ALDS Preview: Los Angeles Angels vs. Boston Red Sox
Hi everyone. I'm the Baseball Beat guy. Patrick Sullivan and I are going to preview the American League Division Series between the Los Angeles Angels (94-68) and the Boston Red Sox (96-66). I've been a fan of the Angels since 1969 when my Dad was hired by then-general manager Dick Walsh as Director of Public Relations and Promotions. It was a tough job as there wasn't much to promote back then. Ownership has since transitioned from Gene Autry to Disney to Arte Moreno. Angels fans love Autry and Moreno, but did you know that the team won its only World Championship under Disney?
Sully here, and I must confess that this matchup is pretty neat for Rich and me. As many of you know, Rich resides in Southern California and is a longtime supporter of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels. I have spent most of my 27 years in the Boston area and have loved the Red Sox for as long as I can remember. Rich and I even attended an Angels-Red Sox game together back in the Summer of 2005. Rich wrote about that night here (Johanna, joining me at tonight's contest, is now my wife for those who follow the link).
The schedule, with five games played over eight days, looks like one befitting a basketball or hockey playoff series. Hey, with wild cards and all, it almost is. But the Angels and Red Sox made it the old-fashioned way – they earned it by winning their respective divisions.
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 3, 6:37 PM ET on TBS – LAA (John Lackey) @ BOS (Josh Beckett)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL LAA 54-27 40-41 94-68 BOS 51-30 45-36 96-66
Head-to-head results: Boston won 6 games out of 10.
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ LAA 822 .284 .345 .417 .762 101 BOS 867 .279 .362 .444 .806 113
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ LAA 731 .266 .328 .412 .740 95 BOS 657 .247 .314 .392 .706 86
Due to the fact that Gary Matthews Jr. was left off the roster and Vladimir Guerrero isn't healthy enough to play right field, the Angels will be going with a makeshift lineup that will probably include shifting regular third baseman Chone Figgins to right field and inserting utilityman Maicer Izturis at the hot corner. We won't know what manager Mike Scioscia will do until the starting lineups are announced but are guessing that the winningest skipper in Angels' history will see fit to make the changes described above.
Jason Varitek (.255/.367/421, 17 HR, 68 RBI) bounced back from an injury-plagued 2006 that had Sox fans wondering if the Captain might be all done. He bounced back nicely and eased the minds of Red Sox fans. You can nitpick about the contract and the production and whether it was a good deal but, at the end of the day, all that matters was that the Sox had the luxury of penciling in a good player in the catcher slot. In this catcher’s market, you’ll take that.
Sully says: Agreed
Kevin Youkilis (.288/.390/.453, 16 HR, 83 RBI) is a very good baseball player, comfortably above average as first basemen go. Youk prides himself on his approach – he ranked 7th in baseball with 4.47 pitches per plate appearance – but his second-half slugging average of just .391 is of concern to Sox supporters. Even when he is going badly he is ok but when he really turns it on, he can be one of the best in the game. A September up-tick over and above his July and August performance keeps hope alive for a first-half replication in the playoffs.
Rich says: I'm calling this one a tie. The tie usually goes to the runner but neither of these guys is particularly fast. No blood. Just like Schilling in 2004.
Sully says: Hey, irk Schill at your own peril. He reads these here internets and will be gunning for the Halos in Game 3. Anyway, by virtue of his stellar finish I am giving this one to Kotchman.
Dustin Pedroia (.317/.380/.442, 8 HR, 50 RBI) had an excellent season and will in all likelihood run away with the AL Rookie of the Year award. Those numbers up there look nice and all but if you have a look at Pedroia’s line since bottoming out with a .518 OPS on May 1, you start to realize just how special a player the Sox have on their hands. He has hit .335/.392/.470 since that time, a line that would have him hanging right with any keystoner in baseball not named Utley.
Rich says: I would have picked Kendrick before the season began. Oh wait, I did. He was on my fantasy team. But I gotta give Pedroia a tiny (sorry, bad joke) edge at this point in time.
Sully says: Pedroia in a photo finish thanks to his consistency and approach. Edge: Boston
Julio Lugo (.237/.294/.349, 8 HR, 73 RBI) was awful this season, one of the very worst shortstops in all of baseball. Pitchers rarely fail to overwhelm him and I cannot imagine things will be different with the potent arms the Angels have lined up. He’s brutal.
Rich says: Let's be real. Cabrera in a landslide. Sully just wishes that Boston still had him.
Sully says: What can I say?
Mike Lowell (.324/.378/.501, 21 HR, 120 RBI) seems to be garnering some unmerited team MVP support in some corners but he still had one whale of a year. A pro’s pro, Lowell has been a steadying force for an offense that has seen its share of ups and downs throughout the season.
Rich says: There's no use arguing this one. Lowell, hands down.
Sully says: Yeah, this is a no-brainer.
Manny Ramirez (.296/.388/.493, 20 HR, 88 RBI) could be the greatest determinant of this series. He has been bad, good, excellent, ok and injured at various points in the season. Who shows up come tonight is really anyone’s guess.
Rich says: Man, this is a toughie. Ramirez is a Hall of Famer so it's difficult, if not unwise, to go against him. But, in the here and now, I gotta call this one a draw. Did I really say that?
Sully says: Here we go. Rich, go with Manny. I ain't buyin' what GA's been sellin' these last few months and neither should you.
Coco Crisp (.268/.330/.382, 6 HR, 60 RBI) is one hell of a defender but often looks lost at the dish. Don't be surprised to see Jacoby Ellsbury cut into some of his playing time.
Rich says: The loss of Matthews hurts. I can't see taking Willits or Crisp. Call it a push.
Sully says: I am not sure you have an appreciation for just how inept Crisp can be at the plate. I give Willits just a slight edge thanks to his on-base skills.
J.D. Drew (.270/.373/.423, 11 HR, 64 RBI) is the favorite whipping boy of the masshole sect of Red Sox Nation but look at those final numbers. They aren't worth $14 million but they are not half bad either. Mix in the fact that he ended up hitting .342/.454/.618 for the month of September and we may just have to turn Central Park into a makeshift confessional for Phills and Sox fans to repent over all those nasty things they said about Pat Burrell and J.D., respectively.
Sully says: I would have said big edge to the Angels a month ago but with more of a track record to speak of and coming into the post-season on the heels of a lights-out September, I am giving a small edge to Drew and the Red Sox.
Vladimir Guerrero (.324/.403/.547, 27 HR, 125 RBI), who sat out four of the final six regular-season games due to a sore triceps muscle, will probably serve as the primary designated hitter in this series. Big Daddy Vladdy as he is called by Angels color analyst Rex Hudler is as dangerous as they come when healthy. However, Vlad has had a tendency of becoming even more anxious than normal during the postseason and might be neutralized like he was in 2004 when Boston held him to just two hits in 12 at-bats in a three-game sweep.
David Ortiz (.332/.445/.621, 35 HR, 117 RBI) may have just had his best season. The counting stat crowd wouldn't know it (he had 19 less home runs) but his career-high OPS+ of 176 would certainly seem to support the contention. Like Drew, Ortiz comes in smoking too. He hit .396/.517/.824 over the season's final month.
Rich says: The numbers don't lie. I know Angels fans wouldn't trade Guerrero for Ortiz, but Big Papi bested Vlad across the board. I hate to say it but the DH slot goes to Boston.
Sully says: Vlad's a great player, just not David Ortiz.
Off the Bench:
Mike Napoli (.247/.351/.443, 10 HR, 34 RBI) will probably start one of the games behind the dish. He was slowed by a leg injury during the second half and lost his starting job to Mathis.
Others: Erick Aybar (utility), Nathan Hayes (OF), Kendry Morales (1B/DH), and Robb Quinlan (designated lefty masher).
Eric Hinske (.204/.317/.398, 6 HR, 21 RBI) is better than these numbers look. He's a career .255 hitter who just happened to put up a crummy batting average this campaign. He still has some pop and still knows how to approach an at-bat.
Rich says: The Angels bench has been depleted of its strength. Not all that crazy about Boston's depth either. Edge goes ever so slightly to the Sox, mostly due to Ellsbury's presence.
Sully says: Too close to call, but I think both teams feature pretty decent benches. No word on why Francona did not also add Rich Gedman, Marc Sullivan and Spanky MacFarlane to supplement his catching depth in 'Belli and Cash.
Rich: I was wondering the same thing, Sully. Can only guess that Ellsbury is going to be pinch running for Tek and Tito wanted the flexibility to pinch hit for the backup catcher in the late innings. Did I mention, edge to Angels in the manager category?
Kelvim Escobar (18-7, 3.40) pitched brilliantly through mid-August when he was leading the AL in ERA, then tired down the stretch, before righting the ship last Saturday when he pitched six solid innings in a win over OAK. He did a great job at keeping the ball on the ground (28 GIDP) and in the yard (11 HR in 195.2 IP).
Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91) will be making his first appearance in the postseason. The second-year pitcher experienced a bout of tendinitis in the spring and has only recently recovered to the point where his fastball has a 9-handle on it. Weaver gave up just one earned run in five of his final seven starts while allowing no more than one walk in all but one game.
Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27) was the only 20-game winner in Major League Baseball. He's a true ace and for what it's worth, dominated the Angels in two 2007 starts.
Diasuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40) had well-documented troubles towards the end of the year but finished decently in his final three starts. When it was all said and done, he was an above average starter who threw over 200 innings with an exceptional strikeout rate. If I am Francona, I have Jon Lester on alert for an early call should Matsuzaka appear to be struggling on Friday night. Dice-K is the type that either has it or does not.
Curt Schilling (9-8, 3.87) had a 3.34 ERA and a 7.5 K/BB over his last nine starts. He's back, folks, and though I am not one for the touchy-feely stuff, Schilling is one hell of a competitor to boot.
Rich says: The Lackey-Beckett matchups are about as good as it gets. The righthanders are two of the top three candidates for the AL Cy Young Award. Furthermore, both pitchers won the clinching game of the World Series on short rest in their first trip to the postseason – Lackey, of course, in 2002, and Beckett in 2003. I would call these two a draw and give the Angels a slight edge when it comes to Escobar-Matsuzaka and Weaver-Schilling (bloody sock or no). Bottom line: Angels, by the smallest of margins.
Sully says: Lackey would probably be the runaway favorite for the Cy Young if he had not made the two starts against Boston in 2007 (8.38 ERA in just over 9 IP). The Sox own him, as he is precisely the type of pitcher they have handled over the years. Look for Sox hitters to wait Lackey out and drive mistakes they force him to throw in hitters counts. As for the other matchups, Escobar has not broken a 60 game score since August while Matsuzaka turned a corner over his last three outings. Do I really need to go into Weaver and Schilling? Boston gets the nod here.
Scot Shields (4-5, 3.86, 31 Holds) had an uneven season. He gave up two runs or more in nine games over the course of the second half. His ERA more than doubled from 1.70 at the All-Star break to 3.86 by season's end. Scioscia still has confidence in his veteran set-up man and is likely to hand him the ball in the eighth inning whenever he is needed.
Justin Speier (2-3, 2.88, 24 Holds) missed 2-1/2 months early in the season but was nails in September. He is the Halos "go to" guy in the seventh inning and could be used every game if necessary.
Darren Oliver (3-1, 3.78) had an 11-game streak from August 31-September 22 in which he threw 14.1 IP without allowing a run. His good fortune came to an end when he surrendered three runs on September 25 and he gave up another run in his next outing on Sunday. A lefty with reverse splits this season, his role is somewhat unclear given the new-found depth in the names of Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana in this short series.
Jonathan Papelbon (1-3, 1.89, 37 SV) is one of the best closers in baseball. There is not much else to say.
Hideki Okajima (3-2, 2.22, 27 HLD) was a Rookie of the Year candidate until faltering badly in August and September. Since August 1, Okie has posted a 6.23 ERA. It will be interesting to see how Francona
Manny Delcarmen (0-0, 2.05) needs to be featured more prominently. He was lights out all year long.
Javier Lopez (2-1, 3.10) is used too often as a LOOGY for a guy with reverse splits but remains a dependable item coming out of the Boston bullpen.
Rich says: Two of the best bullpens in the league. Minor edge goes to the Angels because their usage patterns are much more transparent than Boston's.
Sully says: A really difficult one to call but I will give the Angels the advantage given Eric Gagne's struggles, Francona's bullpen management problems and Okajima's iffy finish.
Rich's Prediction: Boston is the favorite for good reason. The Red Sox had the best record in the majors, the biggest run differential, won the season series, and own the home-field advantage. Oh, and Boston comes into the series in better physical shape than the Angels. Add all these factors up and even an (objective) Angels fan would have to pick them to win the division series. The Sox win this one in four or five. A sweep will have Boston players and fans thinking 2004 all over again. However, since 1990, only the 1998 Yankees have won the World Series after finishing with the best record in the majors.
Sully's Prediction: Boston in four. I think the Sox paste Lackey in Game 1 and don't look back. The Halos will pull one out but I think this is too much of a mismatch for Los Angeles. As the numbers clearly demonstrate above, Boston has the better lineup and the better pitching - a tough combo to overcome.