Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Westward Ho

American League Division Series

Game 1 – Red Sox @ Angels, Wednesday, October 1, 10:07 EST
Game 2 – Red Sox @ Angels, Friday, October 3, 9:37 EST
Game 3 – Angels @ Red Sox, Sunday, October 5, TBD
Game 4 – Angels @ Red Sox, Monday, October 6, TBD (if necessary)
Game 5 – Red Sox @ Angels, Wednesday, October 8, TBD (if necessary)

I’ve taken a fairly measured approach to the Sox for the most part in 2008 (for the most part, but not entirely – rational calm still is not my strong suit). I suppose that comes with the territory hard won by the Olde Towne Team over the past five years. That all changed this morning when I went to the MLC archives and re-read our offerings from October 2004. Now I’m a goosebumpy mass of anticipation and nerves. October baseball…I live for this.

Predictions about baseball, especially mine, are seldom worth the time it takes to read and dismiss them. So we’ll save you the trouble and flail about searching for some pattern in the random facts that explain the Sox/Angels ALDS.

There’s a popular school of thought that dooms the Angels because of their relative lack of intensity over the past month. Mike Scioscia’s team hasn’t played a game with any real meaning since clinching the AL West on September 10 – and realistically, they were all but assured of winning the pennant since early August. They’ve clearly had the league’s most stress-free trip to the wire. While there’s some anecdotal evidence of coasting teams struggling to gear up to postseason fervor, it’s not clear to me that the Sox are any better off than the Halos. Thanks (again!) to the Yankees and their fumbling about, the Sox have known they were playing postseason baseball for at least 3 weeks, even if they hadn’t mathematically clinched anything. Terry Francona’s lineups over the past week have been nothing so much as Spring Training split squads.

Recent history affords the Sox a big edge in playoff competition against Los Angeles of Anaheim, with Boston coming off consecutive ALDS sweeps of the Angels in 2004 and 2007. And if the Sox win Game 1 in California, you could make the argument that this contemporary historical dominance is playing on the Angels’ minds. But it the Angels take the first game, this one doesn’t mean much, either.

Look to the stats, young Jedi – that’ll tell you all you need to know. And there, the Sox would seem to have an edge. Boston scored more runs (845 to 765) and allowed fewer (694 to 697). On that basis alone, the edge should go to the Sox. Yeah, well, I’ll go ahead and petition MLB to send the Sox to the ALCS on that basis – let you know how it turns out. The series schedule dictates that each team will only need three starters, but you’re a better baseball scholar than I if you can definitively choose the better from John Lackey/Ervin Santana/Joe Saunders and Jon Lester/Daisuke Matsuzaka/Josh Beckett. The Sox have a (very) slight advantage in terms of big game experience, but it’s offset to a degree by the oblique injury that pushed Beckett back to Game 3. And, hell, the history of baseball’s postseason is replete with great paper matchups that quickly turned into 10-7 cringefests (The Mussina vs. Schilling ALCS opener in 2004 comes to mind. Happily). The Sox offense looks a little deeper, but injury worries to Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew throw that into doubt, and the Vladimir Guerrero/Mark Teixeira middle of the order duo causes me some angst.

The Sox have made pretty significant hay out of adversity in recent postseasons, from Curt Schilling’s bloody sock to the 3-0 deficit in the Yankees, to last year’s back-against-the-wall comeback in the ALCS. I’m not sure that Beckett’s booboo and the Lowell/Drew aches are in the same league, but the one constant that applies is the Sox’ ace in the hole: Playoff Terry Francona is about the best manager in the business. And that’s where I’m hanging my hat as the 2008 postseason gets going.

Roll the balls out and let ‘em play. Lotta ball left, stay on target. Insert whichever clichéd superstition gets you through the night. And based on the start times for the first two games, I do mean ‘through the night’.


Whitney said...

Here's a stat that means just as little, but doesn't reflect so swimmingly on the Sox: the Angels took 8 of 9 contests from Boston this season, including the last eight since the Sox won on April 22.

rob said...

all part of francona's plan to lull the angels into a false sense of security.

that your facebook photo?