Francona Back at Fenway Series Preview
Will he hear sounds of cheers or will it be a roaring boo when he walks on the field? Terry Francona has been asking this question to himself very much lately. The former Red Sox manager will take the field in Boston for his first time since leaving the team at the end of the 2011 season. "I'm sure I'll have a lot of emotions," he said. Current Red Sox manager John Farrell said, "I would fully expect he'd get a great welcome and a great ovation, and deservedly so. Look, it was eight incredible years that he spent here and we're looking forward to playing against him. They're playing exceptionally well, playing with a lot of confidence. He has a lot to do with that. They've got a very good team." After managing the Red Sox from 2004-11, winning two World Series ('04 and '07) and going 744-552, Francona returns at the helm of the Indians, where he's helped turn around a team that won just 68 games last season. Francona also said, "This game is tough enough to play and I don't want our guys having extra baggage during that series," he said. "I need to be very cognizant of that, that whatever feelings I'm having, I'll deal with them. Like I said, it's hard enough to play this game." The last time these teams met in April the Sox took the sweep like it was nothing to them at all!
Game 1: Ryan Dempster (2-2) vs. Zach McAllister (3-3)
For game 1 Francona will send Zach McAllister to the mound who has been shaky through his past few starts. When he faced Boston in April he went 5 innings allowing 3 runs but then again that was the April Red Sox. Though he is still have a great season and is perhaps the biggest surprise on the Indians staff this season after lowering his walk and home run totals from last year, compiling a 2.65 ERA over eight starts. Cleveland has won each of McAllister's last four starts as he's gone 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. To face him will be Ryan Dempster who was never apart of the Red Sox during the Francona days. He has shown inconsistency over his last two starts. Dempster is still on pace for a career high in strikeouts, with 63 over 52 2/3 innings. McAllister has the lowest ERA in the rotation. He hasn't lost since April 24, the last time he allowed more than two earned runs. On April 18, the righty lost a home start to Boston after giving up three runs in five innings. Six days after serving up a career high-tying three homers in a 12-4 loss to Toronto, Dempster had a season-high six walks in a season-low 4 2-3 innings of a 12-5 win at Minnesota on Saturday. The good news for Dempster is he's 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in four lifetime starts against Cleveland, including two victories in as many tries last year while with Texas. Shane Victorino isn't happy about it, but his injury woes have continued to keep him out of the Red Sox lineup. Now dealing with left hamstring tightness, Victorino hasn't played since Monday, though it looks like he may avoid a trip to the DL. Nick Swisher will be the Clevland bat to watch as he has hit over .200 at Fenway and looks like he will continue to do so this series.
Prediction: Red Sox win 7-3
Game 2: John Lackey (2-4) vs. Justin Masterson (7-2)
Now that Francona's big return is over it is time for former Red Sox, Justin Masterson to take the mound for Friday nights game. Masterson was just named AL player of the week last week. The Indians right-hander has won three straight games and was named the American League Player of the Week from May 13-19 after notching two wins and 16 scoreless innings. He also had 20 strikeouts, while issuing just five walks in those two games.In his 7th win last week Masteron went 7 strong innings with just 3 hits allowed versus the Mariners. Masterson may be masterful but he will have to face John Lackey who is coming off his season best game last start. Lackey allowed just one run on one hit in six innings against the Twins on Sunday. Tallying five strikeouts in the game, Lackey improved to 2-4 and lowered his ERA to 3.31. A three-hour rain delay made manager John Farrell extra careful, choosing to have Lackey throw only 84 pitches.Lackey will face an improved Indians lineup Friday, with first baseman Nick Swisher expected to be activated in time for the matchup which will give Lackey a run for his money. Tonight expect a solid pitching matchup between these two guys. The Sox power has been coming from David Ortiz who is back to hitting over .350 even though he did go on a slump for a while.
Prediction: 6-5 Red Sox
Game 3: Jon Lester (6-1) vs. Scott Kazmir (2-2)
After a Red Sox win last night, Boston enters this Saturday matchup at 29-20 while Cleveland comes in at 27-20. The newest face in the Red Sox's lineup is 23-year-old defensive wizard Jose Iglesias, who only recently started playing third base at Triple-A Pawtucket and will take over for Middlebrooks. Iglesias was hitting .450 (9-for-20) with the Red Sox before being demoted earlier this season. He hit .202 in the Minors. For game 3 the Indians will send Scott Kazmir to the mound who was shaky in his last outing. He pitched into the fourth and allowed five runs. At times this season, though, Kazmir has been filthy -- he struck out 10 on May 9. Lifetime, the lefty is 8-8 with a 4.06 ERA vs. Boston. The former first-round Draft pick by the Mets and longtime member of the Rays has thrown more innings at Fenway than every park but Tropicana Field. In 83 innings, Kazmir has struck out 79 batters while going 6-5 with a 3.90 ERA. His last two starts have been rough be Kazmir hopes to bounce back to his April form. To face him the Sox will send their ace Jon Lester who also is coming off a bad start. In fact, his worst start of the season. The lefty labored in his last start, giving up six hits and five runs over six innings. It was Lester's first loss of the season. Opponents are hitting .211 against him. After a hot start in April, Jon Lester has been battling his way through the month of May but like Kazmir, hopes to bounce back as they close out this month. acoby Ellsbury stole his 15th base of the season Friday and is tied with Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth for most in the American League. Even while hitting just .249, Ellsbury, who once stole 70 bases in a season, is on pace for about 50 steals.
Prediction: Red Sox win 6-4