Given thedifference in quality between the two leagues, this opening-round series ismore like a semifinal or even finals-caliber matchup. The Red Sox and theAngels were third and fourth, respectively, in the majors in run differentialthis season, and third and second in wins.
These Angels arenothing like the ones you remember from past Octobers. They have scored moreruns than any other Angels team in the Mike Scioscia era. They've hit more homeruns and drawn more walks than any Scioscia club with the exception of hisfirst, in 2000. While they still run a lot—211 stolen-base attempts, the secondmost in his tenure—they were caught a league-high 63 times and have become aslower team overall.
Los Angeles alsoallowed more runs than it has since 2000. The bullpen is almost entirely new,and the struggles of closer Brian Fuentes (3.93 ERA, seven blown saves) arerepresentative of lowered effectiveness across the entire pen. That makes theAngels more reliant on their rotation, which was an asset in the regular seasonthanks to its depth. L.A. is 79--47 since ace John Lackey's first real start,on May 18 (he was ejected after the second pitch of a start two days earlier),which marked the end of early-season jerry-rigging due to injuries and thedeath of rookie Nick Adenhart. As deep as the rotation is, however, it lackstop-tier starters to match up with the Red Sox' Jon Lester and Josh Beckett,even granting Scott Kazmir's good work since his acquisition from the Rays onAug. 28. The Angels will have the lesser starter in at least three of the fivegames.
Boston was able towin 95 games while ditching its shortstop and catcher and a big chunk of itsmidseason rotation, and while watching its once-mighty DH David Ortiz loseanother 83 points of OPS from '08, when he fell off 189 points from theprevious season. Despite challenges from the Rangers and the Rays, however, theRed Sox were never in real danger of missing the postseason, and they spentmuch of the second half tinkering with lineups and roles. Now that thepostseason is here, the challenge is to get the best team on the field. Thatmeans reducing catcher Jason Varitek to a full-time spectator, sliding Ortizdown in the lineup and allowing Billy Wagner to assume a greater role in theleague's best bullpen. There's a potential champion here.
The Angels would bea favorite against five of the seven postseason teams, but they once again drawthe Sox, who can match them bat for bat and have both better front-end startersand a big edge in the bullpen. Red Sox in four.
CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP
LEFTY GROOVE The Angels have no answer for the Sox' top two of Lester (left) and Beckett.