Another year, another matchup between the Red Sox and the Angels. These two teams have met three times in the postseason since 2002, with the Red Sox dominating the Halos in each series. The Angels won the season series, 5-4, though, and have a considerably different team composition than any of most of their previous playoff attempts.
The Angels win if: A staff ace emerges. John Lackey has been there before, but he has been injured and inconsistent this season. Jered Weaver is 1-1 career in the postseason in just seven innings. Neither Joe Saunders nor Matt Palmer has a postseason victory to their credit. And Scott Kazmir looked anything but convincing in the October spotlight last year. The potential is there for a number of Angels, but someone must step up.
The Red Sox win if: The big two at the front of the rotation hold up. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are going to have to loom large for the Red Sox to advance. Yes, they’ve done well against the Angels in past years, but the Halos have never had this much offensive firepower, finishing second in the Majors behind the Yankees in runs scored. And the Sox staff has never looked this susceptible. Both Lester and Beckett have hit rough patches down the stretch, and the cast behind them is as shaky as ever. Clay Buchholz and his zero inning of postseason experience will get the start in Game 3, followed by either the ageless Tim Wakefield, the erratic Daisuke Matsuzaka, or the ever-present Paul Byrd. A loss by either Lester of Beckett to open the series could spell disaster.
The X factor: Matsuzaka. When he’s good, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game, and has a penchant for rising to the occasion of big games (3-1 career in postseason). When he’s bad, he’s a batting practice pitcher (1-5, 8.23 ERA until being placed on the 60-day DL on June 21). But he’s been better of late, posting a 3-1 record with an ERA just north of two in four starts since Sept. 15. If Dice-K can rejuvenate the terrific trio that brought them so much success the last two years, the path to the World Series may again travel through Beantown.
The verdict: This has potential to be the most compelling of the four divisional series, and should go five games regardless (a fact that decidedly plays into the hands of the Yankees or Twins). Both teams are hauntingly similar: balanced yet powerful offenses, lots of pitching questions with plenty of candidates to provide answers. The most poignant question may be what type of series it will be: a high-scoring slugfest, or a pitchers’ battle. Ultimately, the law of averages says the Angels have to beat the Red Sox eventually, and with this year’s team possessing what its predecessors so often lacked–offense–it will be the Halos moving on.
-Matthew De George ’10