Indians to Give Red Sox Playoff-like Test
By Michael Silverman
It’s been too easy lately for the Red Sox.
Thank goodness the Indians are coming to town.
The only team in the American League that the Red Sox have yet to face happens to be the best team in the AL Central, a potential playoff foe headed by manager Terry Francona, who knows better than anyone what it takes to win in Boston.
So, while the Red Sox, like all big-leaguers, take pains to obey the bold-lettered, up-high Page 1 portion of their contracts that require them to fear all opponents equally no matter what their record is, you can be sure that this four-game series is the kind of test that they could use.
Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Rays notwithstanding, the Red Sox have been winning a ton lately.
That never gets old, but sometimes it starts to feel a little unreal against the lightweights.
The Indians are the real thing.
For four days, the Red Sox face a reality test that they technically do not have to pass with flying colors -- but they might as well.
“We really don’t get caught up in that -- since the big series in Anaheim early in the season, seems like every series is something big or is something outside the walls of the clubhouse and people are like, ‘This is it, this is it, this is it,’” said manager Alex Cora. “We don’t get caught up in that. Tomorrow it’s the same day, it’s the same focus. We’ll prepare and we’ll go out there and play.”
Sure, but Cora knows who’s coming.
This isn’t the Rays, and it’s certainly not the Blue Jays or the Orioles or the Twins or the Tigers, all the roadkill the Red Sox have run over since the All-Star break.
This is a team that took the Cubs to extras in Game 7 of the World Series two years ago and last year got bumped early in the Division Series.
The team has playoff experience, and it is miffed about what happened last season. Its duo of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor is as capable as Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are in damaging opposing pitching staffs.
They are not like every other team.
They are like the Astros, the Yankees and the A’s.
They are really good, but Cora maintained that the net result would be more about seeing what the Indians can do than what his team can do against them in mid-August.
“No, I know my team, I know who we have,” said Cora. “I know it’s a good team, we respect them, we know what they do but at the same time, that series is not going to tell me a lot about our team, we know who we are.”
At least Cora could admit that he did not need to play them to understand how tough they will be.
“I know them, I’ve seen them -- I thought last year, honestly, that was probably the best team in the American League going into the playoffs,” said Cora. “They’re in a good situation right now in the Central, obviously they’re a little bit banged up but they’re very explosive, their young guys have been in the playoffs already, they’ve played in the World Series. They were short three outs, so they have enough motivation over there. Their manager, he does an outstanding job, too. We know how good they are and I feel like they know we’re good. It’s going to be a four-game series, one of those like the Yankees, we play it and we move on and we’ve got to go to Tampa, it should be fun.”
Chris Sale was not going to face the Indians this series, so his trip to the DL will not affect that storyline. But the Indians’ ace, Trevor Bauer, likely would have pitched here before he sustained a stress fracture in his leg.
That said, reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is putting together a respectable 15-6, 2.68 ERA season and he pitches tonight against Rick Porcello. Carlos Carrasco (15-6, 3.33) squares off against Brian Johnson on Wednesday.
And then there’s Ramirez with 37 homers, 91 RBI and 27 stolen bases, and Lindor with 29-76-19, each playing good defense, Lindor especially.
“With the Indians, they’re a good team, a real good team, very similar to us -- offensively they steal bases, they put pressure on it, those two guys, Ramirez and Lindor, they’ve been doing damage getting on base, putting pressure running the bases,” said Cora. “Hopefully they struggle against us and we still have fun before the game and after the game.”
Blake Swihart had a refreshing take, saying, “It’s going to be a good series -- it could be a tale of the future coming up in a couple of months.”
October stories always count the most.
But as consolation prizes go, nobody can complain about these four days in August.