The Red Sox and the Angels will begin their American League Division Series on Wednesday night at 6:30 PM from Fenway Park. Two Cy Young candidates will take to the hill for their respective teams. Josh Beckett will go for Boston and he will be opposed by the ace of the Angels staff, John Lackey. Lackey, however, has struggled against Boston throughout his career. This is especially true when he pitches at Fenway Park where he has a 7.98 career ERA. How Lackey pitches will be a major factor in this series.
The Red Sox and the Angels were the two best teams in baseball for a majority of the 2007 season, so who has the edge? Here's the breakdown.
The Red Sox and the Angels have two very different styles of offense. The Red Sox can score runs in bunches, while the Angels like to use their speed on the basepaths and play small ball. On the whole, the Red Sox offense is more dynamic. They are now among the league leaders in stolen bases, collecting 96 on the year. The Angels stole a total of 139. The Red Sox knocked in 867 runs this season, compared to 822 for Anaheim. Boston also outhomered Anaheim by a fair amount.
Another major issue in the series will be the health of some of the Angels key hitters and the health of Manny Ramirez. Ramirez looked fine in his return from injury, but he still hasn't played a full game since returning. It appears that Manny is able to play a full game without issue and that Terry Francona was simply being careful with one of his key sluggers. Gary Matthews, on the other hand, is a player who can make an impact with his speed. Unfortunately for Anaheim, Matthews has battled with serious knee and ankle issues of late. Vladimir Guerrero is another player of concern. Guerrero has been recently relegated to the DH role as a result of a triceps/forearm injury.
Keep an eye on JD Drew this series. He's been hot throughout September, playing some of his best baseball of the season. Drew also clubbed a 3-run homer on Saturday which allowed the Red Sox to clinch the best record in the American League. With the fans behind him, JD Drew might have his confidence back at the right time. David Ortiz has also been hot of late, hitting over .400 in September. He also appears to have his power stroke back and claims to be feeling better after he took a cortisone shot for his balky knee.
Boston clearly has the edge in the offensive game, but the Angels do have a highly capable offense. If Vladimir Guerrero is hot, the Red Sox will have no qualms about pitching around him with Garret Anderson as his only protection.Starting Pitching:
John Lackey and Josh Beckett will square off in Game 1 (and Game 4 if necessary). Lackey has historically struggled against the Red Sox, especially in Fenway Park and nobody can be quite sure of the reason. Despite his 7.98 lifetime ERA in Fenway Park, I believe that John Lackey will pitch well in his start(s). The only question is, will he be able to outpitch Josh Beckett?
Beckett is coming off of a lackluster start against the Twins, but he should be able to bounce back in the postseason where he thrived during the Marlins championship run.
Kelvim Escobar and Daisuke Matsuzaka will oppose each other in Game 2 (and Game 5 if necessary). The season numbers favor Escobar, however, Matsuzaka has been pitching better lately. Dice-K has no previous playoff experience, but he has pitched and excelled in some big games. Just remember back to the World Baseball Classic of 2006 of which he was the MVP. His strong performances for Japan allowed them to become the first champion of the tournament.
Curt Schilling will face Jared Weaver in Game 3 from Anaheim. Historically, Schilling has been a great pitcher in the postseason and he should have a little bit of gas left in the tank for some additional playoff magic.
The Red Sox season starting pitching ERA was lower than that of the Angels, however, 4th and 5th starters are included in that equation and we won't be seeing any of them in this series.
The Red Sox have the slight advantage here.Bullpen:
Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez have been studs for their respective teams all season long. It will likely be the middle relief that plays a large role in this series.
The Red Sox have some questions in that department as Hideki Okajima has recently battled a tired arm and Eric Gagne has struggled since his acquisition. The good news: Gagne has been much better recently, using his changeup and curveball while Hideki Okajima pitched decently in his 2 appearances after returning from tired arm.
The Red Sox should be seeing alot of Justin Speier, Scot Shields, and Darren Oliver (David Ortiz will be anyway). Speier, as expected, has been very good all season long. Scot Shields, on the other hand, has struggled mightily of recent. Shields has a 3.86 ERA on the season, a number that has risen steadily during the second half of the season.
David Ortiz is 2/9 lifetime against Darren Oliver, but something tells me he'll get the best of Oliver at some point during this series.
Also pitching out of the bullpen will be Mike Timlin who has regained my respect with a strong comeback season. Manny Delcarmen should also get some action in the series. Javier Lopez will be the lefty specialist.
Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez were left off the playoff roster. Wakefield due to a sore back; Tavarez probably due to subpar performance.
It appears that the bullpens are about even, only because of the uncertainties around Eric Gagne and Hideki Okajima. If those two are on the top of their game, Boston's bullpen has the strong advantage.Other Factors:
The Red Sox have been very tough at Fenway Park this season and will get to play 3 games there if the series goes the distance. The Red Sox went 51-30 at home this season, while the Angels went 40-41 on the road. The Angels had the best home record, but will only get to play a maximum of two games there.
Terry Francona's bullpen management could also play a part in this series. It will be interesting to see how much he trusts Eric Gagne and Hideki Okajima and in what situations he is willing to use them in.
Jacoby Ellsbury will likely be coming off the bench for the majority of the games. He will give the Red Sox a good speed option off the bench for the late innings. He may also prove to be a very good late inning defensive replacement for Manny Ramirez if the Sox have the lead.Prediction:
The Red Sox mixture of starting pitching and offense will prove to be too much for the Angels. Boston wins the series in 5 games.