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The Red Sox finally backed into the playoffs despite limping down the stretch. The Angels must really want the first round series with the Red Sox as their beating the Rangers put the Red Sox in, simultaneously setting up the matchup.
The Sox are 3-2 against the Indians this season and split their earlier two-game set at Fenway. With the playoff spot locked up and no room to move up, the Red Sox will continue to work in the whole roster and keep as many key guys as possible fresh. The starting pitcher’s stints will likely be short and the regulars in the lineup will be taking extra days and at-bats off.
In the opener, Jon Lester (14-8, 3.52 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 2009), who is the only scheduled starter to have faced the Indians this season and earned an ugly win, will take the ball. Carlos Carrasco (4 GS, 0-3, 9.00, 2.16 in 2009) will take the mound in his fifth major league start. He was one of the assets they acquired in exchange for Cliff Lee earlier this season.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-1, 1.96, 1.42 since return from DL) looks to continue his resurgence since his rehabilitation against Jeremy Sowers (6-10, 5.09, 1.60 in 2009), who has been up and down from AAA all season.
Josh Beckett (16-6, 3.78, 1.17 in 2009) looks to complete one his his best seasons and surpass the 200-strikeout mark for the first time in his career, needing six whiffs. Aaron Laffey (7-8, 3.91, 1.57), Beckett’s opponent, is the best starting pitcher remaining for the Indians after the Lee deal.
For the final game, Clay Buchholz (7-4, 3.74, 1.35 in 2009) very well could be skipped since he is expected to pitch in the playoffs. Tim Wakefield (11-4, 4.33, 1.41 in 2009) may get another audition for a playoff roster spot and/or a chance to eat some innings or Paul Byrd (1-3, 5.81, 1.77 in 2009) could go as a throwaway start since he is not expected to make the playoff roster. With the expected rainy weather over the weekend, the games may be washed out entirely anyway. The Indians have not announced a probable starter, but it is likely they would name Fausto Carmona (4-12, 6.62, 1.81), who has one of the wins against the Red Sox this season, or Justin Masterson (9 GS, 1-6, 5.21, 1.76 in 10 games with CLE), who would make his first start against his former team.
The Indians offense struggled in September, averaging just under four runs per game, but they are also taking a look at a number of their prospects for 2010. Another part of the Cliff Lee deal is Lou Marson, who is 9-37 in 12 games so far with his new club. Former Sox Kelly Shoppach was the club’s leading hitter in September, at .324 (12-37) with two home runs. Rookie Michael Brantley is hitting .309 with nine RBI and eight runs and also has four steals, but in eight attempts. Shin-Soo Choo is the Indians leader in many offensive categories: (HR) 19, RBI (83), runs (86), and steals (21), and he also boasts a .301 average. Asdrubal Cabrera is also having a fine season for the Tribe, hitting .306 with 68 RBI, 79 runs, and 17 swipes.
The Red Sox will probably split the series with the mix of regulars and backups as they ready for a series with the Angels. The offense should be able to get rolling, but the pitching has been looking shaky of late, which might open the door for the Indians to score some runs. The series does not hold much weight for the team though some momentum would be nice considering they have struggled somewhat with Kansas City, New York, and Toronto in the waning days of the regular season.