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The Red Sox lost their first chance to clinch on Monday, but punched their ticket for the playoffs on Tuesday. After losing the series to the Rays the previous week, the division looked out of reach and the Yankees took the series opener to lock the Sox into a series with the Angels. The Red Sox limped to the finish line against the arch-rival, but the most important thing at that point, with the games being meaningless, was to set the team up for the playoff series.
A monkey wrench was thrown into that plan when the Red Sox received word that ace Josh Beckett has a strained oblique and will not pitch until Game 3 on Sunday at Fenway Park.
The week opened with a chance to lock up a playoff spot with Josh Beckett on the mound, however they had to play catchup all day. Despite not hitting Beckett very hard, the Indians were able to string together enough hits to build a 4-1 lead, which the Red Sox cut to 4-3, but could not overcome.
Beckett allowed all of the runs on seven hits, but sis strike out six as well. Kevin Youkilis had three hits and David Ortiz added a home run for the Sox. They bounced backfrom the loss to take the remaining three games, beginning with a 5-4 win in the second game, over (Cy Young winner to be) Cliff Lee, in his first start against the Red Sox.
Youk homered to give the Red Sox a brief 2-0 lead, but the Indians clawed back with a four run fifth off Tim Wakefield. Dustin Pedroia keyed a rally in the bottom half of the inning to give the Red Sox a lead they would not give up. Manny Delcarmen, Justin Masterson, Hideki Okajima, and Javier Lopez all worked to set up Jonathan Papelbon, who struck out two of the four batters he faced and converted a perfect save opportunity.
Pedroia and Big Papi sparked a four run rally in the first inning of the third game to knock out Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona. The Indians got 11 hits off Paul Byrd overall and tied the game in the fifth, but Mark Kotsay broke the deadlock in the eighth, knocking in Jeff Bailey after his triple to get the win.
Jon Lester was sharp in a pitch-count-abbreviated outing in the finale to lead the Red Sox to victory. The offense gave him five runs over the first two innings and Lester allowed only one in his six innings. Masterson, Okajima, and Pap were perfect in their three combined innings to wrap it up.
The Red Sox got a playoff type series from the Indians and plenty of good pitching, especially from the bullpen, which did not allow a single run in the series. Also of note, J.D. Drew returned to action, so the Red Sox should be near full strength when it matters most.
The final series of the season for the Red Sox was with the archrival Yankees and completely meaningless in terms of playoff position. The biggest stories coming out of the series were the retirement of Johnny Pesky‘s #6, Mike Mussina‘s attempt at his first 20-win season, and the battle with the rain for most of the weekend.
Friday’s game was played in wet conditions and Saturday’s was postponed as part of a Sunday’s doubleheader. It was fairly surprising that baseball made up the game, considering it meant nothing and the Red Sox begin the playoffs in Anaheim on Wednesday.
Terry Francona, setting up the playoff rotation, started David Pauley in the opener, and the Red Sox gave him an early 3-1 lead after one. The game unraveled from there as the Yankees scored in eight of the nine innings in the 19-8 loss. Each of the five Red Sox pitchers gave up runs with Pauley and David Aardsma getting hit particularly hard. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s four-hit effort was about the lone bright spot for the Sox.
Mussina earned his 20th victory with a very efficient effort in the first game on Sunday. He went six innings, allowing only three hits and no runs, on only 73 pitches. The Red Sox did not hand the game to Mussina as they had their regular lineup in play, but they did limit Daisuke Matsuzaka to 73 pitches in his four-inning outing as the Red Sox fell 6-2, dropping Dice-K to 18-3 on the season. Discouragingly, the Yankees put the game away by getting three runs off Pap in the ninth in the closer’s final regular season appearance.
The Red Sox had to work overtime in the nightcap, bouncing back to beat the Yankees 4-3 in 10 innings. Tim Wakefield, limited to 56 pitches, threw five scoreless innings. Most of the regulars got the night off and Jonathan Van Every hit a bases loaded single in the tenth to win the season finale.
As much as Red Sox Nation always wants to beat the Yankees, the Red Sox eased up with the more important goals on the horizon in this meaningless series. Mike Lowell appeared to aggrivate his injury in the Friday game and did not appear in the remainder of the series, hopefully out of an abundance of caution.
The Angels are the West Division Champion and sport the best record in the American League at 100-62 (21 above second place Texas). The 100 wins are the most for a team since the 2005 Cardinals and the Angels are the first A.L. team to reach the total since the 2004 Yankees. For what it is worth, each of those teams won their Division Series and lost in their League Championship Series.
The strength of the Angels lies in their pitching staff. They are one of the few teams in baseball that are solid from start to finish on the mound. With the series beginning on Wednesday, each team will use a three-man rotation. Throwing for the Angels will be John Lackey (12-5, 3.75 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.16 K/9), Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49, 1.12, 8.79), and Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41, 1.21, 4.68). The Red Sox will counter with Lester, Dice-K, and Beckett.
The Angels starters are all control guys and are supported by a good defense. The offense improved with the deadline acquisition of Mark Teixeira, who hit .358, slugged .632, and hit 13 home runs in his 54 games with the team, but is not formidable. Sparkplugs Chone Figgins, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar have each missed time this season and the Angels have played many close games.
The middle of the bullpen has been very reliably handing leads over to Francisco Rodriguez (2.24, 1.29, 10.14), who smashed the single season saves record with 62 in 69 chances. The middle of their order surrounds Big Tex with Vladimir Guerrero, Garrett Anderson, and offseason signee Torii Hunter.
The Angels are the American League’s most complete team and the trade for Teixiera solidified that position. It is a worrisome matchup for the Sox because of the depth of quality pitching, which Mike Scoscia manages very well.
The Angels, having played in the softer West, are less tested than the Red Sox, but are 34-21 against the top American League teams (Rays, Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Yankees, and Blue Jays), and were 8-1 against the Red Sox. The only team they lost the season series to is the Rays (3-6 against them).
The Angels are also very good in close games, going 31-21 in one-run games, a testament to K-Rod and the bullpen. The three-man rotations will give the Red Sox the edge at the front end, but allows the Angels to work K-Rod harder if needed and will amplify the effect of the bullpen since they will get rest.
The Red Sox possess the better clutch hitting and have had the Angels number in the playoffs in recent years. The Red Sox ran into a similar team in 2005 as defending champions against the White Sox, and were swept. This will be a competitive series, probably going the full five games, but unfortunately, the Angels superior pitching should provide them the edge.
Who will win the ALDS matchup of the Angels and Red Sox?
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