The matchups

History is with the Red Sox, but the Angels look heavenly

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 8, 2009

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The Red Sox were a work in progress, a team waiting for centerpiece David Ortiz to emerge from his early-season funk. When he finally did, he looked similar to the Ortiz of old, but despite finishing with 99 RBIs and 28 homers, he was not quite the same. Yet the Red Sox have hit well lately. Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, and Kevin Youkilis remain key elements as does Mike Lowell, who will get a chance to face a lefthander or two (Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders) at Fenway Park. Victor Martinez has provided major thump in the middle of the Sox order and Jacoby Ellsbury is the most dangerous weapon on the field.

The Angels have their best offense since this rivalry began in 2004. The 2002 Angels, who won the World Series, had a terrific offense and Mike Scioscia has been saying all season that this lineup rivals the 2002 version.

The Angels led the majors with a .285 bating average and tied the Yankees for the top with 1,604 hits. They were also second in runs (883) and third in on-base percentage (.350). The Angels also hit with runners in scoring position, batting .297. Did we mention they can run? Chone Figgins, Erick Aybar, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and Maicer Izturis are base-stealing threats. In the past, the running games were targeted as a difference in the series. It's never truly materialized, but this season might be different. If Ellsbury gets on base and the Angels have offensive-minded Mike Napoli catching, Ellsbury could have a field day. If Jeff Mathis is catching, the Angels might be able to keep Ellsbury controlled.

Teams love to run on the Sox. Although Victor Martinez has a better release than Jason Varitek, the Angels will run nonetheless. The key, as it has been in the past, is whether the Angels can get on base against Boston's staff. Abreu has also transformed the Angels into a patient lineup, taking more pitches and being more selective.

Edge: The Angels

The key players for both teams are the catchers. Jeff Mathis, who is regarded as one of the best in the game defensively, gets the start in Game 1. Mike Napoli, is a far more dangerous hitter with 20 home runs, but Mathis is the better game caller.

Jason Varitek's biggest role will be in the clubhouse, helping pitchers and Victor Martinez prepare for games. The Sox would have an edge in the outfield but Rocco Baldelli, a key piece against lefthanded pitching, will miss the series with a left hip flexor. The Angels can call on switch-hitting outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., who can impact a game in the field or with his legs.

Edge: The Angels

Starting pitchers
Any team with Jon Lester and Josh Beckett at the top of the rotation has a distinct advantage in a short series. The Red Sox didn't see the shutdown Beckett at the end of the season, so Lester gets the call in Game 1 despite Beckett's impeccable postseason resume (7-2, 2.90 ERA). The team also thinks Lester has the best chance of going in Game 4 or 5 on short rest if needed.

The Angels will counter with John Lackey and Jered Weaver. In the past, this hasn't been much of a matchup, but Lackey will be a free agent and a strong postseason will aid his earning power. Weaver has been the Angels' most consistent starter and has the ability to shut down the Sox. He had an 0.66 ERA in two starts against them this season.

Things get interesting in Games 3 and 4. The matchups seem to shift in the Angels' favor because they can start lefthanders Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders at Fenway Park against Clay Buchholz and either Daisuke Matsuzaka or Lester on three days' rest. Kazmir and Saunders have no fear of pitching at Fenway. Kazmir is pitching as well as he ever has. However, Saunders, a 16-game winner, struggled at Fenway in Game 3 of the ALDS last season and allowed fi ve runs (two earned) in a Sept. 16 start at Fenway this season.

Buchholz has pitched 191 innings between Triple A and the Red Sox and he has surrendered six home runs in a combined eight innings in his last two starts, raising the question of fatigue. The decision to start Buchholz over Matsuzaka, who is fresher and has been pitching well, was also a curious one.

Edge: The Red Sox

The Red Sox have what many consider the deepest in baseball, while the Angels searched for a workable mix all season. Jonathan Papelbon has not allowed a run in the postseason in his career (25 innings). Brian Fuentes, who saved 48 games, has had his problems against the Red Sox, both this season and in the 2007 World Series, when he pitched for Colorado.

The Angels' bullpen fi nished with a 4.53 ERA, which was 23d in the majors. They lost longtime setup man Scot Shields, but they got decent work out of Jason Bulger, who went 6-1 with a 3.56 ERA, and Mike Scioscia has confi dence in Kevin Jepsen, who was used in the setup role with Jose Arredondo. One interesting weapon for Scioscia could be Ervin Santana, who could be a factor in situational work.

The Red Sox found out that lefthander Billy Wagner can give them back-to-back outings. Wagner could come up big as a setup man, or close if Papelbon isn't available. The Sox also have to gauge the effectiveness of Hideki Okajima, who is nursing a side injury. The Sox will also unleash righthander Daniel Bard and his 100-mile-per-hour fastball in the late innings.

Edge: The Red Sox

Nobody has gone through more adversity and survived it better than Mike Scioscia, who had to deal with the death of rookie Nick Adenhart, who died in a car accident in April. Scioscia's had to endure many injuries (14 different starting pitchers) but still managed to get his team to withstand a challenge from Texas.

Terry Francona also dealt with many injuries to his staff (Daisuke Matsuzaka), the ineffectiveness of Brad Penny and John Smoltz, David Ortiz's poor start, an unsettled shortstop situation, and Mike Lowell's playing time. Francona has dominated this matchup, winning nine out of 10, and Scioscia gambled with a suicide squeeze in Game 4 of the ALDS last season and lost big. Francona has had Scioscia's number.

Edge: The Red Sox

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