Francona, versatile Indians return to Boston

Terry Francona returns to Boston on Thursday as manager of the Cleveland Indians to begin a four-game series against his former team. Francona managed the Boston Red Sox to two World Series championships (2004 and 2007), the first of which broke an 86-year championship drought. This will be his first time back at Fenway Park as an opposing manager since being let go.

This isn’t the first time “Tito” has managed against the Sox at Fenway, however. The last time was on July 17, 1999, when Francona was with the Phillies, who won 11-3 thanks to Doug Glanville’s 4-for-6, three-run night.

Are the Sox on the rebound?

Francona recorded 744 wins as Red Sox manager, the second most in franchise history, and posted a winning record in each of his eight seasons at the helm.

While the Red Sox organization seems to have righted the ship in 2013, there’s no question that the Red Sox have been less successful since Francona’s departure.

Between 2004 and 2011 the Red Sox had a .574 win percentage and made five postseason appearances, winning two championships. Over the past two seasons Boston has a .464 win percentage and has not made the postseason since 2009.

Francona’s Windians

Cleveland has been winning in a variety of ways this season and enters the series with the Red Sox at 26-19, one-half game ahead in the AL Central.

Francona’s Indians rank first in MLB in extra-inning wins and have the best record in one-run games. However, it’s worth noting that Cleveland’s hot start is not particularly “new."

In each of the past three seasons the Indians have found themselves leading the AL Central through 45 games.

Cleveland Indians Rotation
Last 2 Seasons

What is the difference with this season’s Indians squad compared to last season?

The pitching rotation has certainly improved. Cleveland’s starters own a 4.51 ERA currently, compared to 5.25 last season, which ranked 28th in MLB. The Cleveland rotation is striking out batters at a rate of 20.9 percent compared to 15.3 percent of the time last season.

Also, the Indians are showing that they have big time power at the plate. Cleveland had 37 home runs through 45 games last season, compared to 62 already this season, the most in MLB. The Indians have not led the league in home runs since 1995.

The offseason acquisitions that Cleveland made have been paying dividends early on. One of them is Mark Reynolds, who leads the team with 12 HR, and his 37 RBI are sixth most in the league.

Cleveland Indians Pitching
By Opponents' Record, This Season

Tough road ahead

The Indians entered their two-game series against Detroit with a 26-17 record, having won 18 of their previous 22 games.

After being swept by the Tigers, it does not get any easier for the Indians, as their next 23 games are against teams who currently have a record of .500 or better, including the Red Sox.

Cleveland is 18-8 with an ERA of 3.48 against teams that are below .500 this season. Against teams with a .500 record or better, they are 8-11 with an 4.95 ERA.