Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox

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Pitching Matchups:

Ubaldo Jimenez will take the mound tonight looking to redeem himself after a rather lackluster start on Opening Day at Progressive Field. In that outing, Jimenez was roughed up for seven runs on seven hits and three walks while also surrendering two home runs in 4.1 innings of work. It was a bit of a downer considering how well he had pitched prior to that in Toronto. In that start, Jimenez went six innings and allowed only one earned run and was actually in line for the win until Chris Perez blew the save. Which Jimenez shows up tonight is anyone’s best guess. Either way, expect him to nibble more with breaking pitches than blazing heat. So far this season he’s thrown fewer fastballs than at any other time during his career.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As for the Red Sox, they’ll trot out Felix Doubront for his second start of the season. In his first start Doubront was very effective, making it through six innings and allowing only three runs. He didn’t get the decision, but he put the Red Sox in a position to pick up the victory. That’s all the Red Sox could really ask for from Doubront. Filling out the back half of their rotation, the Sox want him to eat innings, save the bullpen, and keep them in games. If he can do those things, and there is no reason to believe he can’t, then Doubront could and should have a successful 2013 season. The Indians will need to be patient and try to get to him early. If they allow Doubront to get comfortable things will become a lot more difficult.

What is there left to say about Justin Masterson that hasn’t been said already? He’s been marvelous in hist first three starts. The stats back that up. However, as Jonah Keri pointed out on Monday the Red Sox will be the first formidable, left-handed heavy lineup that Masterson will face in 2013. How he responds to this challenge could go a long way in helping all of us learn whether or not this version of Justin Masterson is the real deal or just smoke and mirrors. Regression is bound to happen as the season wears on, but so far I’m willing to bet that he’s really turned into an ace.

Meanwhile, Alfredo Aceves will make his second start of the season for the Red Sox on Wednesday. However, this will be his fourth time taking the mound in 2013. So far in his first three appearances, Aceves has been roughed up pretty well. In none of his appearances has he held the opposition scoreless. However, he is inducing his fair share of grounders and striking out a decent number of batters, with nearly a punchout per inning pitched. The bottom like is that Aceves is not one of the Red Sox’ top starters and should provide the Tribe with an opportunity to put some runs on the board for Justin Masterson.

Game 3 provides the best pitching match-up of the series. The Indians will send Zach McAllister and his superb 2.19 ERA to the mound against Red Sox ace Jon Lester. For McAllister, the goal is to build on the positive momentum created by his previous start against that White Sox on Saturday in which he went 6.1 innings and allowed only three runs (one earned) on five hits. It was a superb outing and helped remind everyone of just how magnificent McAllister pitched in 2012. If he can keep it going, it’s possible that McAllister may end up usurping Ubaldo Jimenez as the No. 2 starter in the rotation.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Things won’t come easy on Thursday, however. Jon Lester has been almost as good as Justin Masterson in 2013 and is quickly reestablishing himself as one of the premier pitchers in the game today. In three starts, he has only allowed three runs and batters are only hitting .208 against him. He’s also coming off of two straight outings in which he made it through seven dominant innings of work. The one positive heading into Thursday’s game: the Indians have lit up left-handed aces so far this season. Can they add Lester to the list of victims that already includes R.A. Dickey, David Price, and Chris Sale? It seems doubtful, but stranger things have happened.

Player to Watch: Red Sox

  • Jackie Bradley, Jr.: Bradley is off to a rather pedestrian start to his career, but there is a buzz about him amongst Boston fans that rivals that of their stars from years past. He plays the game with a sense of excitement that is rarely seen on a baseball field. He’s a premier athlete that has speed, can hit for some power, and can cover a tremendous amount of area in the outfield. He may not make an impact in this series, but he is definitely a player to keep an eye on moving forward.

Player to Watch: Indians

  • Drew Stubbs: With Michael Bourn out for the next week or so, it stands to reason that Drew Stubbs may be filling in at the top of the order. If that’s the case, it will be interesting to see how he responds to the new role, if even on a temporary basis. He’s gotten off to a slow start this season (.200/.222/.227) and needs something to get him going. Maybe an enhanced role in the offense is exactly what he needs. And more importantly, if hitting higher in the order does get him going, what do you do once Bourn returns? Does Terry Francona consider batting him in the No. 2 hole, shifting Asdrubal Cabrera to third and moving Jason Kipnis down? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
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