Series Preview: Boston Red Sox vs Cleveland Indians

The Boston Red Sox face a big challenge in the coming series, as Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians come into Boston for a four-game series. The Indians currently sit atop the AL Central, and this series could very well be an ALCS preview. Despite it being late August, these teams have surprisingly not faced off this season. Without further ado, here is the Boston Red Sox vs Cleveland Indians series preview.

Boston Red Sox vs Cleveland Indians Series Preview

Any conversation about the Cleveland Indians begins with their stellar right side of the infield. Third baseman Jose Ramirez and shortstop Francisco Lindor are arguably the game’s best duo and should be the primary focus of the Red Sox pitching staff.

Ramirez is in the midst of his best season to date. The 25-year old switch hitter is currently hitting an absurd .301/.412/.636 with a 176 wRC+ while also bringing stellar defense and baserunning to the table. He’s arguably been the best player in baseball and is in the thick of the MVP race alongside Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and Mike Trout.

While Lindor isn’t having quite as good a year, he’s still having a fantastic season. Lindor is arguably the best shortstop in baseball, and he’s once again proving why with his .292/.372/.550 slash line and his corresponding 146 wRC+.

There may not be a better duo in baseball than these two. Quite frankly, only Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez come close to matching their combined production. If the Boston Red Sox are going to win this series, they’ll need to minimize the damage done by these two superstars.

Those two are clearly the best on the team, but it’s not like those two are the only good hitters on the team. As a team, the Indians are currently third in slugging, third in OPS, third in runs, fourth in average, and fourth in on-base percentage. Basically, this is one of the most complete teams in baseball, and the Red Sox will have their hands full.

Game One: Corey Kluber vs Rick Porcello

The Red Sox will kick off their series by going against the reigning American League Cy Young winner. Corey Kluber is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he’s having yet another stellar season. While he’s not as dominant as he was in 2017, Kluber still boasts an impressive 2.68 ERA, 3.31 FIP, and an absurdly low 1.13 BB/9. He induces ground balls at an impressive 45.1% rate and has allowed just 21 home runs in 168 innings.

Kluber is a three-pitch guy, throwing a fastball, cutter, and curveball. Each offering is a borderline elite pitch capable of forcing swings and misses and weak contact. He throws his fastball 41.5% of the time, with velocity in the low to mid 90’s. His cutter sits a hair below that at 89 mph, and his curveball rests at 84 miles per hour.

However, it’s not Kluber’s velocity which makes him dominant, but his pitch movement and location. He can paint the corners with the best of them, as evidenced by his 1.13 BB/9 rate. Each one of his pitches has fantastic movement and is incredibly difficult for a hitter to pick up. Basically, he does everything great, which is why he’s among the best in the league.

Rick Porcello is a good starter, but he’s not on Kluber’s level. Porcello is good enough to keep the game close, but he probably can’t take down Kluber on his own. Unless the Red Sox offense can knock around Cleveland’s bullpen, expect the Indians to take home the opening victory.

Game Two: Shane Bieber vs Nathan Eovaldi

After facing an experienced Kluber in Game One, the Red Sox will take on rookie Shane Bieber in the second game of the series. Bieber has impressed through 12 major league starts, compiling a 4.37 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 9.40 K/9 and a 1.99 BB/9. His ERA is inflated by an unsustainably-high .372, and all the other peripherals suggest he’s had a great start to his career.

However, Bieber hasn’t had to go against an offense this good. Boston has the best offense in baseball, and it’s hard to imagine a rookie dominating a lineup comprised of Betts, Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi.

Matching Bieber for the Red Sox will be the recently acquired Nathan Eovaldi. After two dominant starts in which he pitched a combined 15 scoreless innings, Eovaldi has come back to Earth a little bit. In his previous outing against the Phillies, Eovaldi allowed one run in three innings, however, only one of those runs was earned.

The Phillies start is probably close to what to expect out of Eovaldi moving forward. Eovaldi is a guy who wins by painting the corners and limiting damage with his cutter. If his cutter isn’t on, he struggles to get guys out. Expect Eovaldi to deliver about six innings of three-run ball, which should be enough to take Game Two.

Game Three: Carlos Carrasco vs Brian Johnson

Game Three will come down to Carlos Carrasco taking on Brian Johnson. Carrasco is quietly having another solid season, posting a 3.33 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 10.11 K/9 and a 1.76 BB/9 through 143.1 innings pitched. He doesn’t come to mind when thinking of the game’s top pitchers, but he’s above average in just about every notable category.

Carrasco wins by using four separate pitches in order to keep hitters on their toes. His fastball is his main offering, throwing it 45.4% of the time at an average velocity of 93.4 mph. His main offspeed offering is his slider, going to that pitch 27.2% of the time. He also adds in a curveball and changeup, throwing them 12.1% and 15.3% of the time, respectively.

Brian Johnson has been a good fifth starter this season, but that’s all he is. Through 78.2 innings as a starter and reliever, Johnson owns a 4.00 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 8.24 K/9, and a 3.09 BB/9. All of these numbers hover around the league average, which is pretty impressive, seeing as Johnson is the fifth man on Boston’s rotation.

While he’s not at the same level of skill as Carrasco, Johnson has been pitching above his skill set all season long. Johnson is fascinating to watch, as he’s a pitcher who truly maximizes every last ounce of talent he has. He should be able to keep this game close, and this game should go down to the wire.

Game Four: Adam Plutko vs David Price

This game should be the easiest of the series for the Red Sox. Unlike the rest of the Indians starters, Adam Plutko has struggled throughout the 2018 season. In 48.2 innings, Plutko has pitched to the tune of a 4.62 ERA, 5.67 FIP, and an underwhelming 6.47 K/9.

His primary offering is a fastball which sits at 91 miles per hour. He doesn’t have many other pitches, as he used his fastball a high 60.5% of the time. The only other pitch he throws more than 10% of the time is his 83 mph slider, which he throws 21.1% of the time.

David Price, on the other hand, has been playing on another level of late. The $32 million dollar man has posted an impressive 1.35 ERA, 2.47 FIP, and a 24.4% strikeout rate since July 20th. He’s the best pitcher on the active roster (Chris Sale is on the disabled list), and he should earn the win in the series finale.

Series Summary

With the Yankees seriously struggling, there’s a case to be made that these teams are the two best in baseball (although the surging Oakland Athletics might have something to say about that). This series could easily go either way, as each game except for the finale projects to be a fight to the finish.

These teams are so evenly matched that it’s hard to predict anything other than a series draw. The Sox do have the advantage of playing at home, and they’ve been borderline unstoppable at Fenway. The Sox might be able to take three of four, but most likely, we’re looking at a split.

Dave Latham

Engineer by day, sportswriter by night. Follow me @DLPatsThoughts

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