ALDS Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
They don't start this one until later tonight but it's the one nearest and dearest to our hearts. So we're throwing it up first this morning. We will have the Phills/Brewers later on this morning (or at least before first pitch), the Cubs/Dodgers later in the afternoon and then we will run with the other ALDS series tomorrow morning. Al and Marc from The Baseball Analysts chipped in, and we have bloggers from around the web that are helping us, too. So stay tuned.
Let's defer to last year's preview in order to set this year's up.
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 two of us attended another game this season – this time at Fenway Park. Our Sunday included breakfast with Bill James and Jared Porter, Director of Professional Scouting, followed by an afternoon tilt between the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, a young team that went on to win the AL East. We even had the opportunity to pose for a photo before the game.
Today, we sit on the opposite coasts awaiting with excitement the first pitch to this year's ALDS.
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 10 PM ET on TBS - BOS (Jon Lester) @ LAA (John Lackey)
Game 2: Fri., Oct. 3, 9:30 PM ET on TBS - BOS (Daisuke Matsuzaka) @ LAA (Ervin Santana)
Game 3: Sun., Oct. 5, TBD on TBS - LAA (Joe Saunders) @ BOS (Josh Beckett)
Game 4*: Mon., Oct. 6, TBD on TBS - LAA (John Lackey) @ BOS (TBD)
Game 5*: Wed., Oct 8, TBD on TBS - BOS (TBD) @ LAA (Ervin Santana)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
BOS 56-25 39-42 95-67
LAA 50-31 50-31 100-62
Head-to-head results: LAA, 8-1
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
BOS 845 .280 .358 .447 .805 108
LAA 765 .268 .330 .413 .743 96
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+
BOS 694 .250 .323 .390 .713 114
LAA 697 .261 .322 .406 .729 109
Mike Napoli (.273/.374/.586, 20 HR, 149 OPS+) platooned with Jeff Mathis the first two months, missed a large portion of June through mid-August, then earned the starting job for good with a fantastic September (.453/.508/.906). Napoli is not only the hottest hitter on the team – going 20-for-34 with 5 HR in his final 11 games – but one of its best.
Jason Varitek (.220/.313/.359, 13 HR, 74 OPS+) was awful this season. The Red Sox are the only American League playoff team who won't field a good catcher. In all likelihood, regardless of how far they advance, the Red Sox will yield ground to their opposition behind the plate. Varitek's awful September dashed any hope that his .264/.376/.431 August offered Sox fans.
Rich says: This is the first time an Angels catcher deserves to get the nod over the Boston captain.
Sully says: Not even close.
Mark Teixeira (.308/.410/.552, 33 HR, 153 OPS+) has hit .358/.449/.632 since being acquired by the Angels at the end of July. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound switch-hitter is the only Halo with more walks (97) than strikeouts (93). He is the single biggest difference between this year's club and the one that was swept by the Red Sox last year.
Kevin Youkilis (.312/.390/.569, 29 HR, 145 OPS+) was an American League MVP candidate this season and I wonder how many folks really know it. You look at the Red Sox record, run differential, runs scored, etc. and you wonder how they did it with all of the problems on offense (injuries to Lowell, Papi, Drew, the existence of Lugo and Varitek). Well, look no further than Youkilis and the guy positioned to his right. They became stars in 2008.
Rich says: Both Tex and Youk can hit and field with the best but the edge goes to the Angels newcomer.
Sully says: Narrowly, I give it to Tex as well.
Howie Kendrick (.306/.333/.421, 3 HR, 98 OPS+ in 92 games) hit for average once again but his poor walk (.033) and home run rates (.008) limit his value offensively. His defense has advanced to the point where he is now a plus fielder.
Dustin Pedroia (.326/.376/.493, 17 HR, 123 OPS+) may win the AL MVP (rightly or wrongly) and has emerged as a real team leader. As disadvantaged as Varitek makes the Red Sox compared to the other post-season catchers, Pedroia gives the Sox nearly as great of an advantage over the other playoff keystoners.
Rich says: Pedroia is the easy pick here.
Sully says: Agreed.
Erick Aybar (.277/.314/.384, 3 HR, 84 OPS+ in 98 games) split time with Maicer Izturis until the latter was sidelined for the season in August with a torn left thumb ligament. The 24-year-old defensive whiz missed two weeks on two separate occasions this season. He is one of three switch-hitting infielders.
Jed Lowrie (.258/.339/.400, 3 HR, 91 OPS+ in 81 games) took over full time shortstop duties after Julio Lugo went down with an injury. Looks like he might have Pipped him. Lowrie's numbers might not be anything to write home about but remember, this is not the turn of the century. Hanley Ramirez aside, shortstops no longer count among the game's best hitters like Nomar, A-Rod, Jeter and Tejada once did.
Rich says: It's hard to get excited by either shortstop. I would call it a toss-up or a slight edge to Aybar for his defensive prowess.
Sully says: Lowrie is no slouch defender and every bit the hitter the 2008 versions of Michael Young and Miguel Tejada were. His .117 BB/PA rate to Aybar's .037 tells you a lot of what you need to know about the differences between the two players.
Chone Figgins (.276/.367/.318, 1 HR, 84 OPS+) had the worst year of his career. Period. His only contributions of note were his improved walk rate (.120) and 34 stolen bases in 47 attempts (72%). Given Figgy's lack of power, Boston's pitchers would be well served to pound the strike zone in an effort to keep him from getting free passes.
Mike Lowell (.274/.338/.461, 17 HR, 105OPS+) battled injuries all season long but could be a real wild card (heh) in this series. His start was horrendous, he crushed the ball in May and June, then stunk again as he battled injuries only to have a strong September when he was in there.
Rich says: Lowell is the choice but only if healthy.
Sully says: If Lowell is unhealthy and it forces Mark Kotsay into the lineup, Figgins gets the nod. Otherwise, yeah, just as Rich stated above.
Garret Anderson (.293/.325/.433, 15 HR, 99 OPS+) put up a fairly typical season, hitting nearly .300 with moderate power and little interest in taking a walk. The 14-year veteran (3.42) and his fellow starting outfielders rank in the bottom 10 among 68 qualified AL batters in pitches per plate appearance.
Jason Bay (.286/.373/.522, 31 HR, 133 OPS+) was a main reason that the Red Sox went 34-19 after Manny Ramirez left town at the trade deadline. He has been terrific since arriving here, and provides an incredible amount of lineup depth hitting out of the 6-hole.
Rich says: Bay over GA. Way.
Sully says: Nice, Rich.
Torii Hunter (.278/.344/.466, 21 HR, 112 OPS+) had a career-best OBP while tying his single-season high with 50 walks. The first-year Angel had a Gold Glove-type season in center field, making several spectacular catches while covering plenty of ground and displaying one of the most accurate arms in the league.
Jacoby Ellsbury (.280/.336/.394, 9 HR, 89 OPS+) led the American League with 50 stolen bases and was only thrown out 11 times. Since August 1, he hit .314/.352/.463 and stole 15 bases at a 79% clip. If that guy shows up, you can actually consider this one a draw.
Rich says: You know what you're gonna get with Hunter. That's good enough to win this position battle.
Sully says: Ellsbury seems over-matched against the hard throwers. Look for Lackey and Santana to pound Ellsbury inside. I don't think he will be much of a factor.
Vladimir Guerrero (.303/.365/.521, 27 HR, 131 OPS+) batted over .300 and hit at least 25 home runs for the 11th straight season, matching a streak set by Lou Gehrig (1927 to 1937). He tied for the AL lead in IBB (16) and GIDP (27). Vlad has a powerful but inaccurate arm and no longer can go from first to third on a single or first to home on a double.
Guerrero has struggled in two his previous playoff appearances against Boston, going 4-for-22 with just one extra-base hit. Moreover, his aggressive, first-pitch hacking approach has been exploited by other teams during the post-season as well (.183/.258/.233 in 16 games).
JD Drew (.280/.408/.519, 19 HR, 139 OPS+), like Lowell, comes into the post-season as something of an unknown. When healthy and locked in, he is an MVP-caliber performer (AL Player of the Month in June). When shaky, he is still an asset. His walk-rate never goes anywhere.
Rich says: Guerrero, but not by as much as the average fan might think.
Sully says: A reluctant nod to Vlad because of JD's gimpy finish.
Juan Rivera (.246/.282/.438, 12 HR, 87 OPS+) played sparingly through June, then hit .268/.299/.505 while playing in 75% of the games over the final three months of the season. Like most Angels, he rarely draws walks. Never known for his speed, Rivera has become even slower since breaking his leg playing winter ball in Venezuela in December 2006.
David Ortiz (.264/.369/.507, 23 HR, 125 OPS+), like Drew, played in only 109 games this season. Ortiz hit six home runs in September and seemed to be hitting his stride heading into the post-season but even the most rose-colored view of Ortiz's current makeup would have to conclude that he remains a tick or two off of his recent dominance.
Rich says: Give me Big Papi any day of the week.
Sully says: I agree.
Off the Bench:
Gary Matthews Jr. (.242/.319/.357) was a reserve outfielder, yet ranked fourth on the team in games played. He is the most likely reserve to see action in the ALDS.
Brandon Wood (.200/.224/.327) struck out 43 times in 157 plate appearances but slugged four home runs in September when he earned more playing time than at any other point in the season.
Jeff Mathis (.194/.275/.318) will back up Napoli behind the plate, Kendry Morales (.213/.273/.393 in only 27 games) and Robb Quinlan (.262/.326/.311) will be used as pinch hitters, and Reggie Willits (.194/.321/.231) is likely to be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement as well as an occasional situational hitter off the bench.
Coco Crisp (.283/.344/.407) steps right should Drew be unable to go. Either way, it is quite likely that he starts against Joe Saunders. Crisp, the switch-hitter, will take over for the left-handed Ellsbury against the Angels southpaw. Crisp plays a terrific center field and has turned back into a passable offensive player this season.
Alex Cora (.270/.371/.349) is slipping as a defender but remains a tough out at the plate. It's hard to envision a scenario in which he takes much time from Pedroia or Lowrie but he could be used as a pinch-runner.
Sean Casey (.322/.381/.392) is the slowest man on earth and has to be the worst fielding first baseman in baseball. He also seems like he is swinging underwater oftentimes. And yet, I am pretty sure I would categorize him as a net contributor this season. He might get a look or two as a pinch hitter. Mark Kotsay (.276/.329/.403) would in all likelihood start at first base should Lowell be unable to go and Youk shifts over to third.
Kevin Cash (.225/.309/.338) is just awful.
Rich says: Yuck. Not Youk. Just Yuck.
Sully says: I will give a slight, unenthusiastic edge to Boston here.
John Lackey (12-5, 3.75, 116 ERA+) missed all of spring training and the first month-and-a-half with a strained right triceps, then pitched as well as he ever has through June (6-1, 1.44 ERA with a better than 4:1 K/BB ratio). However, the soon-to-be 30-year old has not been nearly as effective in the second half and was pummeled in his last outing, allowing 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Rangers. The 6-6, 245-pound righthander throws a low-90s fastball along with a plus curveball and a slider. Manager Mike Scioscia is handing his veteran ace the ball for Game 1.
Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49, 125 ERA+) finally realized his potential this season, earning an All-Star berth and leading the club in IP (219), SO (214), WHIP (1.12), and K/BB (4.55). The 25-year-old righthander throws the third-hardest average fastball (94.4) in MLB and a plus slider. He is scheduled to start Game 2.
Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41, 128 ERA+) surpassed everyone's expectations by making the All-Star squad and leading the staff in Wins, W-L%, and ERA. While considered a finesse pitcher, the 27-year-old southpaw's fastball sits at 90-92. He mixes in a plus changeup and an average curveball and occasional slider. He is slated to go in Game 3 at Fenway Park.
Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21, 143 ERA+) was Boston's most dependable arm this season and is the second-best pitcher in the playoffs (behind only C.C. Sabathia). Go on, check it out. Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum are out on the NL side while Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are eliminated from the American League. He's been remarkable all season long and given how battle-tested the kid is, I don't expect him to wilt out in California.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90, 158 ERA+) was simply not as good as his numbers would have you believe this season. He walks too many batters and his formula for keeping runs off the board of always depending on stranding runners is unsustainable. He had one of the very flukiest pitching seasons that I can recall.
Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03, 114 ERA+) is sort of the opposite of Dice-K. Despite notching 18 more strikeouts, 60 fewer bases on balls and a considerably better WHIP, Beckett still ended up with the higher ERA than Matsuzaka. I expect their respective ERA's to reverse for the playoffs.
Rich says: Too close to call.
Sully says: I can't make a call here, either. Daisuke and Saunders are not as good as they would appear, Lackey and Beckett are probably better (but both come in with question marks) and Lester and Santana are both undeniably terrific.
Francisco Rodriguez (2-3, 62 SV, 2.24, 195 ERA+) set the MLB record for saves this season. Make what you will of his saves total but the fact remains that he pitched well. The only criticism of the 26-year-old veteran closer is that he walks too many batters (4.48 BB/9), but he also strikes out more than his fair share (10.14 K/9) and keeps the ball in the park (0.53 HR/9). The free agent-to-be flashes a 92-mph fastball (down from the mid-90s earlier in his career), a wicked slider when on, and one of the most improved changeups in baseball. The latter has become his true out pitch, especially when facing LHB.
Scot Shields (6-4, 31 Holds, 2.70, 161 ERA+) is a solid veteran set-up man. He didn't tire down the stretch as he has in past years.
Jose Arredondo (10-2, 16 Holds, 1.62, 269 ERA+) may assume the role of closer next season but will serve as a bridge between the starters and Frankie during the 2008 playoffs.
Darren Oliver (7-1, 12 Holds, 2.88, 152 ERA+) was more effective than ever this year. While Oliver is the only lefty in the bullpen, he is more than a LOOGY, averaging 1 1/3 innings per appearance.
Jon Garland (14-8, 4.90) and Jered Weaver (11-10, 4.33) will be used exclusively in long relief in a series that only requires three starting pitchers.
Jonathan Papelbon (5-4, 41 SV, 2.34, 196 ERA+) will be the reason the Red Sox lose this series should they go down. He has yielded an .822 OPS in September and seems entirely too dependent on a fastball that he is not even throwing as hard as he did at this time last season.
Manny Delcarmen (3-2, 18 Holds, 3.27, 140 ERA+)
Hideki Okajima (3-2, 23 Holds, 2.61, 189 ERA+)
Justin Masterson (6-5, 3 Holds, 3.16, 145 ERA+)
Javier Lopez (2-0, 10 Holds, 2.43, 189 ERA+)
This bullpen, when you take the trio of suck that was Mike Timlin, Craig Hansen and David Aardsma out of the picture, was pretty damn good and really came together towards the end of the season. Paul Byrd and Tim Wakefield should offer depth (unless one is called upon to start Game 4).
Rich says: I haven't given up on Paps yet. He is every bit as good as K-Rod in my judgment. The balance of the 'pens are equally solid. No blood.
Sully says: I will give the nod to the Halos with Papelbon struggling coming into the playoffs.
* * *
Rich's Prediction: An argument could be made on behalf of the Angels or the Red Sox. To wit:
- The Angels had the most wins in baseball. The Red Sox had the biggest run differential in the AL.
- The Angels took eight out of nine games from Boston this season. The Red Sox swept Los Angeles in the 2004 and 2007 ALDS.
- The Angels had the best road record in MLB. The Red Sox had the second-best home record in the majors.
Based on the above, there's nothing I can hang my Angels hat on except for two factors:
1. Home-field advantage.
2. BOS appears to be about as banged up as the LAA were in 2007. Hint: It didn't turn out too well for the Halos a year ago.
While I don't see the Angels returning the favor and sweeping the Red Sox this time around, I believe the AL West champs have what it takes to beat the AL wild card in five.
Sully's Prediction: Boston beats Lackey twice and Saunders once but loses to Santana. I like the Sox in four.