In the days leading to the ALDS, we’ll ask five people -- our four Red Sox pundits and one reader -- to answer five questions about this surprisingly successful Red Sox team.
Today’s question: Which team would you rather see the Red Sox face in the ALDS, the Rays or Indians?
• Gordon Edes: Indians
Terry Francona’s Indians lost 6 of 7 to the Red Sox in the regular season, were 36-52 against teams .500 or better, and have a closer crisis. Who wouldn’t want to face them instead of the Rays, who have formidable starting pitching and a more productive lineup than in the past? The Tito magic has to run out eventually ... doesn’t it?
• Joe McDonald: Rays
Both the Indians and the Rays are dangerous teams. Let’s start with Cleveland. Like the Red Sox, the Indians are built on character and talent. They’re feeling good about their game right now, finishing the season with 10 straight wins. The Rays, on the other hand, have always found a way to play well against the Red Sox. In the 2008 ALCS, for example, Boston had a better team but Tampa won that series in seven games. This season, Boston posted a 12-7 record against its AL East rival. If forced to choose, I think the Red Sox have a better chance of advancing to the ALCS if they play the Rays.
• Tony Lee: Rays
The general consensus suggests that avoiding the Tampa Bay Rays and their quality starting pitching would be the best-case scenario for the Red Sox.
However, even with David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, it is a team that has played .500 ball for two months and possesses a marginal offense that averaged 3.0 runs per game in going 7-12 against the Sox.
Also, Price used up 118 more bullets Monday night at Texas, Cobb will be used Wednesday in a do-or-die start in Cleveland and Moore, your Game 1 starter in an ALDS, limped to the finish line with a run of short starts filled with control problems that belie an otherwise solid ERA (20 walks and 26 hits in 29 innings since returning from an elbow injury last month).
The vibe is unique with Terry Francona’s bunch and Boston has not seen the Indians since May, when Cleveland was struggling to stay above .500.
In Maddon’s crew the Red Sox would find a familiar opponent playing in its fourth city in six days on the tail end of an up-and-down stretch run.
Given all that, I’d take my chances with Tampa Bay.
• Kyle Brasseur: Rays
As dangerous as we all know the Rays to be, they have several things going against them already heading into this week. First is a brutal schedule that, with a win over Cleveland on Wednesday, would take the team from Toronto to Texas to Cleveland to Boston in a span of five days.
Then you have the offensive woes of the past two postseason trips for the Rays, which saw them hit .236 as a team in 2011 and .215 in 2010, both the lowest totals among American League postseason teams in their respective years. Their .215 batting average in 2010 was the lowest for an AL postseason team that played five or more games since the Oakland Athletics in 2003 (.213).
And finally, there’s the reality of playing the Indians who, at 21-6, had the best record in the league for the month of September. Fun fact: The last four teams to have the best record in September (the San Francisco Giants in 2012, Detroit Tigers in 2011, Philadelphia Phillies in 2010 and New York Yankees in 2009) at least made it to their league’s Championship Series in their respective years.
Of course, Cleveland also has some guy named Tito at the helm. Francona’s 28-17 postseason record is second-best in MLB history among managers with a minimum of 25 postseason games (Joe McCarthy, 30-13).
• Reader Joe M. from Norwood, Mass.: Indians
To me, this is an easy one. It has to be the Indians, and it's really not even close. The Rays' pitching, although not as strong as it has been in past years, is still somewhat frightening. Cobb and Moore have been outstanding, and although Price has underperformed, I don't think there's anyone that sits up at night hoping they get to face him.
The Indians are talented, no doubt. But they lack any semblance of a major threat in the middle of their order and their rotation isn't deep enough to win a five-game series, especially without ace Justin Masterson. There could be some added motivation given Francona's history in Boston, but the Sox have too much talent for that to be an overriding factor.