The Wild Card Boston Red Sox (95-67) meet the Los Angeles Angels (100-62) in the first round of the American League playoffs. As is often the case, pitching is of primary importance. With that in mind, this looks to be a close series. Both clubs possess excellent starters and fine bullpens. But if it comes down to hitting, then the Red Sox’s vast firepower should win it.
The Red Sox pitching staff was plus-151 in Runs Scored/Runs Allowed (RS/RA) differential. Their team ERA was 4.01, which was third in the league, while the Angels, who posted a plus-68 RS/RA, garnered a 4.14 ERA, which ranked them fifth.
The bad news for Red Sox Nation is that Josh Beckett (12-10, 172 SO, 4.03) is ailing with a strained oblique and will not open the ALDS. Beckett, who is one of the best post-season pitchers around, is slated to start game three. Jon Lester (16-6, 152 SO, 3.21 ERA) will open the series, while Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 154 SO, 2.90 ERA), who has been dominant all season, will start the second game. The bullpen includes dependable set-up man Hideki Okajima (62.0 IP, 60 SO, 2.61 ERA) and closer Jonathan Papelbon (69.1 IP, 41 SV, 5 BLSV, 77 SO, 2.34 ERA). There are some concerns about Papelbon, whose ERA is up from 1.85 last season to this year’s 2.34; his appearances in games are up by eight and innings pitched are at plus-11. The Sox closer has been fine but not as solid as in the past two seasons.
John Lackey (12-5, 130 SO, 3.75 ERA) gets the start in games one. The second contest will feature Ervin Santana (16-7, 214 SO, 3.49 ERA), while Joe Saunders (17-7, 103 SO, 3.41) gets the nod for game three. Santana, who led his club in Ks, has a keen fastball. Saunders notched the most wins and earned the lowest ERA in 2008. Set-up man Justin Speier (68.0 IP, 56 SO, 5.03 ERA) has been inconsistent. Closer Francisco Rodriguez (68.1 IP, 62 SV, 7 BLSV, 77 SO, 2.24 ERA) is one of the best around. He’s a tough competitor who’s capable of blowing away any hitter.
The Red Sox were first in OBP with a .358 mark and second in runs, scoring 845. Their team batting average of .280 was ranked second, while they were third in slugging percentage (.447). Here’s a surprise, the team from Beantown was third in stolen bases with 120. Los Angeles could also steal, taking 129 this season, ranking them second. But their hitting is below par. The team’s .268 BA was seventh and their 765 runs scored was 10th.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia finished second in the league in batting with a .326 average. The hustling second baseman also stole 20 bases and hit a team-high 54 doubles. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury stole a team-best 50 bases, while first baseman Kevin Youkilis excelled in many areas, including leading the team in homeruns (29), RBI (115) and OBP (.390). Center fielder Coco Crisp hit .283, stealing 20 bases. Designated hitter David Ortiz had an off year with a .264 average and 23 homers. Left fielder Jason Bay, who came to Boston in a three-way trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, has hit .293 and knocked out nine homers since arriving in Boston. There’s depth on the bench and plenty of power on this team.
The Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero, who plays right field, hit 27 round trippers, drove in 91 RBI and notched a .303 BA—all of which were tops on the team. Third baseman Chone Figgins’ .364 OBP is the best around. His 34 steals is also tops on the team. Garret Anderson, who plays left field, offers a .293 BA with 15 homeruns. Torii Hunter, who plays center, has hit 21 homeruns and holds a .278 BA. First baseman Mark Teixeira, who came over from Atlanta and has played in 54 games with the Angels, sports a .358 BA, 23 SB and 13 homeruns.
In fielding, Boston made just 84 errors, earning a ranking of 12th and had a fielding percentage of .986, which tied them for best in the AL. The Angels were not quite as good with the glove, making 91 errors and successfully fielding balls .985 percent of the time. The Red Sox injury report includes Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Josh Beckett. All are listed as being day-to-day and each is expected to play. The Angels are healthy.
Boston was weak on the road, going 39-42, while Los Angeles went 50-31 at home and away. With home field advantage, no injured players and a tough to beat pitching staff and closer, this could be the season that the Angels take it to the Red Sox. Then again, Terry Francona seems to know how to handle Boston in the post-season, while Angeles’ manager Mike Scioscia has been unable to beat the Sox in the playoffs.