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American League Division Playoffs: Red Sox vs. Angels

Posted on October 05, 2009 by Dean Hybl
The Angels and Red Sox are familiar postseason foes as this will be the third straight season in which they have squared off.

The Angels and Red Sox are familiar postseason foes as this will be the third straight season in which they have squared off.

If something seems familiar about an American League Division Playoff matchup between the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox, it isn’t your imagination. The Angels and Red Sox are meeting in the opening round of the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in six years.

The Angels are hoping that this time the final results will be different than in those three previous meetings. Boston swept the Angels out of the playoffs in 2004 and 2007 and then last season won the best of five series in four games with the only Los Angeles win coming in 12 innings in game three.

Both the Angels and Red Sox spent much of the 2009 season seemingly biding their time waiting for the playoffs to begin.

The Angels overcame a tough start that included the tragic death of starting pitcher Nick Adenhart to take over first place in the AL West for good on July 11th. Injuries to key personnel throughout the season kept the Angels from ever reaching their full potential during the regular season.

While the Angels started slow, Boston came out hot and built a lead of as many as five games in the American League East during June. They held the lead for more than a month before relinquishing it to the New York Yankees on July 21st.

The final two months for the Red Sox were filled with a number of stumbles, but they played well enough down the stretch to cruise into the playoffs as the wild card team for the seventh time since 1995 and fifth time since 2003.

Like Los Angeles, the Red Sox spent the entire season searching for the right combination of players and chemistry to prepare them for the playoffs.

Boston started the season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in baseball, but by late August injuries had taken such a toll that they had to call veteran Paul Byrd out of retirement to help get things jumpstarted.

However, they now seem to have at least enough of their top pitchers back in stride that they are set to face the Angels.

The pitching matchup for the opening game will feature Jon Lester (15-8, 3.41 ERA) against John Lackey (11-8, 3.83 ERA). Lester has been the most consistent starter for the Red Sox throughout the season and was even mentioned as a Cy Young Award candidate after winning five games in the last month of the season. Lackey missed a number of starts this season, but is still considered to be the big game pitcher for the Angels.

John Lackey will start the series opener for the Angels.

John Lackey will start the series opener for the Angels.

In game two, Boston is expected to send out their presumed staff ace Josh Beckett (17-6, 3.86 ERA) against Jered Weaver (16-8, 3.75 ERA), who is one of two 16 game winners for the Angels. Beckett is known for his postseason mastery, but last season he allowed 14 earned runs in 13 postseason innings. Weaver got the lone win for the Angels last season against the Red Sox as he pitched the final two innings of their game three victory.

The game three matchup is interesting as both teams are expected to send out a hurler that didn’t pitch for his respective team until more than halfway through the season. Clay Buchholz (7-4, 4.21 ERA) began the 2009 season in the minors and made his season debut on July 17. Scott Kazmir (10-9, 4.89) pitched in the postseason a year ago for the Tampa Bay Rays and was with the Rays until being shipped to the Angels in mid-August. He made six starts for the Angels and went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA.

For much of the season, the Red Sox had one of the best bullpens in baseball. However, over use in the middle of the season caused some struggles down the stretch. However, with the addition of Billy Wagner, the bullpen seems to have regained past form and should be a strength in the playoffs. Closer Jonathan Paplebon had 38 saves and a 1.85 ERA and is among the best in the league.

The bullpen for the Angels has not been as dominant during the season as the Red Sox, but closer Brian Fuentes is among the best in the business. He registered 48 saves and a 3.93 ERA in 2009.

It is hard to predict exactly who will be the offensive superstars for either team. The Angels led the league with a .285 batting average and finished second with 883 runs scored. The Red Sox were third in scoring with 872 runs while hitting .270. The Red Sox blasted 212 home runs, compared to 173 for the Angels.

The Angels have a number of long-time stars on the roster that struggled with injuries for much of the 2009 season. Torii Hunter was considered an MVP candidate before his season was derailed by injuries. He missed more than a month, but returned in August and finished the season with a .299 batting average 22 home runs and 90 RBI. Former AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero was limited to just 100 games and .295 with 15 home runs and 50 RBI.

Outfielder Bobby Abreu (.293, 15, 103 RBI) and first baseman Kendry Morales (.306, 34, 108 RBI) were the most consistent run producers for the Angels in 2009. Third baseman Chone Figgins (114 runs scored, .298 average, 42 stolen bases) is among the best table-setters in the game and gives the Angels a running threat against a Red Sox team that is one of the worst in the league at stopping base runners.

Jason Bay has been the top offensive threat for the Red Sox this season.

Jason Bay has been the top offensive threat for the Red Sox this season.

The hottest slugger for the Red Sox down the stretch was David Ortiz. After hitting only one home run in the first two months of the season, he exploded down the stretch to finish with 28 home runs and 99 RBI. Jason Bay led the team with 36 home runs and 119 RBI while hitting .267. Kevin Youkilis (.305, 99 runs, 27 home runs, 94 RBI) is a complete player and major run producer.

Setting the table are two emerging superstars in 2008 league MVP Justin Pedroia (.296, 115 runs scored, 48 doubles) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.301, 94 runs scored, 70 stolen bases).

Given that both teams have been streaky throughout the season, the team that is able to break out in the opening game would seem to have a significant advantage. With the first two games in Los Angeles, that could favor the Angels. However, Boston has proved in the past that home field advantage is not always a huge factor in postseason success.

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