ALDS – Red Sox vs. Angels

Game 1 in Anaheim Wed Oct 1, 10:00pm - Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. John Lackey (12-5, 3.75)

Game 2 in Anaheim Fri Oct 3, 9:30pm - Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90) vs. Ervin Santana 1(6-7, 3.49)

Game 3 in Boston Sun Oct 5, time TBD – Joe Saunders, (17-7 3.41) vs. Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03)

Game 4 in Boston – TBD

Game 5 in Anaheim – TBD

The Red Sox and Angels meet yet again in the ALDS.  Last year, the Red Sox took care of business in quick fashion as they did in 2004 against Anaheim.  But in both 2004 and 2007, they had Manny Ramirez.  In the 6 games covering the 2004 and 2007 ALDS against Anaheim, Manny hit 3 HRs and had 11 RBI.

Additionally, the Red Sox, unlike 2007, don’t have home field advantage.  Oh and did I mention they went 1-8 against the Angels this year?

Now to address the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room, the Red Sox might be without their playoff ace Josh Beckett.  As you know, Beckett strained his oblique a few days ago and it has Red Sox officials worried enough to pencil him for game 3, he’d normally be in for game 1, and to proclaim that while they expect him to be ready, the are monitoring his health.

I’ve never had an oblique injury, but Mike Lowell has and he missed a month.  An oblique injury can linger and for the Red Sox to think he’ll be fine in about a week is dubious but they know more about his health that I would.

Strike one against Boston.

The good news for the Red Sox is they still have a good rotation.  Jon Lester has been very good this year and no matter how frustrating and difficult it is to watch Matsuzaka, he has been effective, albeit in a playing-with-fire style.

Should Beckett not be able to go, I would expect Paul Byrd to start.  I have a great deal of respect for Tim Wakefield, but he has been a terrible post-season pitcher (17-10, 6.26 ERA ).  Byrd, while not great, is 7-5 in post-season play with a 4.80 ERA.  I will admit Wakefield’s win/loss is astounding given his ERA, but nevertheless, he can’t expect his offense to overcome that ERA.

As far as overall pitching staffs go, the Red Sox have a 4.01 ERA and the Angels 4.00.  Pretty even, but the bullpen for Anaheim has K-Rod and no matter how you slice it, 60 saves is impressive.  I like how Hideki Okajima has been pitching of late and Javier Lopez has been good all year.  Papelbon has been a bit shaky lately.  Overall though, I think the pitching match-ups are fairly similar. 

Offense:

Red Sox – .280/.358/.447 – 845 runs scored

Anaheim – .268/.330/.413 – 765 runs scored

I know I’m missing something, but it would seem the Red Sox offense is better, no?  Tell me where they aren’t?  They have more 2b, 3b and HRs and BB.  You see the stats above, but how about steals?  Ok, the Red Sox stole 120, the Angels 129.  I’ll give them that although the Red Sox have a better steal %, 77 to 73.

While the Red Sox offense certainly looks better on paper, what say you about Manny Ramirez?  Manny has been crazy good this year, but his Boston OPS, .926, vs his LAD OPS, 1.232.  That’s telling.  Manny didn’t want to play in Boston anymore.  He was a liability and had to be dealt.

I’m not saying he would tank in the playoffs like he might have continued to do in the regular season, but I think his teammates prefer his replacement Jason Bay when it comes to an effort standpoint.  As for Bay, he hasn’t been bad.  .293/.370/.527 in 49 games with 39 runs, 9 HR, 37 RBI.  About on par with Manny while he was here.  Bay finished the 2008 regular season with 111 runs, 31 HRs and 101 RBI and 10 steals with 0 caught.  Decent replacement numbers.

I believe the Red Sox success hinges on J.D. Drew’s health and to a lesser extent Mike Lowell’s health.  Drew works pitchers and is a tougher out than is Mark Kotsay or Coco Crisp.  Drew forces opposing pitchers to grind much harder.

Lowell?  Well he hasn’t had a great year and even if he’d stayed healthy, his projected performance wouldn’t be much better than good (i.e above average).

The good news is that both Drew and Lowell took BP today and are both good possibilities to start but I think after watching Lowell recently, he might start, but not finish.  He looks very unhealthy for a post-season run.

Anyway, that isn’t an in-depth analysis, but a few quick hits.

My prediction:  Red Sox in 5.  The Red Sox offense is better and their pitching is just as good as Anaheim’s if Beckett is healthy.  Beckett didn’t bring his A-game this year and the Red Sox still managed to win a few games, so even without Beckett at all, I say the Red Sox take this series.

What say you?  Am I crazy?  Is Beckett’s potential loss a far bigger loss than I am admitting?  Is Lowell’s bad health a bigger deal than I think?  The the obvious answer to these questions is "NO" but I’ll leave it to you to tell me otherwise.