Much debate was made over whether or not the Indians made the right call in giving their starters an off day after clinching the AL central in Detroit in what now seems like an eternity ago. The club escaped the wrath of the keyboard warriors and finished the job taking the season ending sweep of the Royals to lock down the important home field advantage, but the logic remains sound. Baseball’s offensive version of Jekyll and Hyde needs to show it can stay great away from Progressive.
At home the team is hitting .288/.359/.469 – essentially sending out a lineup full of Jason Kipnis’ 2016 clones (.275/.343/.469) yet away it becomes a stark contrast at .236/.300/.391, or more like a lineup of Rajai Davis’ season (.249/.306/.388) The squad goes from third best in baseball across the slash line to 27th in average and OBP and a modest 24th in slugging.
I don’t bring these up to discourage a fan base that is riding a euphoric high right now, rather to illustrate how important it was that the Indians got the job done when it mattered most, the first two games of the series.
In the blink of an eye or what reality said was 24 hours the Indians went from an injury riddled pitching staff with a glimmer of hope to one that is put in the drivers seat to see another round of postseason play. They made quick work of a 22 game winner and sent one of the game’s best southpaws over the past half decade left in the dark for an answer. Now is the time to step on the gas pedal and prove to the baseball world what we in The Land already know – this team is for real.
A two game lead in the ALDS is of course not guaranteed. We remember 1999 with clarity when the C’s allowed 44 runs in the final three games and watched a prime Pedro Martinez come in relief to pitch six hitless innings and write the closing chapter of the Indians season.
I’d be lying if I said I’m shocked by the two game advantage. We’ve seen it all season long at Progressive and in multiple ways. The true test comes at 4 Yawkay Way with “Sweet Caroline” blasting through the speakers starting Sunday.
So where is the hope? Where the team thought they wouldn’t see an advantage due to multiple injuries, the Indians enter game three and four on the road with exactly that.
Game three sets up well for the Indians despite first glance. Initially pegged as a “last starter standing” role as they trot out Josh Tomlin. Boston’s game three starter, Clay Buchholz, has spent the bulk of the season coming out of the bullpen after losing his starting role and recapturing it before the season ended. Buchholz has looked better in the back end of the season, but nothing that breed’s confidence. Something to note – the 32 year old has given up the long ball at a rate that he didn’t see in 2015, one of his top seasons on the mound. Buchholz watched his HR/FB ratio nearly double to 11.4% from 5.9% last season while posting a HR/9 of 1.36 from 0.48.
Game four will likely see Boston starting the inexperienced 23 year old Eduardo Rodriguez who enters with an ERA over 6 on the season at Fenway through nine starts. There might not be much faith at the moment in Trevor Bauer countering, but one thing is certain, the Indians hold the advantage on the mound entering that game as well. Even if the Red Sox use bullpen combinations to negate the impact Rodriguez has on the game, the Indians have a chance to escape the first round with an advantage in an area many pegged as the teams sudden weakness entering.
The club will have a game five at Progressive guaranteed if they fall short on the road, but the best chance to close out the Red Sox will be in the next two games. For the Indians to make that happen they’ll have to go against their road offensive identity and keep the bats staying hot. If it were at Progressive it might be a no brainer the offense will show up, at Fenway we’re just left with question marks.