-- The first step for the Boston Red Sox in David Ortiz's final postseason begins with a familiar foe in Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who managed Big Papi to his first two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. Who has the edge when the Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup starts in Cleveland on Thursday night??
Go inside the numbers and matchups that will decide Game 1, and then go to the bottom of the page and vote for which team will win.
Inside the pitching matchup
When Porcello is on the mound: ?The Red Sox acquired Porcello from the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes after the 2014 season, signed him to an $82.5 million extension ... and he promptly tanked in 2015, going 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA. It's been a different story in 2016; he's perhaps the Cy Young favorite after going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA in a career-high 223 innings.
What led to the improvement? Porcello's strikeout rate is only 1 percent higher than last year, and while he did cut his walk rate to a career low, an ESPN stat we monitor called hard-hit average says Porcello basically gave up the same percentage of hard-hit balls: 15.5 percent in 2016 versus 14.4 percent in 2015. His batting average on balls in play, however, was dramatically lower, dropping from .333 to .269. He stranded more runners.
Porcello is known for his two-seam sinker, and Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis has said Porcello got too reliant on his four-seam fastball but went back more to his two-seamer. ESPN data says he cut his fastball percentage from 47.6 percent last year to 21.1 percent and increased his sinker rate from 18.5 to 40.6 percent. Porcello also said he was getting off-balance over the rubber last year, which led to rushing his lower half and creating command issues.
Anyway, his sinker isn't conventional, because he throws it in the middle of the strike zone, not down at the knees or below, relying more on movement than location. That's one reason he's not an extreme ground-ball pitcher -- he's about league average in that regard. In fact, he had the lowest ground-ball rate of his career at 44 percent. Beyond that, what makes him tough is that he also has a changeup, curveball and slider and throws them all from 12-14 percent of the time. His highest strikeout rate with any pitch actually came on his four-seamer, so he'll often pitch backward, starting off with the sinker or breaking balls and then climbing the ladder with the fastball. --? David Schoenfield
When Bauer is on the mound: Corey Kluber strained a groin in his final start, so the Indians will give Bauer the ball in the opener, with Kluber getting an extra day of rest and starting Game 2. Bauer actually began the season in the Indians' bullpen and didn't start until April 30, after Carlos Carrasco got injured for the first time. Bauer had a nice 10-start stretch through early July when he posted a 2.42 ERA, but he wasn't able to maintain that level and finished with a 4.26 ERA, including 6.39 in September.
Bauer's issue has always been command. He led the AL in walks in 2015 and ranked seventh this year. What's at odds here is that Bauer does throw a high percentage of pitches in the strike zone: Porcello was first in this area among qualified starters, but Bauer ranked 19th. Even when he gets to three balls, he ranks 13th in zone rate. The problem is that he gets to too many three-ball counts. He also has the second-highest walk rate when he has two strikes.
Bauer pitches off a fastball that averages 93.2 mph, preferring to work middle-away to both lefties and righties. He works up in the zone with the fastball, which has led to a .447 slugging percentage allowed on the pitch. He adds a curveball, cutter and changeup, with the curveball his go-to wipeout pitch -- batters hit .134/.145/.221 with a 45 percent strikeout rate against it. If Bauer can get to curveball counts, he can be tough. If not, it usually means he's walking about batters are they're sitting on his fastball. -- Schoenfield
Player in the spotlight
David Ortiz. Can he top his regular season? Ortiz wasn't quite as dominant away from Fenway, but he still hit .295/.372/.556 on the road. He also slugged .665 against right-handed pitchers, and in six games against the Indians he hit .458 with four home runs. Small sample size: He's 4-for-5 off Bauer with two doubles and a home run. ?-- David Schoenfield
What will decide Thursday night's game
Can the Indians jump on the first pitch? Porcello threw pitches in the strike zone on 57.9 percent of his first pitches, the 9th-highest rate in the majors. Opponents had a .384 BA in at-bats ending with the first pitch, which was 44 points above league average among qualified pitchers. The Indians hit 40 HR on the first pitch, tied for 5th most in MLB. ? --? ESPN Stats & Info
Choosing sides: Who will win?
What, you think now is a good time to pick against Rick Porcello? Boston's unexpected Cy Young candidate might lose in the postseason, but it won't be Thursday night. The vaunted Red Sox offense will make certain of it against Trevor Bauer, who began the season in the bullpen. The Sox got to Bauer for four runs on eight hits in five innings earlier this season. That would be more than enough support for Porcello. -- Scott Lauber
The Red Sox are going to swipe home field in Game 1. Going against history, Sox starter Rick Porcello will have his way with Indians slugger Carlos Santana. Santana has blistered Porcello in the past with 12 hits in 41 at-bats (.293), including three homers. However, Porcello will continue his bounce-back, maybe Cy Young-worthy year by pitching Boston to an opening-game victory, and it will start by controlling the Tribe's power-hitting leadoff man, Santana. ?-- Andrew Marchand
Where the series stands
I'd argue that Game 1 is more important for the Red Sox, since you might give the pitching edge to the Indians in Game 2, assuming Kluber is healthy and given David Price's struggles in the postseason in his career. The Red Sox averaged 4.95 runs on the road versus 5.89 at home, and keep in mind that Sox closer Craig Kimbrel struggled with walks his final few regular-season appearances. ?--? Schoenfield