The Boston Red Sox have had a turbulent season to say the least on the way to this seasonís MLB playoffs. Even with SS Nomar Garciaparra and OF Trot Nixon sidelined with injuries, Boston managed an impressive 15-6 record in the month of April. They even swept the Yankees in New York; a match-up that was largely anticipated due to the off-season negotiations involving Garciaparra, and bringing Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers to the Yankees.
However, from May until the All-Star Break, Boston went into a
swoon that lasted every bit of those three months. They were a 41-40 team in
May, June and July, causing GM Theo Epstein to make some moves to shake up the
roster. He traded away the arguably disgruntled veteran Garciaparra as part of a
four-team deal, and received defensive stars Orlando Cabrera at SS and Doug
Mientkiewicz at 1B. OF Dave Roberts
came over from the Dodgers in a trade for a minor leaguer. These moves
solidified what the Red Sox had been lacking
-- defense and stability at positions where they previously had very
little. An impact was felt immediately, and the results were
The BoSox had a tremendous August, where they compiled a 21-7
record, and that effort carried over into September, when they swept Anaheim in
a series at home, winning two of three from surprising Texas, and sweeping the
Aís in Oakland. The Red Sox played their best down the stretch, and are a much
better club than the one that started the season.
The Anaheim Angels also
faced a great deal of adversity on the road to their playoff berth. Despite a
list of injuries that just kept growing, they managed a 30-20 record through the
first two months of the season. When June arrived, the injuries caught up with
the Angels, and their record suffered. While the Angels were able to ride out
the nagging injuries through May of CF Garret Anderson, 1B Darin Erstadís
strained hamstring, and DH Tim Salmonís stint on the DL due to his knee, the
combined DL stays of closer Troy Percival, catcher Bengie Molina, recently
acquired OF Raul Mondesi, RHP Aaron Sele, and utility man Shane Halter played a
part in Anaheimís sub-.500 11-16 record in the month of June.
When the team began to
get healthy, the Angels were able to improve their record. The Halos went 51-34
the rest of the way, including a 19-8 August that saw them win 9 in a row toward
the end of the month. As with Bostonís trade of Garciaparra, a potentially
damaging situation turned out to be positive for the Angels, as manager Mike
Scioscia suspended OF Jose Guillen for the remainder of the season for
misconduct, but Anaheim won 7 of their last 8 games, including winning the first
two against the Aís on the road to take the division. OF Vladimir Guerrero
stepped it up down the stretch, by hitting 6 homers and knocking in 11 RBI to
strengthen his bid for the American League MVP.
So how do these teams
stack up against each other in the ALDS? Both teams made huge off-season moves
that got them where they are today. With Boston, the biggest was acquiring Curt
Schilling (21-6, 3.26) via trade with Arizona to team up with Pedro Martinez
(16-9, 3.90). An interesting development involving Pedro has been his self-doubt
as of late, especially against the Yankees. Watch for manager Terry Francona to
pull Pedro if heís struggling, rather than leave him in like Grady Little did
a year ago just because heís Pedro. Pedro wonít take himself out, the
manager must take him out of the game. Francona should not make the same
off-season move was acquiring OF Vladimir Guerrero (.337, 39 HR, 126 RBI), but
they also bolstered their rotation in a big way, signing free agent RHPs Bartolo
Colon (18-12, 5.01), and Kelvim Escobar (11-12, 3.93).
Itís hard to believe
weíve reached a time where Pedro is not the #1 starter for the Red Sox, but in
this series, itís Schilling, who on Tuesday faces LHP Jarrod Washburn (11-8,
4.64) in Anaheim. Pedro will be the
Game 2 starter, squaring off against Colon. We can expect to see Bronson Arroyo
and Tim Wakefield in Games 3 and 4 for Boston, against Kelvim Escobar and John
Lackey for the Angels. Both teams have starters with playoff experience, and
with Anaheimís bullpen so strong, the Angels only need to get about 5 or 6
innings out of their starters. Brendan
Donnelly, Scot Shields, Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod), and closer Troy Percival
definitely put the pressure on the Red Sox. Colon has pitched very well since
the All-Star Break, winning 10 games in the second half. So has Bostonís
Schilling, who was 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA in 5 September starts.
Even though Bostonís bullpen is tough, anchored by closer Keith Foulke
(5-3, 2.17, 39 saves), the overall advantage goes to Anaheim in the pitching
Letís take a look at
how the lineups match up against each other. Both teams have guys who can hit it
out of the yard. Guerrero had a huge season for Anaheim, his first in the
American League. Boston LF Manny Ramirez won his first HR title with 43. He also
batted .308 and had 130 RBI. Garret Anderson and Johnny Damon both play great in
CF, and while the Angels will miss LF Jose Guillenís bat, they wonít miss
his anger. Jeff DaVanon and Adam Riggs are waiting to prove themselves in a
situation like this. Pay attention to this platoon in the wake of Guillenís
The infielders are a
bit of a new look when compared to Anaheimís teams of the recent past. 2B Adam
Kennedy went down with a torn ACL and a partially torn MCL in his right knee.
Alfredo Amezaga has stepped in for Kennedy at 2B, but while he is a flashy
defender, he is no Adam Kennedy with the bat. Bostonís Mark Bellhorn has very
good plate discipline and is adequate defensively.
At short, Orlando
Cabrera has been better than Nomar with the glove, and speedier on the bases.
Anaheimís David Eckstein plays solid defense, and is a scrappy player all
Over at first, Darin
Erstad has been solid, without the gaudy batting average he used to carry. The
Boston tandem of Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz provide prowess at the plate
with great defense from the Gold Glover Mientkiewicz.
Third base is a key
matchup in this series. Bill Mueller has been slipping lately for the Red Sox,
and his defense has suffered a little when compared with his 2003 effort. Rookie
Kevin Youkilis provides some good defense and plate discipline at third. The guy
to watch is the Angelsí Chone Figgins. He showed he was a great fill-in for
Troy Glaus, who went down with shoulder surgery earlier this season. Figgins is
the type of guy that can make a difference in a short series, with his
versatility and speed.
Glaus continues in a DH
role for the Angels, but David Ortiz has been a hitting machine for the Red Sox.
Hereís a guy that has benefited from not having to play first base so much
since the acquisition of Mientkiewicz. Ortiz has registered a .301 average, with
41 HR, 139 RBI, and a .603 SLG.
The starting catchers
in this series are both proven veterans. Bostonís Jason Varitek plays very
solidly behind the plate, and has done well offensively (.296, 18, 73).
Anaheimís Bengie Molina has had injuries, but he is still a threat to throw
out runners and block the plate with the best of them. Neither team has a
If the Angels do have a
weakness, it is their bench. While the Red Sox are able to bring in defensive
specialists like Pokey Reese at 2B, or Mientkiewicz at 1B to protect a lead, the
Angels donít really have that luxury.
All things considered,
the Angels pitching staff is reminiscent of the Yankees playoff teams of the
Ď90s and early Ď00s: better than average starting pitching, with a
lights-out bullpen. Their offense is productive enough to score some runs, even
off Pedro and the rest of the Red Sox staff. The Angels own the home-field
advantage, and although Boston has plenty of playoff experience, watch for
Anaheim to continue to play well coming off their impressive division-clinching
stretch, and take this series from the Red Sox, although it will take all 5
games to do it. This has nothing to do with their alleged ďcurseĒ. It has to
do with the Angels matching up better on the field.