Initial Thoughts: As a Red Sox fan, this meeting is one I’ve been expecting since the Angels acquired Mark Teixeira. Quite frankly, these Angels are loaded and scare the hell out of me. Their pitching is deep and they have a closer coming off a record season in K-Rod. Combine that with a patient, strong lineup and it looks as though Boston is in trouble. The Red Sox are having injury issues (i.e. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell) and couldn’t close in on the Rays with an easy September schedule and Tampa Bay among the walking wounded. In many respects, there’s the potential for this to be a short series for Los Angeles.
All this being said, I like the Sox chances. Call me a homer or whatever you need to do but hear me out:
ESPN has gone on and on about how the ’04 and ’07 versions of the Angels didn’t have that big bat to protect Vladimir Guerrero (who is among my favorite players of all time). Now they have Teixeira and Torii Hunter, both of whom have changed the culture of the lineup. In seasons past, once Sox pitching got around Guerrero, there was no one else they feared in the lineup. As the Globe’s Nick Cafardo noted in yesterday’s sports section, Teixeira has also helped free swingers like Hunter and Guerrero swing at better pitches, not necessarily walk more. In the postseason, that difference in the lineup can’t be understated.
Prior to a game I went to in July between these two teams, a common belief was that John Lackey couldn't beat the Red Sox. After watching Lackey come within three outs of no-hitting the Sox, he made a believer out of me. Those who know me have heard me say he's an ace for years. He's a guy who shut down the Giants in game 7 of the World Series in 2002 and ever since has been a quality pitcher who suffers from being under the radar with the Angels. Having a horse like him is important in these games, evidenced by Beckett's run with the Sox last year.
The Angels' concerns will lead to why I think the Sox have a chance to win this series. First off, I'm not a huge fan of Earvin Santana or Joe Saunders. I think Santana is similar to Dice-K in that he can be extremely erratic. Great stuff, not sure how successful he can be in the post season. Saunders, simply put, is winning with smoke and mirrors. The man had to have watched a lot of Jamie Moyer growing up because his stuff doesn't intimidate hitters in any manner. I realize he had success in the regular season but to go back to my earlier point, soft throwing starters don't win often in October.
I used to think of Chone Figgins as one of the most underrated players in the game. What happened? His OBP went from .393 to .367 and he only hit .276. This may not have been a concern for the Angels in the regular season but it could be a bigger deal in tight games such as these.
Red Sox Strengths:
I'm not sure if the casual fan realizes how good John Lester has been this year. He was the stopper on an inconsistent team and had a 3.21 ERA in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. I wasn't that high on him when he was coming up a few years ago but he has added a few mph to his fastball and his curve ball has far more bite to it now. After I just talked about how I think Lackey is great, it speaks even more to how much I think of Lester in that I firmly believe he will shut down the Angels in Game 1.
As sad as the Manny saga was, Jason Bay has been everything I expected him to be and he has provided a needed spark to this team. Now for the obvious: After MVP-type seasons, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are looking for another ring and both looked impressive down the stretch. Pedroia in particular needs to have a big series for the Sox to win and I see him coming up with a big hit or two. Something I've noticed and my friend Josh has pointed out to me is how hot Jacoby Ellsbury is right now. Having his bat hot in the post season changes the whole dynamic of this lineup. When he's wreaking havoc on the basepaths, pitchers worry about him and the hitters see better pitches to hit.
We've all heard the talk of how David Ortiz won't be pitched to but there will come a time where they have to pitch to him and damaged wrist or not, there's no one I'd rather have in an important moment than Ortiz. He's the one player in the post season that teams game plan against because of his knack for devastating hits in October.
The combination of Jonathan Papelbon and Justin Masterson is quickly becoming one of the most potent in baseball. Masterson's slider is almost unhittable and the sinking motion of his fastball can give the Sox double play opportunities.
Dice-K and Beckett scare me for different reasons. Any injury to a Sox pitcher concerns me but when our ace's oblique is hurt, I'm worried. Dice-K was an 18-game winner but had trouble going past the 6 inning mark. Not good for post season baseball. He's going to have to give in more and let these hitters make contact so he can give the bullpen a break.
Speaking of the bullpen, the likes of Manny Delcarmen and David Aardsma worry me greatly. Niether have proven they can come up big in important spots with any sort of consistency.
Jason Varitek is not only the lone player in this lineup I have no confidence in, he's one of the only sure outs in the eight teams remaining. I hope to God he's not up in any key situations.
X-Factors: Angels reliever Jose Arredondo has had a great year (1.62 ERA) and will make an impact in this series....Hideki Okajima has been much better for the Sox down the stretch and how successful he is in bridging the gap to Masterson/Papelbon duo in the 8th and 9th innings could determine the series.
Who Will Win: The Red Sox will expose Santana and Saunders and Lester will win a pair of games. Pedroia and Bay both have a huge series while Hunter and Guerrero's bats go silent as Boston takes the series in 5.