Sunday’s American League Division Series Game 3 between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park was postponed because of heavy rain in Boston, so the teams will meet Monday night with the first pitch scheduled for 6:08 p.m. ET. Now, the Red Sox and Indians know which team awaits them in the American League Championship Series—the Toronto Blue Jays.

Toronto completed its sweep of the top-seeded Texas Rangers after taking Game 3 in 10 innings. The Jays walked off, ironically, after a throwing error on the back end of a potential double play by Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor. Yes, the same guy who clocked Jose Bautista in the face back in May. It was Toronto that got the last laugh, and now the Blue Jays have some time to wait for the Red Sox and Indians to wrap up their series. 

In Game 2 between Boston and Cleveland on Friday afternoon, Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber blanked the Red Sox for seven innings, and the Tribe would go on to secure the victory by a score of 6-0. As has been the case in his career, David Price came up small in the postseason again in Game 2, giving up five earned runs over just 3.1 innings of work. 

Now, fighting for their season, the Red Sox will have to repeat the daunting task they performed back in 1999—win three straight games in a division series to climb out of an 0-2 hole and topple the Indians. Counting the Red Sox out, however, would be foolish. We vividly remember the astonishing comeback they mounted in the 2004 ALCS. 

Monday night, Boston will turn to Clay Buchholz to try to salvage its season. Cleveland plans to counter with Josh Tomlin as it tries to bury the Red Sox before they can begin to generate any semblance of momentum in this series. 

The keys for the Red Sox lie with the rejuvenation of the newly dormant Boston offense and with Buchholz.

What else is there to say about the Red Sox’s batting performance? The lineup that terrorized baseball from April to September has vanished, and although it might be painfully obvious, Boston’s game plan all year was to run up the score, not win close contests with superb starting pitching and strong relief. The bats are what led the team to outscore its opponents by 184 runs, by far the largest margin of any team in the American League. 

To help put that in perspective, the Texas Rangers, who won 95 games and claimed the top seed in the American League playoffs, scored only eight more runs than the opposition in 2016. 

Although Boston trots out one of the deepest lineups in all of baseball, its best chance to hang some numbers other than zero on Fenway’s manual scoreboard comes from the guys at the top and in the middle of its lineup. And while manager John Farrell will gladly take runs at any time during the game at this point in the series, the Red Sox need to pounce on the Indians early in Game 3, or they run the risk of facing Cleveland’s rested bullpen with a run gap to close. 

As for where the production will come from, the pressure is on Mookie Betts, twilight-of-his-career David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez. Those guys hit third, fourth and fifth in Game 2, going a combined 1-for-11 with a walk. Another performance resembling Friday’s from those three guys—of all of whom hit at least 30 home runs in the regular season—could very well result in a depressing sweep. 

The other key for Boston is a strong performance from Buchholz, the 32-year-old who has never won a playoff game and pitched to a poor 4.78 ERA in 21 starts this year. Although the numbers aren’t great, Buchholz finished the season by going 4-0 with a 2.92 ERA in his final eight starts.

Against the Indians, Buchholz must keep runners off the basepaths, especially by not issuing walks. Buchholz’s WHIP in 2016 was a subpar 1.33, and if he allows runners into scoring position on Monday, Cleveland has guys capable of coming up with timely hits. 

On Buchholz’s upcoming start, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe gave some telling insight:

Some smarty pants is probably thinking, “Yeah right. Clay Buchholz to save the day? Clay Buchholz to the rescue? Clay Buchholz to do what a 22-game winner [Porcello] and a former Cy Young winner [Price] couldn’t do?” There may not be a lot of logic in the thinking that he could do it, but what logic was there in the Indians beating two pitchers who combined for 39 regular-season wins?

I predict we will find out early on in Monday’s game whether Buchholz is up to the task, and if he isn’t, the Red Sox could very well meet the same fate as the Rangers. 

Despite being up 2-0 in this best-of-five series, the Indians cannot afford to let up. Cleveland has its own set of keys to focus on if it wants to close out Boston, something the Indians were unable to do in the 2007 ALCS, when they led the Red Sox 3-1 before losing in seven games. 

Much has been said about the success and unconventionality of Cleveland’s bullpen, especially because of the way manager Terry Francona navigated the second half of his team’s 5-4 win in Game 1. However, just as the Red Sox will have to rely on their starter, one of the keys for an Indians sweep is Tomlin rising to the occasion—one that will unfold under perhaps the brightest lights of Tomlin’s career. 

Tomlin’s regular-season numbers are not going to astound anyone, but they topped those of Buchholz in most categories. The key for Tomlin relates directly to stopping what Boston’s sluggers need to donamely, using their power to drive in runs. 

Tomlin’s regular-season ERA didn’t best Buchholz’s by much at 4.40, but what’s most notable is his history facing the Red Sox hitters he’ll see in Game 3. 

Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are most familiar with Tomlin, as they have each had 17 at-bats against the right-hander. In those meetings, Ortiz tallied three hits, while Pedroia had five. As is to be expected, the younger guys in Boston’s lineup have less experience against Tomlin, although shortstop Xander Bogaerts is 3-7 against Tomlin, while Betts is just 1-6. 

Tomlin’s job will be to mitigate the power of the Boston hitters who are most likely to do damage. If he can do that, as Trevor Bauer and Kluber were mostly able to do in the first two games, Tomlin will, at the very least, put the Indians in a position to be competitive deep into the game. 

As for Cleveland’s offensive attack, the team cannot rely on the home run as it has largely done over the first two games. In Game 1, the bulk of the runs came via three solo home runs over the course of four batters, and in Game 2, the most significant blow was a three-run shot from Lonnie Chisenhall. Along with those homers, the Indians have gotten valuable production from Jason Kipnis, who is hitting .571 with three runs batted in so far in the series.  

The key for Cleveland on offense, though, will be to continue its dominance of Red Sox pitching with runners in scoring position. In Game 1, the Indians went 2-for-3 with RISP and 3-for-7 in Game 2. That is part of a formula for postseason success. 

The home runs have been nice, sure, but it would be unwise for the Indians to depend on the long ball to propel them. Of the four players who have homered for Cleveland in this series, two of them—Roberto Perez and Chisenhall—hit fewer than 10 home runs during the regular season, and Francisco Lindor, who went deep in Game 1, hit just 15. 

The Indians must focus on timely hitting and execution from hitters throughout the lineup as they set their sights on the championship series. Whichever team can achieve its winning hallmarks will have a date with Toronto, which is a daunting prospect at the moment. 

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