In a year in which the American League East was Boston’s to lose, the Tampa Bay Rays snuck up to win the division and left the Red Sox in the wild-card spot.
As the wild card, the Red Sox draw the AL-best Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series, which is set to get underway Oct. 1 in Anaheim.
Another meeting with the Angels in the LDS may forecast greatness for the 2008 Red Sox. The Red Sox eliminated Los Angeles in the 2004 and 2007 ALDS, on their way to a World Series sweep in both seasons.
This Angels team is unlike any the Red Sox have seen in the past. Right fielder Vladimir Guerrero isn’t the threat at the plate. John Lackey isn’t the only ace-worthy pitcher that will take the hill next week.
But Boston isn’t the typical Red Sox team of old. Manny Ramirez is no longer manning left field. Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis are the ones now providing protection to David Ortiz in the batting order.
Let’s take a look at how the two powerhouses stack up in their third postseason meeting since 2004.
Los Angeles has received bunches of consistency from center fielder Torii Hunter and right fielder Vladimir Guerrero. The two have combined for 48 home runs and 169 RBI. Add Garrett Anderson’s .294 batting average, 15 homers, and 84 RBI, and you’ve got one heck of a productive outfield.
Boston took a huge blow when right fielder J.D. Drew had a back injury keep him out of the starting lineup for most of the second half of the season. The unpredictable nature of Drew’s injury may keep him off of the LDS roster.
Jason Bay has been the statistical leader in the outfield, while Jacoby Ellsbury has given the lineup a spark at the top of the order.
Advantage - With the more productive bats and slightly more reliable fielding, the Angels hold the upper hand.
The corners are the story for both teams.
The acquisition of first baseman Mark Teixeira gave Guerrero some much-needed protection in the lineup.
Teixeira’s power is complemented by third baseman Chone Figgins’ speed on the basepaths. Figgins is to the Angels what Ellsbury is to the Red Sox—a speedster with a good eye and a quick bat that gets on base.
The injury bug struck Boston’s infield as well this summer. 2007 World Series Most Valuable Player Mike Lowell had been experiencing hip problems for much of August and September before returning to the lineup in the season’s final series.
Kevin Youkilis has been the unsung hero for Boston this season. Youk’s 29 home runs and 115 RBI are both team highs. His glove has been just as valuable, playing substantial time at both corner outfield positions.
Advantage – The return of Lowell, coupled with Jed Lowrie and AL hits-leader Dustin Pedroia shoring up the middle infield, gives the defending champs the edge.
Top-shelf talent on the mound won’t be hard to find in this series.
Four of the top-10 ERA marks in the American League belong to pitchers in this series. The aces of both staffs—Boston’s Josh Beckett and Los Angeles’ John Lackey—have World Series-clinching victories in their careers. And when the game is close in the ninth, two of the best closers in all of baseball will be available.
As is the case in most postseason series, the bullpen will be the deciding factor. Last year, it was Hideki Okajima that led Boston’s bullpen to the ice-cold Jonathan Papelbon.
Los Angeles’ team ERA of 3.99 ranks third in the American League and the bullpen is just as responsible as the starters. When a team wins more than 90 games decided by three runs or less, the bullpen is surely responsible.
Advantage – Despite Boston’s experience in last year’s postseason, Los Angeles has to have the advantage. A lights-out bullpen is a great weapon to have in the playoffs.
Los Angeles has the best record in the American League, but the Red Sox are the defending World Champions. Both teams are perennial playoff threats and consistently win more than 90 games per season. An edge is may be hard to find.
The Red Sox have won their last six playoffs games against Los Angeles. Boston has been fighting for the last three weeks while the Angels haven’t had much to fight for since winning the division in early September.
Advantage – The two factors mentioned in the previous paragraph will give the champs a slight edge.
The winner of this series could very well be punching a ticket to the Fall Classic. The Red Sox and Angels established themselves as the best in the A.L. early in the season and have the firepower, pitching, and experience to win it all this year.
Despite having the best record in the league and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Angels' offense relies too much on the pitching. Los Angeles doesn’t score a ton of runs, which is why the bullpen has played such an integral role in the team’s success this season.
Only the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs scored more runs this season. The Red Sox are also in the top-10 in the majors in team ERA. If the Angels were playing an average offense, they’d cruise to victory. Unfortunately for the Angels, the Red Sox are anything but average.
Prediction – Boston in five.