Last year, the experience was shattered by an August collapse. In 2005, the postseason was washed away in the blink of an eye. The magical postseasons of 2004 and 2003 will never be forgotten, and we all sincerely hope 2007 adds its name to that cherished list. The Red Sox gained home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a comeback win against the Twins Saturday and a Royals victory over Cleveland. This means, as long as the Sox are still playing, Games 1, 2 and 5 of the ALDS, Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of a possible ALCS and World Series will be played in Fenway Park.
The wait until Wednesday will undoubtedly be a long and tortured one. Hopefully, the Patriots Monday night and a few tying scenarios in the NL will keep us occupied. As for now, let’s jack up the countdown until Wednesday (praying for a night game). The Angels meet up with the Red Sox in a postseason series with some history. Henderson in 1986 and the Ortiz walkoff shot in 2004 surely stick out. The Angels haven’t enjoyed the same collective success against the Sox that they have versus the Yankees. Throw previous series and samples out the window, though. It’s October and anything can happen at this point.
Without further ado, let’s break the series down Dr. Jack style (apologies to Bill Simmons, once again)…
The Angels don’t light up the world with tape measure home runs. They find ways to score by stealing bases, bunting, manufacturing runs and going first-to-third. The team ranks a lowly 17th in baseball in SLG but get on base at a high enough clip (.345, fifth in baseball) to use the methods of their manager. Their second half streaks have been aided by the rise of Garrett Anderson from the grave, who is somehow hitting at .300/.359/.538 in the second half to boost his SLG to second on the club behind Guerrero, their only true power hitter. Guys like Willits (.391), Figgins (.395), Kendrick (.322 BA) and even Gary Matthews will exert their speed on the bases. Beckett, Schilling and Matsuzaka must be prepared to hold runners on at all times.
Boston has finally gotten their entire starting nine in tact for the playoffs. The contrast of styles will be evident right from the start. While the Angels will hack away at anything close to the zone, the Sox love working the count, taking pitches and wearing the opposing starter down until he’s at 100 pitches in the sixth. Both brands of baseball are valuable in the postseason. The Sox have mixed in some speed with Crisp, Lugo and surely Ellsbury playing roles this October. The emergence of J.D. Drew (.342/.454/.618 in September) fills out an already potent lineup with Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell on the power side. Pedroia, Youkilis and Crisp will scrap out some hits, too.
EDGE: Red Sox
The Angels hold the rich man’s Alex Cora in Maicer Izturis (.291/.351/.408) who can spot either middle infielder at any point. Also, Kendry Morales has emerged as a strong bench option for Mike Scioscia. It’ll be interesting to see if he chooses to play Juan Rivera, who has just 14 games under his belt off of an injury, or Reggie Willits full-time in left field with Anderson at DH. The Red Sox bench is boosted by the speed of Ellsbury, but still is mostly a disaster. Alex Cora, Doug Mirabelli (thankfully we won’t be seeing he and Wake vs. the fast Angels) and Eric Hinske all cannot hit worth a lick.
This award could go to the Angels rep Orlando Cabrera, but in the end I couldn’t deny the bid of Kevin Youkilis. Think of Youk is called out on strikes on a questionable call in the playoffs, a life or death situation? When he already valued each AB like it’s the end of the world? This could get ugly for everyone- his head, the bat, everyone within 100 yards of the scene. I just want to see Kevin grow a beard before its all said and done.
SLIGHT EDGE: Red Sox
Guy with the most at stake
You could argue J.D. Drew in this slot because a strong postseason would basically wipe out a disappointing first year in Boston. I’ll go with John Lackey, the Game 1 starter for the Angels. It’s almost common knowledge now that Lackey has been tortured by the Red Sox in his career and the source of the reason many Sox fans wanted to face the Angels in the Division Series. The career numbers- 60.1 IP, 90 H, 26 BB, 48 K, 6.27 ERA, .340 BAA, .958 OPSA. This will be motivation for Lackey.
SLIGHT EDGE: Angels
Home Field Advantage
The Red Sox can win on the road (45-36), while the Angels have had trouble (40-40). Couple that with the Sox having a potential Game 5 at home. Their bats tend to wake up even more with 470 runs as opposed to 395 away from Fenway, so this category isn’t really close. The big Sox relocation crowd in LA currently will snatch up some tickets in the Big A.
EDGE: Red Sox
In past years this category would be a blowout. The Sox have caught up with Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo (28 and 31 SB respectively) entering the fray. Still, the technique the Angels use is profound around baseball and they execute better than anyone. Their speedsters are more numerous and they rarely make mistakes. I still don’t trust that Julio Lugo won’t get picked off in a big spot quite yet.
The Angels have made 19 more errors on the season than Boston. We all know Theo has made strong defense a priority on the team ever since Nomar was dealt and he’s kept that promise. Coco Crisp is the best CF I’ve ever seen and our corner infielders cannot be topped with Lowell and Youkilis. The Angels helped themselves by moving Garrett Anderson to DH and removing his corpse from the outfield. Orlando Cabrera and Gary Matthews are reliable up the middle but Boston holds an edge overall.
EDGE: Red Sox
(Note: If anyone has some sabermetric stats that can evaluate more in-depth who has the defensive advantage, feel free to leave it in the comment. I’m not quite up to pace on most BP stats that evaluate defense).
It’s entirely possible the best chance for the Angels to pounce on Josh Beckett will be Game 1. His home ERA is two points higher than his road ERA, another reason why the front office decided on the long series in order to guarantee Beckett a Game 4 start in Anaheim. Matsuzaka’s road ERA is also significantly stronger (4.02 to 4.86) on the road than at home, where he’ll go Game 3 in LA. Curt Schilling is showing he can still get out major league lineups and the Angels are not the New York Yankees. Add in his big game qualities and Boston should be feeling comfortable with their rotation heading into this series. Being able to skip Tim Wakefield and the Angels turning every walk/single into a double is a huge load off.
I documented John Lackey’s rough time vs. Boston earlier. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad pitcher. In fact, he’s a Cy Young candidate (3.01 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 144 ERA+ and 224 IP) and forms a 1-2 punch with Game 2 starter Kelvim Escobar (3.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 127 ERA+). Questions are arising regarding Escobar’s September and whether his arm is breaking down. August was lights out, but in September his ERA is an ugly 7.99. Scioscia could opt to go with rookie Ervin Santana in his comfort zone at home, but it’s more likely Jered Weaver gets the Game 3 nod for the Halos.
EDGE: Red Sox
Other than Darren Oliver, the Angels don’t boast a true lefty specialist to face Ortiz or Drew late in the game. Maybe Joe Saunders can transition to the bullpen and step into that role. The biggest blow: Scot Shields forgot how to pitch. His August and September numbers out of the setup role are harrowing- 22.2 IP, 25 H, 7.57 ERA, 29 K (still able to strike out hitters). The second half BABIP vs. Shields is .398. Justin Speier might be the best arm of the Angels bullpen, although Boston handled him in August at Fenway. After that, the Angels (Bootcheck, Moseley, Santana, Gwyn, Colon?) boast nothing spectacular.
The Red Sox bullpen is slightly more deep and experienced. Tired arm and all, Hideki Okajima is still a more than reliable eighth inning guy. The bullpen is strengthened by the second half emergence of Manny Delcarmen, and Mike Timlin finding the youth juice. With Buchholz out of the picture, it’s likely Tito goes with Tavarez as the long man and Lopez as the LOOGY who cannot get lefties out. Obviously the wild card is Eric Gagne and whether he can be an effective piece of the puzzle.
EDGE: Red Sox
Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez will both get the job done when handed the ball in the ninth or eighth innings.
The judgement of Terry Francona and his bullpen usage is often under intense scrutiny in Boston, but we saw the way Tito manages with the season on the line in 2004 and at certain points this week. He has the capabilities to manage a bullpen, folks, and you cannot take away how much respect the players have for him. The same goes for Mike Scioscia and his style of play.
Final Prediction: Red Sox win in 4 games
Series MVP: Mike Lowell
Evan: Check out the new poll on the right. The results of the poll on Julian Tavarez said that 43 percent of respondents want him on the postseason roster, while 31 percent want to know why he’s barely pitched. 25 percent say to stay away. Me? I don’t know … I’d pick Lester over Tavarez… so don’t put him on.
What was your favorite moment of the 2007 regular season?
* Mother’s Day Miracle
* The No-Hit Kid
* Papi finally walks off
* Hinske’s face-plant catch
* JACOBY! Scores from 2d on a wild pitch
* Coco’s go-ahead triple against the Yankees
* Dice-K v. Ichiro
* Lester’s Return
* Schill’s perfect 8.2 IP