This is the article I never wanted to write. At the very least, the Angels avoided being swept, did not lose game three after the three-run popup (at the time I said they better either win the game or lose by four or more runs). Each of the four games was a close one, decided by one to three runs. The Angels played hard, determined baseball, if not always fundamentally sound baseball. There were a number of reasons this series ended in the loss column.
The key reasons why this series ended in the loss column
Jon Lester. He pitched like an ace in this series, as he had much of the season, especially the second half. His fielding independent pitching (FIP), however, was 3.72, 50 points above his ERA, and his xFIP, which normalizes the homerun rate, was 4.19. Red Sox fans will tell you that he’s a different pitcher now, cancer free and throwing harder than before. My projection system doesn’t believe it, and while he throws hard for a lefty, let’s not make him out to be the next Randy Johnson. The radar guns in this series were juiced, as they usually are for playoffs and ESPN broadcasts. The absolute numbers mean very little in this case, all I know for sure is that Lester throws his fastball about 1 mph faster then Joe Saunders. Anyway, regardless of how good he really is he threw two outstanding games.
Howie Kendrick. In game one, Howie stranded five men on base in his first two at-bats with two out. If there were ever any chances to get to Lester, Howie is the one who had the best chance. After a hamstring injury in late August, Kendrick barely had time to get ready to play, and the playoff games are not the best option for injury rehab. In game two, Howie was even worse. He struck out four times in five at-bats, with the most costly one in the seventh inning, with bases loaded and one out. The next inning he failed to cover second on an Ellsbury steal attempt.
In game three he was one of three Angels partially to blame for letting a three-run popup drop in, though primary responsibility must go to the center fielder. Howie did at least have two hits in that game, and the Angels finally won one. In game four he went hitless and bobbled a possible double play ball, settling for one out, allowing a run to score, and another runner moving into scoring position (where he scored on the next AB). It was a tough series for Howie, and I hope he’s able to put it behind him because I really like this kid. At times though, he looked completely clueless out there, taking or swinging and missing at fastballs right down the middle, only to flail helplessly at breaking pitches in the dirt once he was down in the count.
Baserunning. Vladimir Guerrero was thrown out going first to third by 20 feet in game one. Torii Hunter was out by a mile trying for a double in game three, diving and coming short of the bag by several feet. Reggie Willits was tagged out on a busted squeeze play in the ninth inning of game four. These were not necessarily bad gambles to make, but in each case the Angels lost a baserunner and an out, and that’s a big reason why they lost the series.
The good news for the Angels
The starting pitching was decent. John Lackey pitched two very good games, Ervin Santana recovered well from a horrible first inning, and Joe Saunders pitched much better than his line of 4.2 innings, four runs tells you. In a just world, three of those runs would be unearned.
They outhit the Red Sox, 42-38, and were even in walks at 15. The difference is they didn’t get the hits at the right time, but it looks a lot better to get people on and strand them than to never have base runners to begin with (as in last year’s series).
Hunter, Guerrero, Figgins, and Teixiera all had good series, with seven hits each. They just could put them together in the same inning often enough. Mike Napoli supplied all the power with his two homer game.
The Angels put a dent in the “Josh Beckett, playoff god” mythology. If they play again next year, they’ll just have to do the same to Lester, assuming Tampa Bay doesn’t do it first.
I’m not happy about the outcome, but I’m happy the Angels at least made it a series, instead of a first round bye, and ended the stupid 23 year streak.