Red Sox vs. Indians ALDS Game 2 preview: David Price looks to even series, overcome playoff woes

Red Sox pitcher David Price fields a grounder in front of, from left, Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholtz and Travis Shaw during a team workout at Fenway Park ahead of the ALDS.
Red Sox pitcher David Price fields a grounder in front of, from left, Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholtz and Travis Shaw during a team workout at Fenway Park ahead of the ALDS. –AP Photo/Elise Amendola

COMMENTARY

Series: ALDS Game 2, Indians lead series 1-0

Start Time: 4:30 p.m. EST

TV: TBS

Starting Pitchers: Red Sox LHP David Price (17-9, 3.99 ERA) vs. Indians RHP Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA)

History: The book on being the road team in a 2-2-1 best-of-five series is that if you can split the first two games in your opponent’s ballpark, you have effectively stolen home-field advantage, making the series a best-two-out-of-three contest with the first two games coming at your ballpark. Remarkably, history has proved this a sound strategy: In the 31 2-2-1 best-of-five series to open 1-1, the team that achieved the split on the road won the series 20 times, an impressive .645 winning percentage. As encouraging as that might be for the Red Sox, it should also be noted that teams that have gone up 2-0 in a 2-2-1 best-of-five series have won 33 of 37 series (89 percent), 23 of them in sweeps.

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Starting Pitchers: David Price’s postseason track record isn’t pretty, but it’s not as bad as the aggregate numbers would have you believe. Price is 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in postseason play and has never won an official postseason start (both of his wins came in relief). Eliminate his work out of the bullpen as a rookie in 2008, and he is 1-7 with a 5.46 ERA over his last nine postseason games, eight of which were starts. The worst of that stretch came in last year’s postseason, when he posted a 6.17 ERA in three starts and one inexplicable relief appearance.

Taking a closer look at his postseason record, however, shows that exactly half of his postseason starts (four of his eight) have been quality starts that resulted in either a loss or a no-decision due to poor run support (including a 2-1 defeat after eight innings of two-run ball against the Orioles in the 2014 ALDS). Also, his official postseason record omits the biggest playoff performance of his career, his complete-game victory over the Rangers in the one-game playoff for the final AL wild-card spot in 2013, which was officially Game 163 of the regular season. Counting that would make it five of eight playoff starts that have been quality, and runs counter to the idea that Price has never earned a win in a playoff game. Add in that game, in which he held Texas to two runs in nine innings, and his career ERA in playoff action prior to last year was 4.04. That’s still not great, but it’s also just five points higher than his regular-season ERA this year.

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As for last year’s postseason, Price started Game 1 of the Division Series on 11-day’s rest and struggled, allowing five runs over seven innings, after which Blue Jays manager John Gibbons appeared to instantly lose faith in his rental ace. Price’s relief appearance in Game 4 of that series, which came with R.A. Dickey cruising and the Blue Jays up 7-1 in the fifth inning, was utterly unnecessary except in the way that it “forced” Gibbons to start Marcus Stroman over Price in Game 5. When Price finally made his next start, in the American League Championship Series against Kansas City, he threw six scoreless innings only to have the Royals break through the third time through their lineup, a scenario which repeated itself against many other talented starting pitchers in last year’s postseason. Back on the hill in Game 6, Price turned in a quality start (6 2/3 IP, 3 R), but the Blue Jays lost 4-3. It’s difficult to argue that he didn’t pitch well in those two given that he struck out 16 men against just one walk in 13 1/3 innings. Still, Price clearly has something to prove this postseason, and a strong outing in this game could go a long way toward proving it.

Of greater concern than Price’s career postseason history is his 2016 home run rate. Though his overall rate was exactly league average, Price allowed a career-high 30 home runs this season, including eight in his last five starts. Cleveland’s offense isn’t built around the home run. They were 10th in the AL in home runs this year. Still, the lineup Price is likely to face could feature six players who were in double-digits in home runs this season, including righty Mike Napoli, who had 34. There were six home runs in Game 1, three by Cleveland, as seemingly every ball hit into the air to right field went over the fence (the two right fielders combined to make one putout all game). If the wind is blowing the same way Friday afternoon, Price’s left-handedness could be an asset, particularly in the case of switch-hitter Carlos Santana, who shared the team lead in home runs with Napoli, but showed far less power from the right side this season.

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Kluber has been one of the best pitchers in the American League since his Cy Young season in 2014. This year, he led the American League in ERA+ (149) and FIP (3.26), struck out 227 men in 215 innings and made his first All-Star team. He was my top choice for AL Cy Young for much of the second half of the season until Justin Verlander surpassed him with strong finish. Kluber’s regular season came to a very different end as he suffered a strained right quadriceps muscle in his start on Sept. 26. That injury forced him out of that game after four innings and 60 pitches and scratched him from his last scheduled start of the season last weekend. He will thus be making this Game 2 start on 10-day’s rest. Kluber threw a brief bullpen on Sunday with no issues, but it remains to be seen if he will be at full health for this game. Cleveland is obviously optimistic, and Terry Francona’s bullpen use in Game 1 suggests he thinks Kluber can go deep in this one, but it remains to be seen how Kluber and his quad will respond to the first postseason start of his career.

Matchups: Right-handed platoon corner outfielder Brandon Guyer, a former teammate of Price’s in Tampa Bay, has hit .286/.444/.714 in 18 career plate appearances against him. Price has never walked Guyer, but he has hit him with a pitch four times, which makes you wonder how well they got along as teammates. Cleveland’s other righty platoon outfielder, Rajai Davis, also a former teammate of Price’s, though with the Tigers, has had less success (.250/.270/.333) in a larger sample (37 PA), but has never been hit by one of Price’s pitches. Curiously, the lefty Guyer most often replaces against southpaws, Lonnie Chisenhall, is 4-for-11 (.364) against Price with a double and a home run. If he goes by the matchups, Francona will sit Coco Crisp (2-for-11, .111, with no extra-base hits or walks) instead.

Brock Holt went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run in Game 1 and is 5-for-15 (.333) against Kluber, but without a walk or an extra-base hit. Fellow lefty-hitting third baseman Travis Shaw has better career numbers against Kluber (4-for-11, .364, with a homer and a walk), presenting John Farrell with an interesting choice for this game. In general, Red Sox lefties have all hit Kluber well, even switch-hitter Sandy Leon (2-for-3), while the righties have struggled against him. The exception to the latter being Mookie Betts, who is 4-for-10 with a double, a homer and a walk against Kluber in 11 career confrontations.

Bullpen hangover: The big question coming out of Game 1 concerns the availability in Game 2 of Cleveland’s two relief aces, Andrew Miller, the only lefty pitcher on the Indians’ roster, and righty closer Cody Allen. Both threw a season-high 40 pitches in Game 1, a total which ranks as the second-most in a relief outing in either one of their major league careers. With Game 2 having an early-next-day start, it’s unlikely that either will be available for more than a batter or two, if at all, and their effectiveness in such an outing is not guaranteed. That could prove to be a big advantage for Boston, particularly if Kluber is limited by his sore quad. That said, five other Cleveland relievers went unused in Game 1, including righty Dan Otero, who posted a 1.53 ERA this season while holding lefties to a .197/.248/.274 line.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are surely without Drew Pomeranz in this game, as he was pushed to the bullpen by a forearm injury and threw 51 pitches in Game 1. That leaves Robbie Ross Jr. as the only lefty reliever available to Farrell, though that could be less of a concern with the lefty Price starting the game.