7:00 PM EST, ESPN – Money Line: Red Sox -117, Run Line: 10.5 under 15
A pair of teams that have been traveling in different directions since the All-Star Break meet tonight for a rematch of last year’s American League Division Series, as the struggling Boston Red Sox host the torrid Cleveland Indians in the first meeting of a three-game set from Fenway Park. Despite falling in Walk-Off fashion last night against the Chicago White Sox, the Indians (57-46, 1st in AL Central) have been one of the hottest teams in the American League, winners ten of sixteen, including nine in a row at one point, riding a wave of momentum to the top of the Division. Terry Francona’s charges have been in solid form for a few weeks now, as they look to capitalize on the woes of their AL Central brethren, and successfully retain their division crown. Their recent streak nearly continued, but a two-run homer in the Bottom of the Ninth shattered those prospects, as the White Sox pulled out a dramatic 3-1 victory at home. A Francisco Lindor (.271 BA, 16 HR, 49 RBI) solo homer put the Tribe ahead in the Third Inning, while Josh Tomlin (7-9, 5.38 ERA) surprisingly tossed a hitless four innings before being pulled prematurely after the Fourth due to experiencing tightness in his left hamstring. Reliever Nick Goody (2.29 ERA, 0 SV) started strong, but eventually served the game-tying homer to Leury Garcia in the Sixth, with the game deadlocked all the way to the final frame. It was there that Bryan Shaw (2.90 ERA, 2 SV) relented, allowing Jose Abreu to reach base, where he was replaced by Pinch Runner Alen Hanson, who was driven home courtesy of Matt Davidson’s twenty-first home run, ending the affair. The loss was hardly how Francona and Co. envisioned their winning streak coming to a halt, seeing as how Chicago, who had been tearing down their roster in lieu of the trade Deadline, has lost seven straight contests, and fourteen of sixteen overall. The Indians now take on another struggling side, however, one with the visage of a sleeping giant, as Mike Clevenger (5-3, 3.20 ERA) appears set to kick things off tonight. While Cleveland’s Rotation has been very a much a mixed bag this season, the young Righthander has certainly been one of their more formidable arms, ranking second among his comrades in ERA (3.20), second in WHIP (1.209) and Strikeouts per Nine Innings (10.0), while averaging the fewest Hits per Nine Innings (6.4). With that said, he’s been light’s out when pitching on the road in 2017, posting a stellar 2.51 ERA, ranking first in the American League among pitchers with at least seven starts. Overall in 37.2 innings pitched away from Progressive Field, Clevenger allowed just ten runs on twenty hits, with forty-one strikeouts in comparison to twenty-one walks. The 26-year old has shown awesome potential, but is far from immune to the struggles with control that plague so many young aces early in their careers; despite racking up the strikeouts, the second-year starter has been prone to Walks, leading Cleveland’s Rotation with 4.5 Walks per Nine Innings, which is why his K/BB Ratio is so low (2.23). Tonight will mark his first start against the Red Sox, whom we’ll expect that Francona will implore him to keep the number of walks permitted to a minimum against.
Meanwhile, we have the Red Sox (57-49, 2nd in AL East), who continue to fall down the pecking order in the American League, as they now find themselves trailing the New York Yankees in the division by a half-game. However, John Farrell’s charges face very real peril in regards to their positioning in the Wild Card race, holding on to the first of the two births by a half-game as well. After last night’s 5-3 loss at home against the Kansas City Royals, Boston has now lost ten out of their seventeen outings since the All-Star Break, including seven out of their last ten, raising the cause for concern in the Northeast to heightened levels, as the team that eliminated them from last year’s Playoffs returns to Fenway for the first time since last October. With fans hyped after celebrating the 2007 World Series Champion edition of this team, the current incarnation completely fell apart in the latter stages of the game, despite amassing what felt like a comfortable 3-1 lead through five innings of play. However, the Eighth Stanza proved to be catastrophic for the hosts, starting off with a fielding error courtesy of Xander Bogaerts (.283 BA, 6 HR, 43 RBI), followed by a hard liner off the body of Reliever Matt Barnes (3.60 ERA, 0 SV), who conceded a Single to load the bases. Alcides Escobar then drove home two runs with a Single of his own, followed by another two runs on the strength of Alex Gordon’s Triple to cap a four-run Eighth, serving as the proverbial knockout punch for the stunned home side. Altogether, it spoiled another strong performance from Drew Pomeranz (10-4, 3.46 ERA), who over the course of 6.2 solid innings relinquished just one run on seven hits with four strikeouts and a walk. Farrell will turn to Doug Fister (0-5, 7.46 ERA) tonight in search for some spark, but the likelihood of that coming from a guy who has yet to spell success for his newest team in rather unlikely. In seven appearances this season (four of them starts), the oft-traveled veteran has struggled mightily, with the Red Sox tasting victory in only one of his trips to the mound. On his fifth team in nine seasons, the Righthander has posted career-worsts across the board in 2017, including such categories as ERA (7.46), WHIP (1.855), Hits per Nine Innings (10.7), and a dreadful 6.0 Walks per Nine Innings leading to a 1.24 K/BB Ratio. Needless to say, at this point of his career, barring a remarkable turnaround is nothing more than a utility arm in the Bullpen possessing starting experience. With that said, serving as a member of the Detroit Tigers’ Rotation for three years (2011-2013), he does have a decent track record against the Indians; the 33-year old has put together a 5-3 record with a solid 3.13 ERA in sixteen starts against the AL Central leaders. This matchup is shaping up to be one in which Boston is going to need to rely on their Lineup to secure a victory, which with the likes of Bogaerts, Mookie Betts (.269 BA, 17 HR, 63 RBI), Jackie Bradley (.267 BA, 12 HR, 41 RBI), Andrew Benintendi (.262 BA, 12 HR, 54 RBI), and Hanley Ramierz (.256 BA, 17 HR, 40 RBI) should be probable, even with former MVP Dustin Pedroia (.307 BA, 6 HR, 54 RBI) likely out once again after missing the last two games due to experiencing soreness in his left knee.