Why the Angels will beat the Red Sox

I wrote this same article last year and it didn’t turn out very well. Maybe I just need to keep resubmitting it until the real world results turn out correctly.

What are the chances the Angels will win this time? To answer this question, I could spend hours running updated projections for both the Angels and Red Sox, construct depth charts, and estimate the current true talent of each team. Then I could either feed the results into a simulation, or adjust each team’s true talent winning percentage for home field and calculate the odds of each team winning through a binomial equation. The result would be no greater than a 55-45 percent split, which is hardly definitive enough a conclusion to fit under this article’s title.

If you are looking for sober, rigorous, scientific, sabermetric baseball analysis to tell you who is going to win this series, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Such analysis can’t do much for you anyway. It can tell you that if the series is played 10,000 times, which team would win more often. But we play it only once. Welcome to the small sample size.

Grab a beer, sit down and enjoy this tribute to the 2008 Angels team. Unless you are a Red Sox fan reading this, in which case you can drown your sorrows in despair.

  • The Angels are the better team this year. They have won 100 games for the first time in franchise history. They are the only 100-win team in the majors leagues this year.

  • The Red Sox have the better run differential, but that’s no big deal. If they win one playoff game by eight runs, and the Angels win three one-run games with Francisco Rodriguez slamming the door, they can talk about run differential all they want as the Angels advance to the next round of the playoffs. The Angels have been winning close games for the last 162. It won’t last forever, but they just need it to last for another five games.

  • The Angels are an improved team from last year, especially compared to the beaten-up bunch that went to Fenway in the first round. Gary Matthews Jr. was unable to play that series, forcing Chone Figgins and Reggie Willits to play center. Garret Anderson and Maicer Izturis were the Nos. 4-5 hitters. No wonder Vlad got nothing to hit. The 2008 Angels feature a formidable middle of the order, with Guerrero, Mark Teixiera and Torii Hunter.

  • The Red Sox are not the same team as last year. They are close, but in the upcoming series they will miss Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling.

  • At the bottom of the order, the Angels have even more power. Mike Napoli has been healthy enough to play only 77 games this year, but he’s fine as they head into the playoffs, and hitting .263/.367/.558 as I write this. A contrast to the typical Angels style of putting the ball in play and running, Napoli is a three true outcomes superstar, a Jack Cust behind the plate, or a latter day Mickey Tettleton or Gene Tenace. Napoli behind the plate is a huge advantage over Jason Varitek. Varitek was once a fine player, but has found baseball difficult this year while trying to play with a giant fork stuck in his back.

  • The Angels know they can beat the Red Sox this year. Angels teams of the past have had their troubles against Boston, but this team has put those troubles behind it. The two teams played head to head nine times this year, with six of those in Fenway where the Red Sox are supposed to be unbeatable. The Angels won eight of the nine games. The one game the Angels lost was by one run. They won five games by two runs, one by four runs and two blowouts. For the year, the Angels outscored the Red Sox 61 to 33.

  • Mark Teixiera enters his first postseason right before he’s eligible for his first free agent contract. He’s already the premier position player on the market, but a few postseason highlights won’t hurt his quest for a megadeal. Teixiera has a history of getting better as the season wears on. For his career he’s hit .277/.366/.511 in the first half, and .306/.387/.580 in the second half. This trend is especially apparent in 2008: He’s hit .356/.448/.628 as an Angel. Does he get even better in the third part of the season, where he’s never had a chance to play before? Does he have a Carlos Beltran 2004 streak in him? I can’t wait to find out.

  • Some of the talking heads are making a big deal of the Red Sox potentially using Josh Beckett and Jon Lester four times in a five game series. (This was before Beckett got pushed back to Game 3.) They are very good pitchers, but there is a reason why Angels manager Mike Scioscia chose the late start series. He can start his own aces, John Lackey and Ervin Santana, twice each. Lester and Beckett have combined for 384 innings, allowing 3.70 runs per nine innings, with a 3.2 strikeout to walk ratio. Lackey and Santana are almost even in innings (382), just a hair behind in runs allowed (3.77) and have a superior strikeout to walk ratio (4.0).

  • Using three starters for the series means Scioscia doesn’t have to choose between Jon Garland (4.90 ERA) and Jered Weaver (4.33), while avoiding the knuckleball of the Red Sox fourth starter, Tim Wakefield.

  • Unlike last season, where the Red Sox starting nine were intact and the Angels had to put a makeshift lineup out there, health may be on the Angels’ side. All the players the Angels would prefer to start are ready to play. The Red Sox may be missing one of their best bats in J.D. Drew, and the drop-off from Drew to Mark Kotsay is steep. Drew played in two games in September. Even if he’s able to start, there is no guarantee he’ll be healthy enough to contribute. After a huge first half, Drew did nothing in the second half except walk, hitting .216/.397/.364. Mike Lowell missed several games toward the end of the season, and his availability and/or effectiveness for the playoffs is in question.

Look for the Angels to start this series the right way. John Lackey will pitch the opener, and the last time he faced the Red Sox he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning.

Prediction: Angels in five.

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