Where's the love?
There hasn't been a repeat World Series champion since the Yankees in 2000, and hardball prognosticators across the country don't think there will be another one until at least 2009.
Citing Boston's injuries, regular season head-to-head record (8-1, Los Angeles), home-field advantage, and a general aura of baseball well-being hovering over the City of Angels -- just below smog level, but above the cloud of Sean Penn's self-importance -- the Angels are being tabbed as heavy favorites going into the ALDS against the defending World Series champion Red Sox, wild-card entrants into the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons.
Indeed, the prognosis does seem bleak from a Boston perspective. Mike Lowell is battered. Josh Beckett is a question mark. J.D. Drew's back is still giving out. "Frank TV" is returning.
Jason Bay, Jed Lowrie, and Justin Masterson are playing in their first postseasons, which is an unpredictable X-factor for sure. You can react like Mo Vaughn in 1995, or you can burst onto the scene like Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007. This Angels team is very different than the one the Red Sox swept in the 2007 ALDS, having added Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter since last October.
These Red Sox are sans Manny Ramirez, who has lit up Chavez Ravine just 30 miles north of where the Red Sox and Angels will kick things off tonight. And they might be without an effective Beckett. And Lowell.
But they've also won nine straight postseason games over this franchise, and have 16-game winning lefty Jon Lester on the hill tonight in Game 1 against John Lackey. The Angels righthander finally enjoyed some level of success against Boston this season, but is still 3-6 with a 5.54 ERA in his career against the Red Sox.
It is a love-fest in LA, where they're hoping for the first Southern California series, a similar dream to the one they're having in Chicago. In Boston, though, the now-familiar boasts that come with success have been quieted some, a fan base glowing in the shadow of a World Series title that could very well be headed somewhere else this time around if the Angels have anything to say about it.
Who they're pickingOur roundup of pundit predictions for the Red Sox-Angels ALDS.
- Boston Globe: Dan Shaughnessy and Adam Kilgore pick the Angels in five, while Bob Ryan, Nick Cafardo, and Tony Massarotti pick the Angels in four. Amalie Benjamin picks the Red Sox to win in five.
- Tim Kurkijan, ESPN: Angels in five. "Now this is a hard one. The Angels beat the Red Sox eight times in nine games this season, outscoring them 61-33. And yet, the Red Sox swept the Angels out of the playoffs in 2004 and 2007, winning six straight games by a combined score of 44-16. Maybe none of this means anything, maybe it was too long ago, maybe so much has changed since the two teams last played in late July. Still, it makes a fascinating series even harder to pick."
- Ken Rosenthal, FOXsports.com: Angels in five. "The Red Sox are the Red Sox even without Manny Ramirez, but the Angels possess home-field advantage and are 8-1 against the Sox this season. If Beckett isn't Beckett, the Angels' chances will be that much better."
- CBS Sports staff: Danny Knobler, Eric Mack, Scott Miller, and Adriane Rosen all pick the Angels in 5.
- Jose Mota, Yahoo! sports: Angels. "Recent failures in October should have Angels ready to continue their run. Red Sox will miss Manny Ramirez, period."
- Yahoo! sports staff: Tim Brown predicts an Angels sweep, Jeff Passan picks Angels in four, and Gordon Edes likes the Angels in five. Steve Henson is the lone staff member going with the Red Sox, picking Boston to win in five.
- Bill Plunkett, Orange County Register: Angels in five. "The Angels lost to the Red Sox in the 2004 and 2007 playoffs for a simple reason and it had little to do with homefield advantage - the Red Sox were the better team each time. The roles are reversed this year, particularly when the health issues of each team are taken into account. It's a thin margin, though, and the homefield advantage could prove to be the difference."
- John Shea, San Francisco Chronicle: Angels. "The Red Sox aren't all about small ball. They still have plenty of big-time players, but health is a serious concern. Right-hander Josh Beckett (oblique), third baseman Mike Lowell (hip) and outfielder J.D. Drew (back) are hurting, and they'll be facing a well-rested roster in the only first-round series matching teams that appeared in the 2007 postseason."
- Evan Grant, Dallas Morning News: Angels in four. "Boston's offensive edge was not evident during the season series when the Angels won eight of nine games by a combined score of 61-33. The Angels scored at least six runs in seven of the nine games - and all but three were played before Mark Teixeira landed in Orange County. Los Angeles was 48-9 when scoring at least six runs. Unless the Red Sox get to the Angels' rested starting pitchers quickly, there won't be a repeat World Series champ."
- Harold Reynolds, TBS: Angels.
- Mike Phillips, Miami Herald: Angels in five. "The Angels play like a NL team (129 stolen bases, 50 sacrifice flies) and have enough pitching to stop an ailing Red Sox team."
- Ryan Fagan, The Sporting News: Red Sox in five. "Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez set the single-season record for saves (62) this season, but Boston's Jonathan Papelbon has yet to allow a run in 14 2/3 career postseason innings. The Red Sox have the best trio of starters in baseball in righthander Josh Beckett, lefthander Jon Lester and righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka. Beckett and Lester have both started and won World Series-clinching games, and Matsuzaka's uncanny ability to wriggle out of jams helped him fashion an 18-3 record this season."
- Vegas Insider: Angels in four. "A short five-game series favors Boston, a team currently hampered by some key injury issues. Plus, the Red Sox are the defending champions loaded with veteran talent. However, Los Angeles is the better team this season that appears to have Boston's number. The Angels finished the regular season with the best record in baseball, and have the best reliever in the game to close out games. Los Angeles finally reverses its postseason losses to Boston and advances to the next round."
- Our pick: Red Sox in four. If Beckett isn't Beckett, then all bets are off. Still, Lester and Matsuzaka are a year better, and if they can go deep into each of their starts, Angels batters are hitting .267 against Hideki Okajima and .188 against Justin Masterson (his 9 2/3 innings vs. Los Angeles are the most on the Sox staff outside of Beckett) this season, bridging the gap smoothly to Papelbon. If the Angels get into the Boston bullpen any earlier (Manny Delcarmen, 10.13 ERA vs. Los Angeles this season, Javier Lopez, 13.50) things could get out of hand in a hurry, with Boston's offensive injury concerns a looming problem trying to play catch-up.
Odds are Lester does that tonight. Matsuzaka on Friday is another story. But with Beckett on Sunday and Lester a probability again Monday, the Sox can assure themselves an extra day of rest before hopping a familiar flight to Tampa, at an unfamiliar time of year.