. Sizemore isn't on par with Crisp in center, but he won't hurt you too much, either. As a whole, they aren't all that bad, though. They allowed only 46 unearned runs on the season, the third-fewest in the AL behind Boston (39) and Baltimore (41). According to The Hardball Times' statistics, their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA is 4.12 compared to 4.05 for their real team ERA, which means the Tribe defense shaved .07 points off the pitchers' ERAs. This club can pick it. Lowell and Youkilis are Gold Glove caliber at the corners. Crisp is superb in center field. Drew is much-maligned at the plate, but he has the wheels to cover the vast right field at Fenway. Boston's FIP (see Indians blurb, left) is 4.24 -- an impressive .36 points higher than the club's real ERA of 3.87. (That means the defense saved the pitchers more than one-third of a run per game.)
Edge: Red Sox
Bench
Shoppach is better than the garden variety backup catchers on most teams. Nixon can provide punch from the left side when he's not in the lineup, as can Gutierrez from the right side. The right-handed Michaels lacks power but usually will give you a quality at-bat. Bobby Kielty already has drawn the Game 1 start over Drew for his ability to hit left-handers, and Jacoby Ellsbury provides speed (9 for 9 in steal attempts) and defense in the late innings. Eric Hinske is the designated lefty power bat and Doug Mirabelli is Wakefield's caddy.
Edge: Red Sox
Manager
Wedge has let it be known that he's not going to deviate from his regular-season tendencies in the postseason, refusing to start Sabathia on short rest in Game 4 of the ALDS and keeping Borowski as his closer even though the two setup men are obviously more effective. If nothing else, he has proven that he knows his team much better than any of us armchair experts. By keeping an even keel down the stretch he has allowed his players to relax and focus on playing their game. Tactically, he doesn't waste many outs on sacrifices and doesn't care much for the running game. Like the Indians, Francona's Red Sox don't sacrifice much. They will run effectively, though, with 96 stolen bases this season against only 24 caught stealings, a respectable 80 percent success ratio. That shows an ability to adapt to the personnel he has available, because this year the Red Sox lacked their usual punch at the plate. Like with many successful big-market managers, Francona's chief asset is his ability to deal with big egos in the clubhouse and in the media. He has engendered the loyalty of his players by sticking with them through their rough patches. Plus, he gets extra points for having to deal with Manny.
Edge: Even
Intangibles
The Indians are flying high after knocking out the Yankees at the Stadium, so they won't be intimidated by Fenway Park. This is a young ballclub but it doesn't lack experience, and most of the team has been together for years. They feel like their time is now, and they may be right. The way Ramirez and Ortiz are hitting, it's easy for the rest of the lineup to fall into place. With those two and Papelbon in the bullpen, they have no shortage of sparkplugs on the roster. Plus they get the home-field edge, where they posted an .844 OPS compared to .768 on the road.
Edge: Indians
The Pick
Some of the Red Sox's stated advantages aren't as wide as you might think, especially at DH (Ortiz vs. Hafner) and second base (Pedroia vs. Cabrera) and even defense, where the Tribe has been much improved of late. The Indians have the edge where it counts the most -- starting pitching and relief pitching. Cleveland in six games.

Search