Game time: 7:10 p.m. ET
Venue: Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH
Where to watch: NESN, Bally Sports Great Lakes
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
DraftKings: Red Sox -180, Indians +155; point spread 1.5
Season record (entering Thursday)
Red Sox: 72-56 (3rd place, AL East)
Indians: 62-62 (2nd place, AL Central)
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Red Sox - Indians game preview and analysis
Red Sox: 5-5 in last 10
Indians: 6-4 in last 10
The Boston Red Sox are in trouble. Maybe not as much trouble as they were a few weeks ago, but things are starting to get hectic in Beantown.
Don’t fret Red Sox fans, because there is good news to report. If the season started today, Boston would be in the playoffs, in a one-game wild-card matchup with the New York Yankees. That would be only some part of the bad news, because the threat remains real that the Red Sox will miss the playoffs entirely.
The Red Sox lead the Oakland Athletics by 1.5 games for the second AL Wild Card spot, but the real problem may be the team behind them; the Seattle Mariners are 2.5 games back after winning seven of their last 10 and beating Oakland twice.
So it’s crunch time for the Red Sox with 34 games to go, and they’re about to embark on a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against the Cleveland Indians starting Friday.
It’s been a rocky week for the Red Sox ever since their 20-8 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the clubhouse leaders in the American League East. Boston lost five of its next eight and are slowly trending downward.
The Red Sox survived a late comeback from the Minnesota Twins in the first game of their three-game series Tuesday night, winning 11-9. On Wednesday, the Red Sox got a two-run, game-tying home run from Kyle Schwarber in the bottom of the ninth. Minnesota responded with a two-run shot from Josh Donaldson and a three-run homer from Jake Cave to cap off a five-run 10th inning and a 9-6 win.
Chris Sale will take the mound for the series finale in hopes of ending this series on a positive note. The Sox will need some sort of positive momentum before starting some important road games, including a four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Last time Boston saw Tampa Bay, the Red Sox were swept.
“It’s a crazy game,” said Schwarber
, Boston’s trade deadline acquisition from the Washington Nationals. “This game, you can be at your highest high and then the next thing you know, it can put you right back down. But the beauty of this is we get to come out tomorrow. We get the opportunity to win the series. I think that’s the focus, that we’ve got to put this behind us.”
When Boston is hot, it’s as talented of a group as any in baseball. The Red Sox are the third-best hitting team in the league (.260) and are tied for eighth in the league in homers (166). But when the Red Sox shift to obscurity, it can be a dark place.
When the Yankees swept them last week, the Red Sox’s pitchers did the work, holding them to 12 total runs. Boston’s bats could only score five runs, and two of those games were seven-inning contests. Although they recently took two of three over the Texas Rangers, that series win included a 10-1 loss on Saturday, and an 11th-inning win Monday that required a walk-off grand slam.
The Red Sox are going to get enough pitching outside of Sale and Nathan Eovaldi to keep them in the race. Those bats have to come alive, and if not, it’s going to be a long winter in Boston.
And if the Red Sox want to stay in contention, they’ll need to start beating teams like the Indians in these crucial sets. The Indians enter Thursday coming off a 7-2 win against the Rangers on Wednesday that offset Texas’ victory in the series opener.
Cleveland connected for three home runs off rookie pitcher Jake Latz, making his MLB debut for the Rangers. Franmil Reyes capped the night off with a 451-foot blast, providing enough offense for Zach Plesac after giving up eight hits in 5.2 innings in the win.
I always wonder what the Indians would look like had Terry Francona not taken the rest of the year to deal with his health. If he were still around and the Indians were slightly better than a .500 team, would they be in wild card contention?
“Yeah, I mean he didn’t have his best stuff today, but that's OK,” said catcher Austin Hedges, about Plesac
. “He was still chill the whole time he was out there. I could tell he was confident, but he also knew he didn't have his best stuff, which is cool. A lot of times you don't have your best stuff, you're not going to be as confident, but he was able to maintain his confidence and just execute pitches and out-execute these guys, and it was nice to see him do that.”
The door is slightly open for the Indians in the AL Central race. They trail the Chicago White Sox by nine games for first place; the White Sox lost the first two of three to the Toronto Blue Jays in their four-game set in Toronto this week, giving the Indians a slight chance to gain some ground. It’s an eight-game deficit to make up for the second wild card spot. A couple of wins over Boston could get them to that point.
Just remember, it could be worse. You could be the Baltimore Orioles, no matter how much they’re celebrating right now.
The power of momentum this time of year should be real. And the Indians should feel good about sweeping the Los Angeles Angels this past weekend, and barring a series win against the Rangers, should feel very good going up against Boston. This is the first time these teams have faced off this year out of six. We like the Indians in this one. Indians win 5-4.
The Red Sox are 15-4 (+10.3 on the money line) when they play on Friday.
The Indians have not been a great underdog, going 26-41 (-5.4). The over is near .500 at 33-31.
Teams are 10-1 (+9.3) the last three years when Rodriguez starts against AL Central opponents.
Players to watch
Red Sox: This is going to be the time for Rafael Devers to start turning up his offense. Talk about bats needing to step up -- Boston’s leader in home runs and RBI has gone hitless in five of his last seven games and only one RBI to his credit.
Indians: Top hitter Amed Rosario had his 10-game hit streak end Wednesday, but he’s rose his average from .267 to .287 in August. Rosario was just on a stretch of four straight multi-hit games.
Enrique Hernandez (R) 2B
Kyle Schwarber (L) DH
Xander Bogaerts (R) SS
Rafael Devers (L) 3B
J.D. Martinez (R) LF
Alex Verdugo (L) CF
Hunter Renfroe (R) RF
Travis Shaw (L) 1B
Christian Vazquez (R) C
Myles Straw (R) CF
Amed Rosario (R) SS
Jose Ramirez (S) 3B
Franmil Reyes (R) DH
Oscar Mercado (R) LF
Bradley Zimmer (L) RF
Yu Chang (R) 1B
Owen Miller (R) 2B
Austin Hedges (R) C
Probable starting pitchers: Eduardo Rodriguez (BOS) vs. TBD (CLE)
Batting average: Xander Bogaerts (.302)
Hits: Xander Bogaerts (133)
Home runs: Rafael Devers (29)
RBI: Rafael Devers (93)
Stolen bases: Christian Vazquez (8)
Wins: Nathan Eovaldi (10)
Saves: Matt Barnes (24)
ERA: Nathan Eovaldi (3.72)
Batting average: Amed Rosario (.287)
Hits: Amed Rosario (127)
Home runs: Jose Ramirez (29)
RBI: Jose Ramirez (79)
Stolen bases: Jose Ramirez (16)
Wins: Aaron Civale (10)
Saves: Emmanuel Clase (18)
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