ALDS Roundtable: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
Zombie Season here in the northeast! I put my wool Red Sox game-cap on this morning with my business casual attire as I left for work. Is it a silly look? Sure. Do the Red Sox start another playoff series tonight against a balanced Angels team that scares the living daylights out of me? You bet.
These are the 2nd and 3rd best teams in baseball (I'll never tell which team I think is which), and it ought to be one heck of a series. The gang's all here to discuss it. Enjoy!
Sully: The Red Sox and Angels are meeting in the ALDS for the fourth time in six seasons. I look at the two teams and the first thing that stands out is that, unlike in past seasons, the Angels appear to have the superior offensive attack while the Red Sox boast better pitching. But when you peel back the onion, I am not so sure that's the story. The Angels pitching staff came on in the 2nd half while the Red Sox, thanks to the addition of Victor Martinez, really solidified their offense after the trade deadline. What are fans to make of these two teams?
Jeremy: I agree that the additions of Scott Kazmir for the Angels and Martinez for the Red Sox bolstered both teams. The Sox still probably have an edge in pitching, especially if they can use a shortened rotation. Meanwhile, the Angels have a definite edge fielding the ball, and they have home field advantage. I think the Angels' offense matches up well with the Sox' run prevention unit, and the Yankees' for that matter, since the Angels are renowned for putting the ball in play, while the Sox and Yankees both build their defenses around power pitching and subpar fielding. However, the Sox offense can take advantage of possibly facing two lefties in Kazmir and Joe Saunders.
Sky: I think the Martinez pickup is one of the biggest additions any playoff team made this summer and with him, I put the Sox hitting on even par with LA. Martinez was key because he not only is he a good player, but Boston badly needed someone who could hit behind the plate. Varitek - nice of a guy as he is - has had awful plate production for some time now and the upgrade is significant. Even with the addition of Kazmir, I like the Boston's pitching staff over LA's as well.
This is the third time in a row we'll be seeing the Boston-LA matchup and so far the Red Sox have dominated. Is it possible it starts to get in the heads of LA if they lose a Game 1? Or is that kind of momentum thinking mostly baseball myth?
Rich: I don't know, Sky. I think winning Game 1 is important because it gives you a huge advantage the rest of the way in a short series. The losing team has to win three of four. Other than that, I wouldn't overemphasize the importance of Game 1. To the extent that it's a bigger deal for the Angels to win the opener than the Red Sox, I think it would be due to the loss of home field advantage.
Sky: I tend to agree with you, Rich. I think the feeling of "here we go again" is something that perhaps would get to the fans, but not the players. Plus, with the history of a World Series championship just a few years ago, it's not as if the Angels are fighting 86 or 100 year psychological demons. Even in that situation I think that kind of effect would be somewhere between small or non-existent. The fact that I even brought it up shows I've been hanging out with Cub fans for too long...Anyhow, I'm really excited for this series, as it's a great matchup given the history of the clubs, the opposing styles of play, and the overall quality of the teams - either of which has a good shot at the title.
Rich: Speaking of 2002, the Angels lost the first game of the ALDS to the Yankees and then swept the next three games. The Halos then lost the first game of the ALCS to the Twins and swept the next four games. Finally, the club lost the opening game of the World Series to the Giants and won four of the next six to capture its first world championship ever.
Not that it has much relevance this year, but I'm quite certain that Mike Scioscia will remind his troops of those comebacks should the Angels lose the opening game to Boston. And, besides, he's got Jered Weaver starting in Game 2.
Sully: Weaver's your boy, Rich! By nature, a short baseball series is difficult to handicap but this one is even tougher than your average series. There are two reasons for this. First, there has been enough personnel turnover that a season's worth of statistics bear little meaning to the two teams taking the field now. Second, it's hard to figure out if some of the shorter-term player performances bear any predictive value. Are Kendry Morales and Howie Kendrick the best right side in baseball, the way they have played for two months now? Is JD Drew a .415/.550 guy like he has been in the 2nd half?
Rich: No and no. As for Morales and Kendrick, that's an easy one. They're both good but not nearly the best right side in baseball. For one, Boston's right side is better. But there are others as well. Mark Teixeira is better than Morales and Robinson Cano is better than Kendrick. Ryan Howard is better than Kendry as well and Chase Utley is way, way better than Howie. I might go as far as to say Albert Pujols at first base and anyone of us at second base would outperform those Angels. And I haven't turned two in a long, long time.
Jeremy: Pujols by himself is the best right side of the infield, left side of the infield, and the best team in baseball. And Sully, I'm surprised you're underselling your Sox infield with the reigning MVP at the keystone and the AL's second best hitter this year at first. Come to think of it, the only positions where I'd give the Angels a definite advantage this season are on the left side of the infield and in center.
Sully: I agree, guys. My only point is that if they've been this good for this long - Morales and Kendrick, what's 5, 10, 15 more games?
Rich: As a fan, I hope it's more than five games.
Sky: I'm not a big fan of the hot hand theory. For a two month period, the standard error of OBP, is 35 points - larger for SLG or OPS. The variability out there due to chance is just huge, so it's hard to read into what's going on. Kendrick in particular has had a big second half, but over the course of the year and over the course of his career, he's been about a league average hitter. Is it possible he's made adjustments and is a far better hitter than he was in May? Yes, but I'd bet that most of the uptick is due to random variation.
Sully: Ok let's start digging into some of the personnel. Can we agree the Red Sox have the two best starting pitchers in the series? Even the most charitable interpretation of the Angels pitching resurgence in the second half does not render John Lackey or Kazmir or Weaver better than Jon Lester or Josh Beckett, right?
Sky: I'll agree with that. I also like the Boston bullpen. Papelbon has a significant edge over Fuentes in my opinion, and in the postseason, the closer really takes on added importance - especially now that they've added more off days to the schedule. Fuentes also hasn't pitched more than 1 inning in a game all season long - it will be interesting to see if that changes come playoffs. We know the Sox won't be shy about putting Papelbon out there for extended outings.
Rich: The Angels bullpen has been up and down all year long. Like all Scioscia's closers, Fuentes has a lot of saves, but he doesn't inspire much confidence in highly leveraged situations. A lefthander, he's slinging 89-91 mph fastballs up there. The combination of his arm angle and breaking ball has been successful against left-handed batters (.239/.308/.282 with no HR in 78 TBF), but it's been rather pedestrian vs. right-handed hittters (.261/.358/.428 with 6 HR in 164 TBF). Kevin Jepsen has much better stuff. He developed a cutter during the season and was lights out for a long stretch during the second half. He also throws a 96+ mph fastball and a nasty breaking ball. I suspect he's not very well known right now but believe he may get his due on the national stage this week. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ervin Santana's potential impact on the bullpen. It's easy to forget that he was the Angels best starter last season. His fastball/slider combo figures to be a welcomed addition throughout the playoffs.
Dave: Yeah Jepsen has really flown under the radar as a very good reliever. This year he has struck out more batters per inning and walked fewer batters per inning than Fuentes. Plus he is an extreme ground ball pitcher (16% LD, 57% GB, 27% FB) while Fuentes is an extreme fly ball pitcher (17% LD, 36 % GB, 47% FB). It would be interesting to see what Scioscia would do if, say, he had both pitchers available going into the ninth up by one with Bay, Lowell and Vartiek due up. All three hit lefties much better. I think Scoscia would be giving up a lot sticking with his traditional closer there.
Sully: While the Red Sox may have more and better options, the specific deployment will be a more difficult task than meets the eye. Terry Francona will face some of the challenges that Scioscia figures to. Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez and Daniel Bard have all struggled of late. In fact, Delcarmen will not even be on the roster for the ALDS. Will Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner be Francona's go-to setup men?
Rich: Kudos to Boston's front office for picking up Wagner. The lefty is still throwing gas and striking out batters like always. Incredible. Saito's strikeout rate is down and his walk and home run rates are up since his years with the Dodgers, but he's still been a pretty effective pitcher the past couple months. Neither reliever, however, has been used on back-to-back days very often. Both are approaching 40 and coming off injuries so they seem like high-beta risks and rewards from afar.
Dave: Jumping topics a little bit. One thing to consider is that if the Yankees want to force the Twins/Tigers winner to play games two days in a row they will take the long series that starts Wednesday. That means the Angels/Red Sox series will be the short one and both team will be forced to use four-man rotations. Do you guys think that is a clear advantage to either team?
Rich: Not really. I think both teams have a strong four. Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Dice-K vs. Lackey, Weaver, Kazmir, and Saunders. Saunders may be the weakest link here, mainly due to his poor strikeout rate. But he has been a much more effective pitcher since returning from the DL in August. He's throwing harder and with better command than in the first half of the season. Most writers and analysts have conceded the starting and relief pitching edge to the Red Sox. While I understand why, I don't think the advantage is as large as the consensus believes.
Sully: I think this series actually sets up nicely for the Red Sox. You have to think they can muster a split with the big pitching advantage in Games 1 and 2. Then, they're so good in Fenway that they might be able to win a high scoring affair or two should Buchholz or Matsuzaka falter. What do you guys forsee happening?
Sky: I like both the Red Sox pitching as well as hitting over the Angels, but it's close. I'm going with the Red Sox in 5, with the bullpen making the difference.
Jeremy: I think the Red Sox win in 4. I don't see them losing a game where Beckett or Lester pitches.
Sully: I think the Red Sox win in 4 as well, but I think that is a certifiable fanboy prediction. This series has me really uneasy; this might be the best Angels team of their whole recent run of success.
Dave: I think the Red Sox are the slightly better team, but with the home field advantage I am going to go Angels in 5.
Rich: This series is between two of the best three teams in baseball. It's a shame that one of them will get knocked out this early. But that's the nature of the post-season. I believe it could go either way. I'll give the smallest of edges to Boston until proven otherwise. Red Sox in five.