These teams were 1-2 in the regular season in starter ERA, so expect low-scoring, well-pitched games. Josh Beckett is arguably the best pitcher still standing, but C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona are the best 1-2 combination going, and have been all season. They're 39-15 with a 3.12 ERA between them, including strong starts against the Yankees in the first round. Jake Westbrook had a 3.44 ERA in the second half, and Paul Byrd is so funky that he can be at his best in October, when hitters are on edge. Beckett's teams never have lost a playoff series, in part because of his 1.74 ERA over 512/3 innings. Curt Schilling moves ahead of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the Red Sox rotation - commentary both on how badly Schilling wanted the Fenway Park stage again and how Matsuzaka has disappointed. Tim Wakefield, sidelined with shoulder problems in the first round, is a possible Game 4 starter.
Boston's bullpen led the league in ERA (3.10) and tied with St. Louis for fewest blown saves (11), getting quality work from closer Jonathan Papelbon, set-up man Hideki Okajima and the underestimated Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen. Cleveland's bullpen converted 78 percent of its regular-season save chances, second in the AL to Boston (80 percent). The Indians have three relievers who compiled 2.15 or better ERAs in at least 26 appearances, and all three (Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez and the out-of-nowhere Jensen Lewis) were sharp against the Yankees. Aaron Fultz joins fellow lefty Perez to give manager Eric Wedge a good mix.
Edge: Red Sox.
The Red Sox were third in the AL with 5.4 runs per game in the regular season and did better than that against the Angels in the first round. Boston doesn't bomb away. It was eighth in the AL with 166 home runs (12 fewer than Cleveland) but wears you down with jabs (.362 on-base percentage, second in the AL) and body blows (80-percent success ratio stealing bases, best in the AL). Cleveland's lineup is strong, just not as strong as the one it is facing.
The emergence of Franklin Gutierrez often puts Trot Nixon on the bench, where he's the best reserve on either roster. Cleveland's No. 2 catcher, Kelly Shoppach, sometimes starts, with Victor Martinez moving to first and Ryan Garko becoming a big weapon on the bench. Speedy outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is the centerpiece of Boston's bench, but manager Terry Francona doesn't make many changes.
Both teams catch the ball, but Boston's a little better, as evidenced by a majors-low 39 unearned runs allowed in the regular season.
Edge: Red Sox.
Francona gets nod over Wedge because he showed he can handle October adversity in 2004.
Edge: Red Sox.
The Indians already have knocked off one of the East's two giants; why not another?
Key matchup: The Red Sox lineup vs. Joe Borowski
Despite the lack of an overpowering fastball or a trick pitch, Borowski led the American League in saves with 45 this season. But the Indians' closer also compiled a 5.07 ERA and had eight blown saves, only one less than majors-leading Chad Cordero.
Borowski, who has spent most of his career in the National League, has faced the Boston hitters only in 2005 and 2007, and they have feasted on him. The Red Sox have hit .370 as a team in Borowski's five outings against them. He worked a perfect inning against Boston at Jacobs Field on July 25, but was scored on twice in four outings in '05, including a blown save. Give Borowski credit for not backing down against Boston (or anyone else). He has only three walks in 30 plate appearances against the players on the Red Sox's ALCS roster. That suggests he's going to throw strikes and take his chances. Hide your eyes, Indians fans.
- Chicago Tribune