ALCS breakdown: Indians

ALCS breakdown: Indians

The Indians' dismantling of the Yankees' late-season momentum made fans forget that New York took all six matchups against Cleveland during the regular season. Given that, it should mean little that the Red Sox won five of seven games against the Tribe this summer.

Like those losses to the Yankees, both Boston-Cleveland series took place before the Indians heated up over the final two months. The Tribe lost two of three at Fenway Park at the tail end of a nine-game, nine-day road trip. They had played 12 straight days going into that series, while averaging nearly six runs a game in that stretch. Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett cooled them off.

Add in three losses in a four-game series at Jacobs Field, and Boston's vaunted rotation held the Tribe to two runs or less in four of the seven matchups and just three runs in another. Each game, Red Sox pitchers -- not just Beckett -- sent down Indians hitters with strikeouts. Once the Indians got on their late-season roll to run away with the American League Central title, the Tribe's bats grew more disciplined. In the ALDS, that discipline led to runs, one timely hit at a time.

The Indians will have to take that approach and not chase the nasty repertoire of Beckett and the veteran savvy of Schilling, not to mention the dancing knuckleball of Tim Wakefield. They won't beat the Red Sox on home runs, but the ALDS showed that this club can play small ball, even strong-slugging Travis Hafner.

Key late-game matchups
• Neither Victor Martinez nor Asdrubal Cabrera have faced Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, but they batted .347 and .500, respectively, in the late innings of close games. Martinez's OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) in those situations, covering 95 at-bats, is a whopping 1.011.

• The Red Sox probably won't hesitate to use Hideki Okajima or Javier Lopez in the late innings to force a lefty-on-lefty matchup with Hafner, who struck out twice in as many meetings with Lopez this season.


Shoppach
Indians' secret weapon
Cleveland's best hitter against Boston this season wasn't Martinez, Hafner or Jhonny Peralta, but it was former Red Sox farmhand Kelly Shoppach, who went 4-for-7 against his old team. He'll likely make at least one start when Paul Byrd takes the mound.

Indians' Achilles' heel
Cleveland can try to ride C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona to victory, but with matchups against Beckett, Dice-K and Schilling looming, the Indians can't automatically chalk up victories with their big two. That means they'll need strong outings from Jake Westbrook and Byrd, testing the depth of their rotation against what, on paper, looks like a deeper Red Sox rotation.

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Indians manager: Eric Wedge
Faced with the task of dismantling the Bronx Bombers and facing the aura of Yankee Stadium, the Indians took on their manager's cool, deliberate nature. If they're supposed to be intimidated by facing the Red Sox, their manager won't let on.

Indians' intangibles
The Indians have had so many late-game heroics this season that they can make their case as the team of destiny without batting an eye.

Three reasons the Indians will win
• They're the one team in these playoffs that can go pitcher for pitcher with Beckett and Dice-K. Sabathia and Carmona will pitch four out of a possible seven games. If Cleveland can win three of those games and look for one win from Westbrook or Byrd, it will take its chances that one of them can keep the ball on the ground.

• With the emergence of Rafael Perez and the steady work of Rafael Betancourt, the Indians have the setup and specialty arms to shorten a game.

• The two-strike approach by the Indians this postseason gives their offense a different look than the one the Red Sox saw and sent down in most of their regular-season matchups.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.