Dropped from the pitching rotation in July, Clay Buchholz holds the key to the Boston Red Sox postseason in his right arm.

Buchholz will take the mound in Game 3 Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park as the Red Sox try to stay alive in their American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians.

After dropping the first two games of the series at Progressive Field, the heavily favored Red Sox have put themselves in a position where they must win two games at Fenway Park to force a return trip to Cleveland if they are going to survive and advance in the postseason.

The Texas Rangers are in an even more precarious position. They also dropped the first two games of their series with the Toronto Blue Jays, but the Rangers dropped both of those games at home. They have to go to the Rogers Centre in Toronto and win two before they can return to Arlington, Texas, for a potential fifth game of the series.


Cleveland at Boston; Cleveland leads 2-0

The Red Sox need Buchholz to pitch with the same kind of confidence he showed in his most recent starts. Buchholz had a largely forgettable season, as he was 8-10 with a 4.78 earned run average and a 1.328 WHIP.

Buchholz had a hard time keeping the ball in the ballpark, and he was hit hard for much of the year. However, a tip from batting coach Chili Davis helped him turn things around later in the year. 

Davis let Buchholz know that he was much tougher to read when he was pitching from the stretch. It was harder to pick up the ball, and it wasn’t as easy to read his pitches.

Buchholz took Davis’ advice and started pitching exclusively from the stretch. While it did not turn him into a dominating flamethrower, Buchholz is 3-0 in the last 28 days, and his ERA is 3.14 with a WHIP of 1.151.

In years past, Buchholz was one of the Red Sox aces, but injuries regularly kept him from dominating for a full season. That was not the case this season, when he was hit hard for the majority of the year but has remained healthy.

If Buchholz has truly gotten his act together, he can help steady the Red Sox’s starting pitching, which was a major disappointment in the two games in Cleveland.

Boston’s hitters must also come through the way they did throughout the majority of the season. Boston scored a league-high 878 runs this season, but Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. did not swing the bat well in Cleveland.

It seems more likely that they will find their batting strokes at home.

The Indians don’t want to change a thing after winning the first two games of the series at home. Cleveland got clutch hitting in both games, and manager Terry Francona used his bullpen in spectacular fashion in Game 1 and got a brilliant start from Corey Kluber in Game 2.

Another bullpen game is likely in Game 3, because starter Josh Tomlin seems quite hittable. Tomlin had a 13-9 record during the regular season, but his 4.40 ERA demonstrates he will give up a few runs. His 1.190 WHIP is quite respectable, but the Red Sox’s big bats should be ready to do some damage.

That’s where reliever Andrew Miller should come into play. He is a powerful left-hander with tremendous stuff and an ability to throw one of the nastiest sliders around. If the Indians stay in touch on the scoreboard or even have a lead, Miller could be a huge difference-maker.

The Indians also need Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana to deliver some big hits at Fenway. Napoli—a former Red Sox slugger—and Santana both hit 34 home runs this season.

Keys for a Cleveland victory: Stay close through the first few innings, get Miller in the game to shut down the big bats and get clutch hits from Napoli and Santana.

Keys for a Boston victory: Take advantage of the home field and get the bats going the way they were throughout the majority of the regular season. Buchholz also must give the Red Sox six strong innings and depart with the lead.


Texas at Toronto; Toronto leads 2-0

It would seem that the Texas Rangers are hanging on by a thread. Even though the Rangers had the best record in the American League and earned home-field advantage throughout the postseason, they lost the first two games of the American League Division Series at home.

The situation might seem hopeless, but there’s this little piece of history to consider: The Rangers and the Blue Jays met in last year’s ALDS, and the Rangers won the first two games at the Rogers Centre and took a 2-0 lead home. However, the Blue Jays bounced back with with two road wins of their own and then took the decisive game on their home field.

Can the Rangers pay the Blue Jays back? If they are going to do that, they are going to need pitcher Colby Lewis to have a standout game.

Lewis had a 6-5 record and a 3.71 ERA, and he is going to need to cool down the Blue Jays’ hot hitters. At the same time, the Rangers are going to have to shake their inconsistencies at the plate and find a way to get to Aaron Sanchez, who was 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA.

Sanchez was dominant for the Blue Jays Oct. 2 when Toronto clinched its playoff appearance with a win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Toronto jumped all over the Texas pitching in the first two games of the series, and it’s clear that the Rangers will need improved starting pitching to slow down hitters like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki.

At the same time, the Rangers need their big hitters like Rougned Odor, Adrian Beltre, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland to suddenly get hot.

A complete reversal of what happened at Globe Life Park is what the script requires. If it doesn’t, the Blue Jays should finish this series in three games.

Keys for a Texas victory: An excellent starting pitching effort from Lewis, with clutch hitting from big hitters like Odor and Beltre.

Keys for a Toronto victory: Stay hot with the bats and continue to get big hits with runners on base. If Sanchez can throw the same type of game he did against Boston last week, the Jays should be ready to advance to the ALCS.

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