The Angels finished the regular season 94-68, two games behind the Red Sox, whose 96 wins led the majors. Most people are going to pick the Red Sox to win this series. I initially balked when I was asked to write this article, because I’m not one for overconfident boasting, and prefer the reverse jinx to actually jinxing my team. I changed my mind because, first of all, anything I write here has absolutely zero effect on what the Angels do on the field.
More than that, using the reverse jinx is something that fans of doomed franchises do. It’s a way of coping with impending defeat before it happens. The Angels are a doomed franchise no more. They have won their third division title in four years, and this one was a title the team expected to win from day one, as they came in to the 2007 season with far more talent than anyone else in their division. They were the favorites, and they did not disappoint. Finally, there is no reason to prepare a coping strategy for when the Angels lose this series, because the Angels are going to win it.
The Red Sox, because of their record, had the opportunity to choose the long or the short playoff format. By choosing the long format, both teams will be able to bring back the games one and two starters for games four and five on normal rest. This is to the Angels’ advantage as they can start John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar twice each; assuming it takes the Angels that long to dispatch the Red Sox. While the Red Sox are reluctant to start Tim Wakefield or Jon Lester, the gap between one of those two and a second Curt Schilling or Daisuke Matsuzaka start is less than the gap between Escobar and Joe Saunders.
John Lackey has simply been the best starting pitcher in the American League this season. A Cy Young candidate along with Red Sox ace Josh Beckett and Cleveland pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, John won the league ERA title at 3.01 by throwing seven shutout innings in his final start. While the media may tout Beckett for the Cy Young because he won 20 games, Lackey had a better ERA and pitched 24 more innings. This was not just a function of pitching in an easier ballpark, as Lackey also had the better ERA+, 144 to 139.
On offense, the Red Sox outscored the Angels 867 to 822, but considering the ballparks they play in (baseball-reference.com has a 95 batter park factor for Angel Stadium and 102 for Fenway) the Angels’ run total is more impressive. The Angels are an extremely aggressive baserunning team, and the Red Sox are the kind of team you can run on. Catcher Jason Varitek threw out only 23% of opposing runners this year. Left fielder Manny Ramirez has a decent arm but gives you chances to run by taking forever to get to the ball, and center fielder Coco Crisp has no arm at all, though J.D. Drew in right throws well.
The Red Sox player who is most capable of shutting down the Angels running game is, believe it or not, designated hitter David Ortiz. If the Angel pitchers struggle, Ortiz is probably the guy who did the damage, and the Angels will not run as often if they are behind in the game. Angels pitchers must make sure this does not happen. The Red Sox have done a good job running this year as well. They don’t run as often as the Angels, but stole bases at a higher percentage. Mike Napoli threw out only 21% of opposing runners, while Jeff Mathis only caught 17%. The Red Sox basestealers will face little resistance. Angels outfielders are much tougher to run on than the Red Sox. Vladimir Guerrero has the best arm in the league. Gary Matthews Jr. in center has a strong arm, though if he’s hurt, Reggie Willits does not throw as well. Garret Anderson has an average arm in left but is very accurate and very quick on his release.
While the Red Sox outhomered the Angels 166 to 123 during the season, the Angels’ playoff lineup may be able to match the Red Sox in power. With Gary Matthews in center, Mike Napoli behind the plate, and Juan Rivera at designated, the Angels have the power to match the Red Sox. If Willits has to play due to Matthews’ injury, Jeff Mathis does the catching, and Maicer Izturis is used at DH, then power is not our friend and the Angels will just have to find a different way to win.
The Red Sox allowed fewer runs than the Angels did this year, 657 to 731, despite playing in the tougher park. Their pitching and defense had a year to be proud of in 2007, but in a five-game series depth means nothing, we have to compare front line pitching. In four of the five possible games, the Angel starter will have the better season ERA than his Boston counterpart. Even in game three, Schilling only holds a slim .04 edge on Jered Weaver. The Angels’ team runs allowed total included 250 terrible innings from Bartolo Colon and Ervin Santana. In the playoffs, they will be pitching long relief, if they pitch at all.
In games one, two, and three relief pitchers will be pitching on rest and likely able to pitch multiple innings. While Scot Shields has struggled since the All-Star Break, the Angels can go to Justin Speier and Francisco Rodriguez for two innings each if needed. If the Red Sox were in a similar situation, Jon Papelbon for two innings would not be a pleasant experience, so the Angels must dictate the game situation and make sure he pitches no more than Troy Percival did when these teams met in 2004.
Why are the Angels going to win? It comes down to front line pitching, running wild on Varitek and Coco Crisp, and surprising everyone with the power this lineup has when everyone is healthy, just like they did in 2002. For a prediction, I’ll take the Angels in four, though I won’t be upset if they finish it in three. John Lackey wins the opener and the closer to make himself a household name, and Vladimir Guerrero gets on one of his hot streaks that lasts the whole series.
References & Resources
Disagree? Check out why Ben Jacobs thinks the Red Sox will win.