No organization or fan base is more nervous heading into the 2009 Major League Baseball Playoffs than those affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Los Angeles won the World Series in 2002 and made it to the American League Championship Series in 2005, but have also been tossed out of the American League Divisional Series in 2004, 2007, and 2008, with all of those ALDS losses coming at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
It's tough to avoid criticism for those first-round losses, especially since they were viewed by the drunk and obnoxious, pizza-throwing buffoons that make up the Red Sox Nation.
Barring highly-unlikely circumstances, Los Angeles will face Boston once again in the ALDS this October, with the 'Sox coming to Edison Field next week so long as the Angels don’t completely collapse and give the AL West title to the Texas Rangers.
Because of the recent history between the two teams, the Angels will not only have to beat the Red Sox physically, but also overcome themselves mentally in order to move onto the ALDS.
They’ll see two familiar faces in the fourteen and sixteen-game winners Jon Lester and Josh Beckett in games one and two, both of whom they didn’t exactly light up in the playoffs last year, though they did score four runs against Beckett.
And the Angels will certainly hear the Red Sox fans grow louder in their home stadium if they find themselves down by a couple of runs heading into the latter-half of game one, perhaps causing them to think that the series will go Boston’s way once again.
Most people will discard them right away as a postseason threat, and I don’t blame them.
However, it is not illogical to think that 2009 could be different for the Angels.
The team may no longer feature slugger Mark Teixeira, but you could argue that they have a stronger lineup than last year’s team, with the emergence of Kendry Morales and the addition of Bobby Abreu to go along with Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero.
And the team is also playing meaningful baseball in September thanks to the Rangers, whereas last year they clinched the AL West on Sept. 10.
The Angels will also go into the postseason after having played 13 of their last 16 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers.
We all know how much the New York Giants benefited by playing the New England Patriots in the week immediately proceeding the 2008 NFL Playoffs, and maybe the Angels schedule will reap dividends for their hitters and pitching staff in a similar manner.
Angels starting pitchers Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Joe Saunders all have a good amount of postseason experience and can compete with anyone when their stuff is clicking, and their bullpen is solid, as Brian Fuentes may not be as explosive as former Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, but he is arguably just as effective (he was tied with Minnesota’s Joe Nathan for the most saves in the league with 44 as of Sept. 24).
But all that talent may still not be enough for the Angels to beat Boston.
The 'Sox not only have the mental edge over the Angels, but also a better manager in Terry Francona, and hitters and pitchers who know how to win in the postseason.
Francona’s team will definitely be more relaxed heading into the series, which has been one of the key’s to their postseason success in the past, and the addition of a hungry Victor Martinez also doesn’t hurt.
The Angels season is definitely not a failure regardless of whether they make it past Boston or not, as most fans will remember this team for how they rallied together after the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart in early April to have another 90-plus win season.
That alone obviously gives them and their fans a lot to be proud of.
The reason for the Angels’ success in the regular season during these last three seasons is because of how loose they play under manager Mike Scioscia, and he’ll have to figure out a way to keep his team relaxed next week while hoping that his hitters' bats can catch fire right away at the same time.
I don’t think that the Angels can overcome losing another game one to the Red Sox due to the doubt that it will cast into their minds.