Even before Boston and Cleveland take the field tonight for Game 1 of the ALDS, there are storylines to follow. Indians manager Terry Francona managed the Red Sox for eight seasons — winning two World Series — and will face his former team in the playoffs. For Boston, All-Star designated hitter David Ortiz begins his final playoff run.
While the match-up is intriguing off the field, the quality of both teams makes this series a must-watch. Boston finished with a regular season record of 93–69; the Indians went 94–67, giving them home field advantage. Boston won the season series 4–2.
Boston Red Sox
The Sox have finished last in the AL East three out of the last five seasons but are just three years removed from their last championship. All eyes turn to Ortiz, as his exceptional performance in his final year will go down as one of the best farewell seasons of all time. At age 40 he led MLB in slugging percentage, OPS, doubles, and extra-base hits.
But he was only part of why Boston had the best offense in the majors. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. both had career years. Betts batted .318 with 31 homers and 113 RBIs, putting him into serious contention for AL MVP. Bradley hit for a .267 average while knocking in 26 homers and 87 RBIs. Bradley also had a 29-game hitting streak earlier in the season.
Boston has enough starting pitching to supplement its potent offense. Starting for the Sox in Game 1 will be Rick Porcello, a former Tigers righty who has resurrected his career in Boston. Porcello posted a record of 22–4 during the regular season; he’s a Cy Young Award candidate. Boston also has playoff veterans David Price and Clay Buchholz.
Cleveland enters this series having not won a World Series since 1948, and the team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2013. It will prove difficult for Cleveland’s depleted rotation to match up with a highly explosive Red Sox offense. Corey Kluber, slated to start in Game 2, has been plagued by a quadriceps strain that limited him to 60 pitches in his last outing.
Danny Salazar will only be available out of the bullpen after he suffered a flexor strain in his forearm. The Tribe will also be without Carlos Carrasco, who is out for the season with a fractured hand. Trevor Bauer, who is about the only fully healthy pitcher left in the rotation, will start Game 1.
Cleveland finished with the fifth-best offense in the league. Jose Ramirez was a pleasant surprise for the Indians, as his .312 average led the team. Most of their power has come from Carlos Santana, who hit 34 homers this year. Shortstop Francisco Lindor has continued to blossom into an all-around star, and he led the team in hits, with 182. Cleveland also sports one of the league’s best bullpens, led by Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen. The Indians were an AL-best 53–28 at home this season, which bodes well given their home field advantage.
Both teams had exceptional seasons, as both squads won their divisions by a comfortable margin. But with injuries to its rotation, Cleveland won’t be able to keep up with Boston’s offense. Because of that, the Red Sox will win the series in four games.
Photographs by (from top): Maddie Meyer/Getty Images; Hannah Foslien/Getty Images