Danny Moloshok/Associated Press
The Angels and Dodgers have met 100 times since 1997, with the Angels winning 57 of those games, but never have they gone head-to-head in the playoffs. The Dodgers did their part this season, however, taking three-of-four from the Halos for their first series win since 2006.
If you were looking for a way to raise the stakes in the Freeway Series, you've found it.
Catcher: A.J. Ellis has been a disappointment on both sides of the plate for the Dodgers while the Angels' two-headed tandem has the bat (Chris Iannetta) and the pitch-framing ability (Hank Conger) that teams hope to find in one neat little package.
First Base: Somewhere along the way, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols became the same player, both at the plate and in the field.
Sure, Gonzalez has a slight edge defensively, while Pujols offers a bit more power, but for all intents and purposes, they are on an equal plane.
Second Base: Equals defensively, it comes down to what you value more: Howie Kendrick's run-producing ability or Dee Gordon's game-changing speed. With neither Conger nor Iannetta particularly good at controlling the opposition's running game, that speed could become a major factor.
Third Base: Juan Uribe is the better all-around third baseman, but it's foolish to discount the Angels' David Freese when the playoffs roll around. It was only three years ago that Freese took home MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. That said, it was three years ago, which is an eternity in baseball.
Shortstop: With all due respect to Erick Aybar, who is a fine shortstop, a healthy Hanley Ramirez is on a completely different level despite his defensive shortcomings.
Outfield: You've got two of the game's most exciting players in Yasiel Puig and Mike Trout and a pair of former All-Stars, Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton, both in search of their former glory.
Kemp looks far closer to ending his search than Hamilton does, and Hamilton found himself called out in the press by his manager, Mike Scioscia. Per Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News:
Josh is not the same that we saw when we were looking at the other dugout. He’s not in the batter’s box with the confidence we know he has. He’s not attacking the ball like he can. He’s working hard to try to find it …but we need him to do what he’s capable of doing, or close to that.
Hamilton agreed with his manager's assessment, as he told ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins, but would it surprise anyone if the 2010 AL MVP went on an October tear? He's the X-factor in all of this.
While Angels leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun is underrated, the Dodgers have the depth advantage, with Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke all capable of contributing.
Advantage: Dodgers (Unless Hamilton is able to find his mojo)
Designated Hitter: Ethier isn't having a fantastic season by any means, but he's still a more dangerous hitter than Brennan Boesch or Colin Cowgill, who have been splitting time at DH for the Angels.
Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards and C.J. Wilson form a formidable top three for the Angels, who would likely turn to rookie Matt Shoemaker if they needed a fourth starter. But they're no match for the Dodgers top three of Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet.
While the Dodgers were content to stand pat with a mediocre bullpen as the non-waiver trade deadline approached, the Angels were busy revamping theirs.
The additions of left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher, former All-Star closer Jason Grilli and current All-Star closer Huston Street turned one of the team's biggest weaknesses into a legitimate strength.
The Dodgers have their own share of former All-Stars and recognizable names, including Brandon League, Chris Perez and Brian Wilson, but after closer Kenley Jansen and setup man J.P. Howell, it's hard to find a reliable reliever among the group.
The Dodgers. Despite the presence of Mike Trout, the best all-around player in baseball and quality arms on the pitching staff, the Angels lack the impact bats in the lineup—and the depth—to keep pace.