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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

A reasonable look at Cleveland-Boston series

BOSTON Five reasons the Cleveland Indians will win the American League Championship Series that begins tonight at Fenway Park:

• Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, better known as Raffy Right and Raffy Left, have been as good a righty-lefty relief tandem as any. Betancourt has great command of a low-90s fastball that he works up, down, left, right every edge of the strike zone. It s a stretch to say Perez s fastball blows people away, but it has pop at the plate and his slider has tremendous action away that lefties can t reach and which dive-bombs the ankles of right-handed hitters.

Jensen Lewis has come on of late, not with great stuff, mind you, but he hides the ball well and is in control. Plus, manager Eric Wedge has a deep well of lefties in addition to Perez who can be used in spots to try and keep Boston s David Ortiz at bay.

• People talk about Boston s offensive edge, but the Tribe has five players with 20-plus homers. Victor Martinez may be one of the most underrated players in baseball. Cleveland s hitters are patient, work counts, and inflate pitch totals, which often gets them into opposing bullpens by the middle innings.tThe Tribe wins from1-through-9 in the batting order, although it would like to see Casey Blake snap out of a mild skid at the bottom of the lineup. Kenny Lofton makes the tail end of the order better and, in the ALDS against the Yankees, Wedge got considerable production from his bench.

• Wedge has been punching all the right buttons, whether its management of his starters, use of the bullpen, or shaking up the lineup. The guy really is a good manager and the Indians like playing for him because he s truly humble and makes it all about them.

• We saved the best for last. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona provide the best 1-2 starting pitching punch in the playoffs, C.C. because of a 93-to-95 mph fastball that he s not afraid to climb the ladder with in and out of the strike zone, and Carmona because of a snappy low-90s sinker. Sabathia is big and strong and full of innings while Carmona, in his ALDS start against New York, showed the poise of a 10-year veteran.

Five reasons the Boston Red Sox will win the ALCS:

• The fact that Wedge went to Joe Borowski in the ninth inning of ALDS Game 4 after Betancourt effortlessly retired all three Yankees he faced in the eighth shows that the Tribe s skipper intends to honor the save rule in the postseason. It could be costly because Borowski s stuff is strictly run of the mill, and he insists on working the inner half of the plate, often up in the zone, from where most homers are launched.

• On the flip side of the closer coin, Boston s Jonathan Papelbon is lights out with a mid-90s fastball that sets up a high-80s splitter that turns bats into driftwood. I doubt you could name two better closers.

• Asdrubel Cabrera has made a difference at second base, but Cleveland still is not a great defensive team. There are designated hitter candidates, like shortstop Jhonny Peralta, playing key infield positions. Little things, like charging and throwing, that you can play over during a 162-game schedule, can turn a championship series. Boston, meanwhile, is very solid defensively.

• The Bosox go three deep in starting pitching from Josh Beckett, who is tremendous, to Curt Schilling to Daisuke Matsuzaka. Schilling s fastball hasn t been the same the latter half of the season but he s a veteran who always digs deep in the postseason. The Indians are in big trouble if Boston s starters hand the ball to Papelbon.

• The Sox have home-field advantage with the first two and last two games, if necessary, at Fenway. It was a plus for the Tribe in the ALCS; now, it s Boston s turn.

So which team will win?

My heart says Cleveland in 7. My head says Boston in 6.



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