For the first time since 2013 and only the second since 2009 the Red Sox are back in the ALDS. They will face Terry Francona's pitching-depleted Cleveland Indians. The Sox may well have been favored in this matchup anyway, but with the Tribe rotation missing Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, and with ace Corey Kluber hurting as well, the Sox should be prohibitive favorites to move on. Here are a few things to watch for (worry about) for Red Sox fans.
* The Red Sox rotation. I said it in mid September and I will say it again, Boston has the best rotation in the American League and it is not even close. No team can match the front two of Rick Porcello and David Price (OK maybe, Texas with Hamels and Darvish, but their rotation is non existent after that). Not only is Porcello the Cy Young favorite and Price one of the top pitchers in the game, but they have multiple years of post season experience. Price has been in the AL playoffs every year since 2008 except 2009 and 2012. And you just know that Price would like to turn in a Madison Bumgarner type post season to quiet his critics. The next two, Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz, are not sure bets, but are very capable of going out and pitching shutout ball for the Bostons.
*Kan Kimbrel, Koji, Kelly, and Kompany klose out the games? The return of Koji Uehara from the DL to the eighth inning, has solidified all the other roles it seems. Choices like Brad Ziegler, Joe Kelly, and Robbie Ross Jr. can be used in the seventh or at any appropriate times. Starter Drew Pomeranz opened eyes on the last day of the regular season coming out of the bullpen and hitting 96 on the gun. Drew could be a weapon, he has a career 2.14 ERA out of the pen in 54 games. Kimbrel staggered the last week, but his overall numbers for the year are All Star caliber. Kimbrel must be able to pitch shut down ninth innings, if the Red Sox are to go all the way.
* Big Papi, David Ortiz. Ortiz put up a final regular season beyond our wildest dreams, hitting 38 home runs and tying for the league lead with 127 RBI with an OPS of over 1.000. So the question is can Big Papi add one more World Series ring by adding another heroic post season to his resume? If there is any doubt of his Hall of Fame credentials at this point ( and I do not think there is), one more title that Ortiz plays a leading role in obtaining, would seal the first ballot deal.
* The kids are all right. Xander Bogaerts received 27 at bats in the 2013 post season, including playing in six World Series games. But all of the rest of the young stars who drive this team: MVP candidate Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi ( and maybe, just maybe Travis Shaw), along with the aforementioned Eduardo Rodriguez are all brand new to the glare of post season spotlight. But especially with all of the young outfielders, their personalities and the demands of playing in Boston, should allow them to prosper in the playoffs. I feel that one of the B-Boys may well be the World Series MVP (if Papi doesn't edge them out on sentimentality points).
* What will the Red Sox get from Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez? Both vets had outstanding regular seasons. Pedey has struggled in past ALDS hitting only .153, but a robust .325 in ALCS of the past. Hanley appeared in the NLDS in both 2013 and 2014 for the Dodgers and hit a combined .467 (14 for 30). Both of the former Portland Sea Dogs double play combo seemed primed for big post seasons.
* The defense never rests. One of the underrated facets of this Red Sox team is their overall defensive play. They have Gold Glove candidates in Pedroia, Bradley Jr., and Betts. Andrew Benintendi in left( and Cleveland has all right handed starters) gives Boston three top notch center fielders manning all of the garden. The catching is in fine hands defensively whether Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, or even Ryan Hanigan are behind the dish. The Sox could steal a game with their defense.
* Base Running. And speaking of stealing a game, the high stolen base percentage the Sox sported for the first half of the campaign has come down some, but they still take the extra base, and score from second or even first as effectively as any other team in baseball.
Prediction time. Okay, I am biased, sue me. But many national media members are picking the Red Sox to prevail in October (November?). Here is my shot at the Boston post season:
Boston over Cleveland in 4 ( I really think a sweep is likely, but I am hedging). Boston pitching is just fine, but the Sox win by battering the crippled Indians rotation.
Boston over Baltimore ( who best the Jays and takes Texas in 7) in six games. Boston clinches the pennant on the Fenway sod, behind ALCS MVP Xander Bogaerts. One more prediction, Boston wins one of their games by beating Zach Britton in the ninth inning.
Peek at the NL
Giants win the wild card game and then lose to Cubs in 7, Dodgers best Nats in 5. Cubs, despite nearly wilting under the tremendous pressure of breaking their non-World series streak, edge Dave Roberts' club in 7, reaching the Fall Classic for the first time since the end of World War Two.
Cubs spend all they have just getting to a World Series and Boston repeats the 2004 and 2007 script and sweeps the Cubs. All three of the B-boy outfielders hit home runs, but David Ortiz has three home runs ( two in the Game Two shutout by David Price) and Big Papi goes out on top as World Series MVP.