Why the Red Sox beat the Angels

A lot of people though the Red Sox and Angels would be pretty evenly matched in their AL Division Series.

While the Angels had a good team this season, that was never going to be the case. They simply didn’t match up well with the Red Sox, which was going to make it difficult to win anyway. Add to that the fact that they weren’t even close to completely healthy, and it would actually have been a pretty big upset had the Angels defeated the Red Sox to reach the ALCS.

In fact, health was one of the biggest reasons for Boston’s easy win.

Everybody mentioned the injuries to the Angels throughout the series, and those certainly played their part. Gary Matthews Jr. wasn’t able to play because of injury, and Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson weren’t as effective as they might normally have been.

But the bigger story was probably that the Red Sox got healthy just in time for the playoffs.

David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez both struggled with injuries throughout the season. Ortiz finished the season with excellent numbers, but he looked like a shell of himself for much of the season. Midway throughout August, he was sporting a .967 OPS, but his power had been affected and he had a .543 slugging percentage, which would have been his worst mark since joining Boston by about 50 points. From mid-August to the end of the season, he started to get healthy and hit 16 of his 35 homers, while raising his slugging percentage to .621 and his OPS to 1.066.

Meanwhile, Ramirez posted some of the worst numbers of his career as he dealt with injuries, and he only had 18 at-bats in September. But he returned for the last week of the season and went into the postseason looking like he may be back to full strength.

The importance of Ortiz and Ramirez getting healthy before the playoffs was obvious in the ALDS. They combined to go 8 for 15 with four home runs, 11 walks, seven RBIs and eight runs scored.

Another injury question mark heading into the playoffs for Boston was Hideki Okajima, who didn’t pitch for nearly two weeks in September while recovering from a tired arm. Against the Angels, he pitched 2.1 scoreless innings.

Another thing the Red Sox had that the Angels didn’t besides health was power.

In addition to two homers apiece from Ortiz and Ramirez, the Red Sox also got a home run from Kevin Youkilis and scored eight runs off the long ball during the series.

The Angels, by contrast, didn’t hit a single home run during the series. Of their 19 hits in the series, 13 were singles and the other six were doubles. When you can’t hit for power, you have to string a lot of hits together to score. Boston’s pitchers didn’t let the Angels do that, as Los Angeles only scored in two of the 27 innings in the series.

Of course, the Angels were normally able to score runs during the season even though they didn’t hit for power. That’s because they put a lot of balls in play and hit for a fairly high batting average. Against the Red Sox, however, the Angels managed only a .192 average (19-for-99). The main reason for that is that Boston’s pitchers, particularly Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, controlled the count and never let the Angels get comfortable at the plate.

Beckett faced 31 batters in his game one shutout. Of those 31 batters, he started 25 off with a strike. He went to an 0-2 count on 10 of them and he had a two-strike count at some point on 16 of them. That means the Angels were almost always behind in the count and fighting to stay alive rather than getting ahead in the count and looking for a pitch to hit hard.

Schilling was just as good. He threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 27 batters he faced. He started 0-2 on nine of them and got to two strikes at some point with 14 of the hitters he faced.

Schilling and Beckett gave Boston the edge in starting pitching in two of the three games, and Boston’s superior bullpen made up for the one spotty start the Red Sox received.

Daisuke Matsuzaka was the big unknown in the Boston rotation, and he was unable to get through five innings. The bullpen was more than ready to pick him up though. Javier Lopez came in first to get the final out of the fifth inning, and then Manny Delcarmen, Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon each pitched 1.1 scoreless innings to give Ramirez the chance to win the game with his walk-off home run.

For the series, Red Sox relievers combined to allow just one run in 6.1 innings. The Angels bullpen, on the other hand, yielded 10 runs in 9.2 innings.

The fact the Los Angeles relievers needed to throw 9.2 innings speaks to another reason the Red Sox won: patience. The starting pitchers for the Angels all had to throw more pitches to each batter than normal because Boston’s hitters are almost all willing to take pitches until they get what they like.

Lackey needed 3.96 pitches per batter in game one, up from an average of 3.66 pitches per plate appearance during the regular season. Escobar was at 3.75 during the regular season and 4.21 during game two, while Weaver jumped from 3.94 pitches per PA during the regular season to 4.52 in game three. All those extra pitches forced them to leave the games earlier than they wanted to and forced the bullpen to come in and try to keep the game close. In two of the three games, the bullpen failed to prevent the Red Sox from pulling away.

So, as you might expect in a sweep, the Red Sox won because they were essentially better at everything. They were healthy, they hit better, they hit for more power, they had better starting pitching and they had better relief pitching.

The only thing the Angels were able to do better than the Red Sox was run the bases, and they didn’t get enough men on the bases in the first place for that to make a difference.

References & Resources
Check back tomorrow for Sean Smith’s breakdown of the Angels loss.

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