ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Even in the early stages of this 2009 season, there is no rest for the weary. Having opened the season against a Tampa Bay team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season, the Red Sox will now face the Los Angeles Angels, their Division Series opponent last fall. It's as if the Sox are retracing their steps backward into October 2008.
And so, in that sense, the journey now begins in earnest.
Understandably, the Angels have far greater concerns at the moment, less than 48 hours removed from the accident that took the life of promising 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart. Even in the major leagues, life has a knack for getting in the way like that. Adenhart’s tragic death will continue to be a primary topic right up to the first pitch of this weekend’s three-game set, during which we all will be reminded that life invariably goes on without us, that the machine always keeps running. No matter who is pitching, catching, hitting, fielding, managing, coaching, watching, writing, or reading.
"It’s a tragedy that won’t be forgotten,’’ Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters yesterday after it was learned that Adenhart was the victim of a hit-and-run accident involving an alleged drunk driver. "We’ll deal with this the best we can and help his family get through this.’’
The baseball? There is really no telling what we are going to get this weekend, particularly from the Angels, who are, at the moment, significantly altered from the team that faced the Red Sox in the ALDS last October. Slugger Mark Teixeira is gone. Starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana are on the disabled list. Bobby Abreu has displaced Garret Anderson in left field and Brian Fuentes has assumed Francisco Rodriguez’s role as closer. That was all true before the Adenhart accident, meaning the Angels were in a somewhat transitional state to begin with.
Still, there is a chance that getting back on the field following last night’s respectful postponement will help the Angels more than it will hurt. For all of the talk about distractions in sports, the playing field is frequently the one place athletes can find solitude. Reality only resumes the moment they step back over the foul lines, something we all learned from Archie (Moonlight) Graham.
In recent years, more than any other team outside of the American League East, the Angels have become a rival to the Red Sox, having faced them in three Division Series matchups over the last five years. The Red Sox have won all three series, winning 9 of 10 games overall. In total runs, the Sox hold an absurd 62-29 edge. The Angels simply have had no answer for the Sox in games with the greatest consequences, contests that have been as much a competition in philosophy as execution.
Entering this season, however, the Red Sox and Angels look more alike than perhaps ever before. Last October, though the Sox won the ALDS in four games, the margin in total runs favored Boston by a far more reasonable 18-13 margin. The final two contests, both played at Fenway Park, were one-run affairs. Though there are still notable differences between the clubs, the Red Sox and Angels are built more on pitching, speed, and defense than they are on power, suggesting this weekend’s games could be decided in the late innings against what look to be a pair of deep bullpens.
On paper, the Red Sox and Angels had strikingly similar season-opening series, the Angels dropping 2 of 3 at home to the Oakland A’s while the Sox lost 2 of 3 at home to the Rays. Boston scored 10 runs in the three games while the Angels scored 11. Both Scioscia and Red Sox manager Terry Francona will pitch, in order, their Nos. 4, 5, and 1 starters over the weekend, though it should be stressed again that the Angels are operating with Lackey and Santana, projected as their top two pitchers entering the season, on the disabled list.
As for what happens in the long term, the Red Sox and Angels will approach things, appropriately, from entirely different directions. In the AL West, the Angels play in what may be the least-competitive division in baseball. In the AL East, the Red Sox reside in the most competitive. If the Angels somehow fail to qualify for the playoffs, it will likely be the result of injury or ineptitude. If the Red Sox fail, it may be through no fault of their own, but because there were one or two excellent teams that were better than them.
Starting tonight, we will begin to get some assessment of how the Sox and Angels match up with one another. As recent history has taught us, they will need no introductions should they meet again in October.
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