Boston vs. Anaheim  


 By Matt Crawford

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 positive.

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 mistake.

Anaheimís big 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 department.

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 suspension.

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 around.

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 weakness here.

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.