MLB Playoff Preview: Red Sox vs. Angels

In perhaps the best matchup of all four first-round series, Boston will take on the 2002 World Series Champions Anaheim Angels.



AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES

Anaheim Angels (92-70) versus Boston Red Sox (101-61)

Game 1 @ ANA: J. Washburn (L) (11-8, 4.64 ERA, 86 K) vs. C. Schilling (R) (21-6, 3.26 ERA, 203 K)
Game 2 @ ANA: J. Lackey (R) (14-13, 4.67 ERA, 144 K) vs. P. Martinez (R) (16-9, 3.90 ERA, 227 K)
Game 3 @ BOS: B. Colon (R) (18-12, 5.01 ERA, 158 K)) vs. B. Arroyo (R) (10-9, 4.02 ERA, 142 K)
Game 4* @ BOS: K. Escobar (R) (11-12, 3.93 ERA, 191 K) vs. T. Wakefield (R) (12-10, 4.87 ERA, 116 K)
Game 5* @ ANA: J. Washburn (L) vs. C. Schilling (R)


OFFENSE
Angels: Top to bottom, Anaheim compares nicely with the better offenses in baseball. The problem is that the middle of their order isn't clicking and has depended on MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero very heavily for the bulk of the run production in September. For the Angels to beat Boston, Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus, Darin Erstad must produce. Anaheim runs the bases well and will steal a base, too. Watch for Figgins to be a key player in the speed game.

Key Halos Bat: Erstad-Without Guillen, the Angles are missing one of their most productive bats and Erstad's return to form could make up for it and than some. I expect to see the former center fielder play well at first and get a key hit or two in this series.

Red Sox: Scoring runs will not be an issue for Boston but the key is for them to not get caught up trying to slug it out with the Angels, although they probably could win games that way. When situations arise to move a runner to third or get a guy in scoring position, they must come through and get it done. Lead off man Johnny Damon must get on base to give Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz someone to drive in.

Key Red Sox Bat: Jason Varitek-The switch-hitting catcher could be a very big part of the Boston lineup versus all the right-handed relief that Anaheim uses after the 5th and 6th innings. In a key moment in the series, Varitek will bat lefty versus the right-handed bullpen.


PITCHING
Angels: This is the weakness of the Angels roster without a doubt. The signing of Bartolo Colon was a failure despite his 18 wins. The 5.01 ERA is disappointing for a player that will earn nearly $13 million a season. Fellow free agent signee Kelvim Escobar will follow Colon's game three start while Jarrod Washburn and John Lackey start the two games at Angels Stadium. If the Halos rotation can get through six innings with the lead, Anaheim will probably win the series.

The pen is where the Halos make their living. Riding the likes of Brendan Donnelly, Francisco Rodriguez and Troy Percival, Anaheim's starters have the easiest job in baseball; Go six and you'll win.

Key Halos Arm: Washburn-The only left-hander on the entire staff for Anaheim is the key to the series for the Angels for the single reason that he will pitch twice if the series goes the distance.

Red Sox : With Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez headlining the rotation, you'd assume the advantage was enormous. Normally that would be correct but with Pedro not pitching at the top of his game and Derek Lowe pitching his way out of the rotation, the gap between the two teams' rotations is not as large as it is on paper. Schilling's game one start is huge. If the Sox don't win it, the series becomes a burden to Pedro Martinez. In a must-win situation, it's hard to believe that Terry Francona won't go back to Schilling on three day's rest.

Boston's relief corps was very solid in the 2003 postseason but the chemistry that was there a year ago isn't there but they did add Keith Foulke who should provide a ninth-inning solution for the Sox to go to they they didn't have prior to 2004. Right-hander Mike Timlin and lefty Alan Ambree match up well with the Angels lineup.

Key Sox Arm : Martinez- It's simple. If Pedro is close to his old self, Boston wins this series. If he isn't the Angels win.


DEFENSE
Angels Outfield: Guerrero is solid in right, Anderson is adequate in center and Figgins is fine in left. Jose Guillen's presence would have meant an advantage here. Anaheim's lack of great range is made up by sure-handed fielding and solid throwing arms coupled with smart play.

Red Sox Outfield: A healthy Trot Nixon would even the outfield comparisons in this series and allow for more defensive switches late in games. Damon has solid range but no arm to speak of. Ramirez is average at very best in left and is the weak link.

Angels Infield: Without the injured Adam Kennedy and a healthy Troy Glaus, the Angels infield defense is average all the way around except for maybe catcher and first base. Benji Molina is solid behind the plate and Erstad has taken very well to his new position.

Sox Infield : The additions of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz will prove positive in this series. The Angels make a ton of contact and gaining range at shortstop and a gold glove at first made the infield a place where singles and bad throws don't show up much in the boxscore.


Manager Analysis:
Scioscia is as good as there is in baseball and has the necessary experience to dominate the series with bold moves and winning strategies with his stud bullpen. He knows how to run a team and win in the playoffs at the highest level. One thing in this series is for sure- Anaheim will not be out managed.

Terry Francona isn't likely to win any games for the Red Sox but his job is to not lose any games for his team in the postseason. All the talent in the world offensively will not win you games if the skipper mis-manages the bullpen. Look for Francona to be somewhat conservative throughout the postseason.


InsidethePark.com Prediction : Red Sox in five-
Anaheim is playing pretty well right now and I wouldn't be surprised if they made another run for the gold this season. Boston has more talent where it counts, however, and the Sox bullpen is good enough to counter the Angels' relievers.



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