|Bruins Messy in Season Opener Against Jets||Patriots Sign RB Dion Lewis to 2-Year Contract Extension||The Yankees Lost, Ellsbury Got Benched, and I’m Still Giddy||Three Red Sox Strengths|
The Red Sox and Angels met in the postseason for the fourth time and like each previous battle, the Red Sox prevailed. The Angels won the third game of the series to stave off elimination for a day and broke the Sox’ 11-game postseason win streak in this series.
As expected, pitching dominated the series, but Game 2 did see the bats come out. As a result, each of the four games was close and the final two games had added drama with an extra-inning affair and a final at-bat win. Boston’s attention now shifts to the Rays, the only other American League team to take the season series from them.
This writer foresaw the Angels getting the Red Sox playoff monkey (a rally monkey, if you will) off their back in a five-game series. The Angels pitching staff from beginning to end was dominant all season and the addition of Mark Teixeira gave Vladimir Guerrero some help in the middle of the order.
Despite the added firepower, the Angels found themselves in close games more often than any other team and won those more often than any other. They were 31-21 in one run contests, which would seem to prepare a team for the playoffs. It also afforded Francisco Rodriguez the opportunity to save a major league-record 62 games.
However, the Red Sox won the series largely on their clutch hitting, making this a team that is tough to pick against. In Game 1, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz each had a run scoring single in the ninth to put the game away. J. D. Drew hit a two run homer in the ninth inning off K-Rod to break the tie and win Game 2. Finally, Jed Lowrie won the series in Game 4 with a ninth-inning single to score Jason Bay.
Additionally, you may notice that not one name was repeated among those accounting for the victories, a testament to how many guys on this team have the confidence in these situations. The Red Sox overcame a poor offensive series from their two potential MVP candidates: Dustin Pedroia (1-17) and Kevin Youkilis (4-18). In fairness, both of them have more than one dimension to their games and each played excellent defense.
The Angels, on the other hand, got a lot of productivity from their offensive weapons. Guerrero and Big Tex were each 7-15 (each also had 4 walks), Torii Hunter was 7-18 (1 BB), and Chone Figgins was 7-21. Mike Napoli was 3-12, but had the Angels only two home runs of the series in the Game 3 victory. The Angels also did not ground into a single double play in the series, but their big problem was hitting with runners on base, failing to send home 43 runners in the four games.
The pitching in the series was as good as advertised. Jon Lester, in his two starts, allowed no earned runs (one unearned) in 14 innings of work, though earned only one victory as Manny Delcarmen got the vulture win in the finale. He struck out 11, walked three and allowed only 10 hits, resulting in a phenomenal .93 WHIP.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is nothing if not consistent as he always seems to hit 100 pitches in the fifth inning and his Game 2 start was no exception. He lasted five innings and 108 pitches, allowing three runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out five. Dice-K may have racked up the most wins on the team, but his inability to regularly go deep in games does wear down the bullpen. It is with high regularity that Dice-K starts result in three to four bullpen innings.
Josh Beckett‘s outing was very similar to Matsuzaka’s: five innings and 106 pitches. He allowed four runs on nine hits, including both of Napoli’s home runs, and four walks and struck out six. Ironically, this was the bullpen’s finest effort, despite this being the lone loss. Delcarmen (1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 K), Hideki Okajima (1, 1, 0), Justin Masterson (1.1, 1, 1), and Jonathan Papelbon (2, 1, 3, 1 BB) held the Angels scoreless until the 12th when they plated the deciding run off Javier Lopez.
The Angels bullpen, in relief of Joe Saunders, pitched 7.1 innings of scoreless relief and allowed only two hits over that span, but did walk five. For the series, the bullpen sports a very good 2.40 ERA and the 1.33 WHIP, while adequate, is a bit high.
If told prior to the season that two East teams would meet in the ALCS, would anyone have thought of any other matchup than Red Sox-Yankees. The Blue Jays recieved some expert hype, so perhaps they would figure into some predictions, but the Rays? I wrote after the first sweep in Tampa when the Rays were leading that I did not think the Rays strengths could overcome a couple of weaknesses without any deadline moves in those areas.
However, the Rays overcame their lack of power and inevitable injuries to Troy Percival to win the AL East. They did it with great starting pitching, a tough bullpen, and an above average defense. Grant Balfour (1.54 ERA, .89 WHIP), Percival’s replacement each time he was injured, was arguably more effective as a closer. J.P. Howell was a highly effective part time closer as well as evidenced by his 2.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 1.03 K/9. In their LDS against Chicago, the Rays bullpen was almost untouchable.
Collectively, they pitched 11-2/3 innings and allowed just one run on six hits and two walks with 13 strikeouts. They struck out more batters than they allowed on base, which will certainly translate to wins. By contrast, the Rays starters, typically high K/9 pitchers as well, struck out just three more than the relievers in nearly twice as many innings (23.2).
The Rays wanted Jason Bay at the deadline, but could not work out a deal and instead stood pat. Their big deal was calling up likely Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria early in the season and subsequently signing him to a contract. He met the lofty expectations, hitting .272 (.343 OBP) with 27 HRs and 85 RBI. Carlos Pena was the only bigger source of power on the team with 31 home runs.
In addition to that, the negatives in this series are plenty for the Red Sox. Mike Lowell is out for the ALCS, since he was dropped from the LDS roster due to his nagging hip injury. The Red Sox need to get more out of Dice-K, Beckett, Pedroia, and Youkilis. The Rays won the season series, went 8-1 in Tampa and 2-7 in Fenway. The Rays won the biggest series the teams played, taking the final two of the last Fenway series with the Red Sox poised to take the division lead. Joe Maddon has done a great job letting the young kids play while keeping them on an even keel and focused.
However, as the Red Sox proved against the Angels, they are clutch and any number of guys can get the game winner. I learned my lesson from the Angels series and cannot pick against them again. The Red Sox will win in six and Jon Lester will be MVP. Lester was 3-0 against the Rays in three starts this season. He threw 20 innings and allowed only two runs, so he seems to have the Rays figured out. He has the look of a 2003 Josh Beckett, who carried his Marlins to the World Series crown.