A position-by-position look at the Red Sox and the Indians in the American League Championship Series...



n Catcher — Victor Martinez, Indians, vs. Jason Varitek, Red Sox. Martinez is one of the best offensive catchers in the game and nearly doubled his success rate at throwing out would-be base-stealers from 16 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2007. Varitek, the team captain and heart of the Red Sox, can still hit and play defense at age 35 and knows how to get the most out of his pitchers.

n Edge — Indians.

n First base — Ryan Garko, Indians, vs. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox. Garko barely made the club out of spring training, then took over as the starting first baseman when Casey Blake was shifted over to third. Garko has been most successful in clutch situations. Youkilis was one of baseball’s best all-around players this season, hitting .288/.390./.453 and playing solid defense.

n Edge — Red Sox.

n Second base — Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians, vs. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. Pedroia’s competitiveness, defense and efficiency as a leadoff hitter could earn him Rookie of the Year honors. Cabrera might have been a candidate, but he wasn’t installed as the replacement for ineffective Josh Barfield until Aug. 12. Cabrera has matched Barfield’s solid defense and hit some as well (.283).

n Edge — Even.

n Shortstop — Jhonny Peralta, Indians, vs. Julio Lugo, Red Sox. Lugo was nearly tarred, feathered and ran out of town when he batted .189 before the All-Star break. He earned forgiveness by hitting .342 in his next 40 games. Peralta was good, not great, but certainly much better than in 2006. He batted .467 (7-for-15) in the Division Series.

n Edge — Even.

n Third base — Casey Blake, Indians, vs. Mike Lowell, Red Sox. Blake is always Mr. Underappreciated, even after giving Cleveland another decent year on both offense and defense and saving their bacon when Andy Marte’s star faded. Lowell fully reaped the benefits of hitting behind Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, batting .324 with 120 RBI.

n Edge — Red Sox.

n Left field — Kenny Lofton, Indians, vs. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox. The addition of Lofton at the trade deadline added speed and a much-needed left-handed bat to Cleveland’s order. Ramirez endured his worst season since becoming a regular in 1995 (20 home runs, 88 RBI) and was on the disabled list from Aug. 29 to Sept. 24 with a pulled muscle in his ribcage.

n Edge — Red Sox.

n Center field — Grady Sizemore, Indians, vs. Coco Crisp, Red Sox. Sizemore’s season (.277, 155 strikeouts) was a bit of a downer compared to his record-setting 2006, but there still aren’t many guys who will give you 34 doubles, 24 home runs, 101 walks and 33 stolen bases. Crisp stole 28 bases, but has never really fit the mold of a leadoff hitter (.330 on-base percentage) and now bats eighth.

n Edge — Indians.

n Right field — Franklin Gutierrez, Indians, vs. J.D. Drew, Red Sox. Drew was paid a lot of money for a pretty average season (.270, 64 RBI, 100 strikeouts). Gutierrez established himself as an everyday big-league player and was a strong defensive presence in right field, but his offensive numbers in a half-season actually mirrored Drew’s.

n Edge — Even.

n Starting pitching — C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd, Indians, vs. Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, Red Sox. Every matchup is almost too close to call. Sabathia and Beckett will likely finish 1-2 or 2-1 in the Cy Young Award voting. Schilling and Carmona were both outstanding during the Division Series. Matsuzaka and Westbrook were both pretty average in the first round. Neither Byrd nor Wakefield put much zip on the ball, but both are veterans who know how to out-think a hitter.

n Edge — Even.

n Relief pitching — Jonathan Papelbon’s second year as Boston’s closer was even better than his first — 37-for-40 in save situations and a .146 opponents’ batting average. Cleveland’s Joe Borowski always walks a tightrope, but he led the American League with 45 saves. The setup men on both sides — left-handers Rafael Perez and Hideki Okajima, right-handers Rafael Betancourt and Mike Timlin— are all among the best in baseball at what they do, but Betancourt and Perez have better numbers.

n Edge — Indians.

n Total — Indians 3, Red Sox 3, Even 4.



Call is the Indians beat writer for the Canton Repository.

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