THE RED SOX and the Indians not only had the same, major league--best record during the regular season (96--66) but also have many of the same qualities. Their respective aces, Josh Beckett and C.C. Sabathia, run 1 and 1A in the American League Cy Young race. Each team has four quality starters backed by an outstanding bullpen. Each can put up runs in bunches thanks to a core of power hitters. Each is peaking in the postseason.
Upon deeper inspection, though, the Red Sox have several small edges. Their offense was significantly better when it came to Equivalent Average (EqA), .270 to .261. (EqA incorporates numerous offensive variables, including walks, total bases and stolen bases, and considers such factors as a team's home park and league.) Boston's defense converted 71.2% of balls put in play by opponents into outs, as opposed to Cleveland's 69.3%; that amounts to turning one more hit per game into an out, a difference that can be decisive. The Indians hold an edge in bullpen depth with the dominant righty-lefty duo of Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, but Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon is far superior to homer-prone Joe Borowski. And while Cleveland's Fausto Carmona has the upper hand in his matchup with the struggling Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston's Curt Schilling (3.34 ERA, a 30-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 6) is an even bigger favorite against Jake Westbrook.
As closely matched as these teams are, the only surprising result would be a short series. Bottom line: Sox in seven.
WINSLOW TOWNSON (CRISP)
THE CATCH Coco Crisp is the centerpiece of a stellar Boston D.