Yogi Berra said it best: It's deja vu all over again.
In the past, the Red Sox have delivered nothing short of a royal beating to our beloved Halos. But as Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said on ESPN radio last week, things will be different this year.
At least, they should be.
The Angels took the season series from the Red Sox for the second year in a row, going 5-4 in nine contests, including two series victories and a 4-2 record at the Big A.
They also featured the most productive lineup in Angels history, leading the league in team batting average at .285 and setting a new single season franchise record with 883 runs scored, second on the season to the New York Yankees.
However, I've already illustrated the differences in this Angels squad that should lead them to their first postseason victory over the Sox, and they can be found here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/266023-torii-hunter-angels-doing-something-different-in-playoffs-this-year .
This is about what you the viewer—and hopefully, the fan—will have to look forward to from the 2009 American League West Champions in this first round match-up.
Here are the top three things to watch for from the Angels in the American League Division Series:
1.The Angels Will Hit Their First Grand Slam of The Year
Irony of ironies. In a season when they scored more runs than ever before in their 49-year history, when four guys belted 20-plus home runs and two more hit 15, the Angels remained the only team in the Majors to fail to hit a grand slam.
It's sort of sad, really. Even teams like the Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Francisco Giants, all of whom struggled like mad to score runs all season, managed to pop a bases-loaded salami here and there.
The closest the Angels came to accomplishing the ultimate offensive feat was during their three-game shellacking of Minnesota at the beginning of August.
In his final Metrodome appearance, Kendry Morales belted two three-run homers. However, the second came after a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Juan Rivera.
Had he simply had the decency to strike out, K-Mo might have put up seven RBI on two swings.
But no matter, this team will have ample opportunities this postseason.
On top of being among the league leaders in batting average and runs scored, the Angels also took the most walks (547) this year than they've had since 2000.
The bases will be full of Halos all series long, and guys like Morales, Vladimir Guerrero, and Juan Rivera are going to see their share of big RBI chances.
It's only a matter of time until someone puts it in the seats.
2.Reggie Willits Will Hit His First Career Home Run
That's right, I said it. Shrimpy little “3-and-2” Willits is going to work the count like he always does, and then belt his first late-inning fastball out of a Major League ballpark.
In fact, he may be the one to get the Angels' first grand slam of '09.
Willits is going to be on the bench for the ALDS, but he'll no doubt see some time on the base paths late in games, pinch-running for the not-so-fleet-of-foot Guerrero or Rivera.
If that happens, he will also likely get an at-bat or two, and while his batting plan is usually “bunt first, swing later,” I see him taking a guy like Manny Delcarmen or even Jonathan Papelbon deep—right-handed relievers who throw nothing but heat, providing all the power that Willits lacks.
He'll be especially dangerous if he can get in a game at Fenway Park, where Pesky's Pole is only about 20 feet down the right field line.
In fact, you might want to just TiVo Game 3.
3.Brian Fuentes Will Blow Two—Yes Two—Saves and Still Keep His Job
Despite leading the Majors in saves with 48, Fuentes has been anything but dominant this year.
Inconsistent, lackluster, even lucky. But hardly the kind of brute force necessary to be a successful closer in the postseason.
He famously blew a save in Boston earlier this season. True, he clearly got screwed on two calls that should have ended the game, but the fact is Fuentes had two outs with nobody on base and still managed to lose the game.
And that was just the regular season.
Even the great Francisco Rodriguez couldn't keep the Red Sox down in the playoffs, and K-Rod he is not.
Yet, manager Mike Scioscia has stubbornly insisted that Fuentes will be his man in the postseason, so expect to see his weak, left-handed stuff early and often in this series.
With the Angels' dual propensity for scoring runs this season and still playing in their fair share of close games, Fuentes will have plenty of work—and plenty of chances to give up runs to this high-powered Red Sox offense.
I suspect that this series will go at least four games, if not the full five. If that holds true, it will be because Fuentes continues to be used in a role for which he is simply not suited.
Lefty specialist? Fine. But the closer's job for the Angels should be by committee in the ALDS.
Instead, Fuentes will do more to save games for Boston than he will for L.A.
So there you have it. Despite Fuentes' presence in the bullpen, I'm still sticking with the Angels' offense in four over the BoSox.
Their offense was finally heating up again at the end of the regular season, the starting pitching has been masterful over the last month, and Boston sucks something awful when it comes to throwing out potential base-stealers.
The Angels should take full advantage of their opponents' weaknesses, playing their patented brand of run-and-gun, first-to-third style of offense, a perfect complement to that rock-steady defense they've used to back up guys like Fuentes all season long.
Maybe then, they'll break this ridiculous streak and finally give the Red Sox a taste of their own first-round medicine.