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Now, the fun begins. The Indians looked like the 1995-1999 version over the
weekend, winning three of four games from the Yankees, two by blowout and
the third with a one-hitter. Coupled with Boston’s split in Detroit, their
performance sends them into Hell Week with a three-game lead over the Red Sox.

Then again, the Sox aren’t their biggest problem anymore. The A’s have
moved to within a half-game of Cleveland, and while the Indians and Sox are
playing five deathmatch games in about 51 hours, the A’s will be feasting
on whatever is left of the Orioles before heading to Seattle for
their biggest series of the season.

We’re fond of saying that predicting the outcome of short series is a
futile exercise, and that holds here. Over five games, just about anything
can happen, and if you need an example, just look at what happened the last
time these two teams played a five-game series. The Tribe dominated the
first two games of last year’s Division Series, only to see the Sox score
about a thousand runs in the last three games and head to the ALCS.

There are a few things I’m comfortable saying. One is that the Red Sox need
to win three games to stay in this thing. Winning just two would put them
four games behind the Indians with nine to play, and with an AL West team
and maybe the Blue Jays also in the mix, their chances of overcoming that
kind of gap are slim.

Pedro Martinez is starting the second game of the series, Wednesday
afternoon. That may put some additional pressure on the Indians tonight,
who with a loss will stare a possible two-game losing streak in the face
just hours later. It’s a similar situation to the one they faced a week
ago, actually. The difference? Charles Nagy will be pitching, not
Bartolo Colon.

All told, the pitching matchups favor the Red Sox: the Sox won’t face Colon
in this series, which is a big break considering how well he’s pitching.
They may see Chuck Finley, who was able to cut his Sunday start
short when the Indians put up 15 runs in five innings. He should come back
to start on Thursday.

The Sox had an off-day following a tough series in Detroit, while the
Indians haven’t had to use a reliever in anger since Saturday, so the
bullpens should come into this series fresh. The Indians, obviously, have a
big offensive advantage; they’re healthy and scoring more runs than they
have all season. The Sox have brought in just about everyone short of
Dwight Evans, but are still reliant on Carl Everett and
Nomar Garciaparra.

In fact, if I had to pick one determining factor over the next three days,
it would be their performance: if those two guys don’t hit, Boston simply
won’t score enough to stay with Cleveland.

All in all, it’s about as interesting a week as the American League has
seen in some time. And it may get more interesting: rain is in the forecast
for Boston Tuesday and thundershowers are possible Thursday.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.