The Boston Red Sox fired Terry Francona following their historic collapse in September of the 2011 season. After spending a year as an analyst for Baseball Tonight, Francona was hired by the Cleveland Indians to be their manager for the 2013 season and beyond.
After signing a four-year contract to manage the Indians, “Tito” immediately asserted that he wants to be part of the “solution” for a franchise that has not won the World Series since 1948. Francona previously worked in Cleveland’s front office, and the 53-year old two-time World Series manager said the chance to work again with Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro was the most intriguing aspect of taking the job.
Expectations were not high for Francona and the Indians, given that the team finished with an abysmal 68-94 record last season. Yet, the Francona-led Indians are currently the hottest team in baseball, sitting atop the AL Central after winning 19 of their previous 24 games.
Francona will lead the Tribe into Fenway Park for a four-game series starting on Thursday night against the Red Sox, who are the current leaders of the first wild card spot in the American League. The Sox swept the Indians at Progressive Field in April, but that was when the Sox were scorching hot and the Indians were scuffling.
The Indians rank fourth in batting in the American League. But their offense was expected to be much improved after the off-season pickups of Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs.
The pitching, though, has been the pleasant surprise for the Indians. Justin Masterson has eclipsed his win total from 2012 with seven early season wins, recording a dominant 2.83 ERA. Zach McAllister has also been highly effective on the mound, posting a 2.65 ERA in eight starts this season. McAllister will get the start on Thursday night, while Masterson will be handed the ball on Friday night.
Francona will get a massive standing ovation this weekend in his return to Fenway Park — that much is for sure after he helped end the Red Sox’ 86-year World Series drought. A hard-fought competitive series should also be expected this weekend between two of the best teams in the American League.