First Base - Ryan Garko (.289 BA, 21 HR, 61 RBI) vs. Kevin Youkilis (.288 BA, 16 HR, 83 RBI)
I said Garko would have a great series and he did. He hit .364 with 3 RBI in three starts in ALDS. He's going to see a ton of pitches from Red Sox pitching. Pitching around the Tribe's best hitter, Victor Martinez, is probably a strategy Red Sox manager Terry Francona will adopt. Youkilis, known by sabermatricians as "The Greek God of Walks," knows how to work a pitcher. He is an ideal two hole hitter who can hit to all field and draw walks. He is also a fiery competitor who the Red Sox Nation loves. Keeping Youkilis off base will be an important part of the Cleveland pitching success. You don't want runner on in front of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
Advantage: Youkilis - very slight edge. They are even at the plate, but Youkilis plays gold-glove caliber defense, while definitely improved, Garko is still an adventure in the field. These are two key players for their respective teams. If Garko has a big series protecting Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, look out.
Second Base - Asdrubal Cabrera (.283 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI in 159 AB) vs. Dustin Pedroia (.317 BA, 8 HR, 50 RBI)
Advantage: Even - These two are mirror images of each of other. Both rookies have shined once they became embraced as regulars and were moved up in the order, starting in the nine hole. Both are playing Second out of team necessity even though their natural position is Short. Both are fundamentally sound. No way you can choose between the two.
Shortstop - Jhonny Peralta (.270 BA, 21 HR, 72 HR) vs. Julio Lugo (.237, 8 HR, 73 RBI)
Advantage: Peralta - The contracts at SS show the difference between the two markets. Credit GM Mark Shapiro here. Peralta signed a five year, $14 million contract before last season, while Lugo signed his $8 million a year deal this past offseason. Peralta has had much more pop this season and has a knack for the clutch hit, while Lugo has wilted in the Beantown pressure cooker. Jhonny is playing his best ball at the right time.
Third Base - Third Base: Casey Blake (.270 BA, 18 HR, 78 RBI) vs. Mike Lowell (.324 BA, 21 HR, 120 RBI)
Catcher: Victor Martinez (.301 BA, 25 HR, 114 RBI) vs. Jason Varitek (.255, 17 HR, 68 RBI)
Advantage: Martinez - You cannot go against Victor here. I have a feeling that the Red Sox will do their best to avoid pitching to him, meaning Garko will see a lot of pitches. It's the right move; Victor has been clutch all year.
Left Field: Kenny Lofton (.296 BA, 7 HR, 38 RBI)/Jason Michaels (.270 BA, 7 HR, 39 RBI) vs. Manny Ramirez (.296, 20 HR, 88 RBI)
Kenny pushed the rewind button during the ALDS and made it feel like it was 1995 again. An argument can be made that the Indians don't win games one or two without Kenny's clutch at bats. He led the Tribe (with Victor) in RBI with four and hit .375. This is why Mark Shapiro brought him here. Kenny loves the big stage. Michaels could see action in Game Four in the Red Sox choose to go with Lefty Jon Lester instead of Tim Wakefield. Unfortunately for the Indians, it looks like Manny has found his power stroke. Manny sat for pretty much the last month of the season with a leg injury after having a sub par year by Manny standards. 20 HR's was his lowest total since his rookie year with the Tribe in 1994. He woke up in the ALDS, hitting .375 with two HR's, and 4 RBI. One of the homers was a walk off blast in Game Two off of Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Advantage: Ramirez - While Kenny is playing as well as the Indians could have hoped for, Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitter of all time and a surefire Hall of Famer.
Center Field: Grady Sizemore (.277 BA, 24 HR, 78 RBI) vs. Coco Crisp (.268 BA, 6 HR, 60 RBI)
A matchup of the last two Indian Center fielders. Grady took to his first big stage pretty well, hitting .375 and reaching base 10 times in 20 plate appearances. Nobody will ever complain about his defense in Center, he covers as much ground as anyone. Coco has had problems getting his stroke back since being traded to the Red Sox two years ago. A .300 hitter in his last two years in Cleveland, Coco topped out at this year's .268 in his two years in Boston. Having Crisp and Lugo at the bottom of the order gives the Red Sox two base-stealing threats any time they reach base. Coco stole 28 bases in '07.
Advantage: Sizemore - He hits for a higher average, has more power, drives in more runs, has more steals, and plays an equally excellent glove. Coco should not be discounted; if he gets on base, its a huge asset for the Sox. Plus, his range in Center is superior.
Right Field: Franklyn Gutierrez (.266 BA, 13 HR, 36 RBI) vs. J.D. Drew .270, 11 HR, 64 RBI
I am a big Franky G fan, but he looked a little lost at the plate last week. Regardless of how he does at the plate, his defense is so important to the Indians. It's like having a second Center fielder in the outfield. All you have to do is go to Trot Nixon's 6th grade level error in Game Three. No better illustration of Franky's importance in the field can be made. Drew, like Coco Crisp, has not exactly endured himself to the Red Sox nation. He is the poster boy for everything that is wrong with the current salary system in pro sports. He has been paid on potential for years thanks to genius super-agent Scott Boras. $14 million a year for .270, 11 HR and 64 RBI and constant injury worries. Drew does have a good glove and arm and has learned to play the tricky Fenway Right field wall pretty well.
Advantage: Drew - The fact remains that Drew does have that great potential and at anytime could turn it on and become a great player. He is a nine-year veteran who has played for only big-time teams (St. Louis, Atlanta, LA Dodgers). Franky G is still learning his way as this is his first season as a regular and could struggle at the plate again this series.
DH: Travis Hafner (.266, 24 HR, 100 RBI) vs. David Ortiz (.332 BA, 35 HR, 117 RBI)
A battle of heavyweights at the DH position. Arguable the top two DH's in the American League. Hafner had an off year at the plate, yet still managed to drive in 100 RBI. Maybe it was the pressure of negotiating a new contract. Regardless, Pronk is going to have to be huge for the Indians if they plan on going to the World Series. While he did drive in the game-winning RBI during "The Bug Game," what people forget is that he failed in the clutch in the previous two at bats with a chance to win the game. Meanwhile, the man they call Big Papi hit a whopping .714 in three ALDS games, with two homers and three RBI. He is "the straw that stirs the drink" for the Red Sox and the most feared clutch playoff hitter of the last six years. You can expect to see Rafael Perez facing the Large Father in every key late game situation in this series.
Advantage: Ortiz - You can make a case that these two are the biggest keys offensively to the series. A locked in Hafner could mean the world to the Tribe. However, we haven't seen that guy all year. Ortiz has been here before and has come up big time after time. He's the last guy I'd want to see in a key late game situation.