Red Sox-Angels series preview

Red Sox-Angels series preview

Red Sox-Angels series preview 

Oh boy, I couldn’t have asked for a better setup in October than what has transpired up until this point. With the American League all set for action and the National League still reeling from last night's Colorado victory over San Diego, the playoff picture is shining down on us from high above. Even with college football and the NFL well entrenched in their own seasons, the baseball world is gearing up for one heck of a display.

We’re going to take a glance at the first matchups taking place on Wednesday's card to see what stands out. How will the bats for each team compare against the arms, and who might have the advantage when the opening pitch is thrown? Of course we’re all faced with some tough games ahead, but its October and 162 games later the time has come for greatness and glory.

**Boston-L.A. Angels**

When the Angels stroll into Fenway Park on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. EDT, the East and West coasts will be sending its best AL teams to determine this Division Series winner. Right handed ace John Lackey (19-7, 3.01 ERA) will represent L.A. on the mound in Game 1, while the Sox will call upon the pitching duties of 20-game winner Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27). has gone on to set Boston as a -158 home favorite, with a total installed at 8 ½.

Red Sox: Boston enters this Divisional Series with one of the most well balanced teams in Major League Baseball. Finishing up the 2007 season with a 3.87 ERA (second best in the league) and a WHIP of 1.27 (second best), the Red Sox pack a power punch in the starting rotation. Starting ace Beckett has been the leader on the slab, but knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (17-12, 4.76) and rookie hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka have added a total of 32 victories. Just to be clear, both Wakefield and Matsuzaka have had their hardships with a combined 4.58 ERA, but wins are wins and both have worked hard to sustain victories for the team.
In their last 10 meetings together this year, Boston owns the edge with a 6-4 record. The ‘over’ has clocked in six times. The only let down for the Sox occurred in mid-August when the Angles took two of three games in Anaheim. Both Beckett and Julian Tavarez (7-11, 5.15) where the losing entities in those contests.

The pop at the plate has been the balance effect for Boston. Hitting a team .279 BA and knocking in 5.4 runs per game adds run support to the pitching staff, while taking full advantage of the hitting park that Fenway is notorious for being.

Designated hitter David Ortiz (who is probable for Wednesday’s game with a knee injury) has been a monster for yet another season. Swinging the Louisville Slugger for a .332 BA and racking up 117 RBIs, ‘Big Papi’ is an integral part of this well oiled hitting machine.

Let’s not leave out the career season that third baseman Mike Lowell has produced. His .324 BA with 120 RBIs are the highest numbers Lowell has manufactured since joining the Majors in 1998.

Boston is 8-3 in its last 11 playoff meetings, while Beckett has gone 19-9 in his last 28 starts on grass.

Expected Starters: Josh Beckett Game 1, Curt Schilling Game 2, D. Matsuzaka Game 3, Josh Beckett Game 4 and Curt Schilling Game 5

Angels: L.A. has a monumental task ahead. Without home-field advantage on its side (54-27), the Angles are going to have to work extra hard in taking at least one-game in hostile territory.

The strongest element in the Halos’ attack is speed and contact hitting. Lacking power inside the batters box with only 123 home runs (27 worst in the league), L.A. makes up for the long ball with 139 stolen bases and a .284 BA. This translates into productive outs (in which players in scoring position score on an out), thus the ability to accumulate five runs per game.

Third baseman Chone Figgins and center fielder Reggie Willits make up the speed around the bases, while Orlando Cabrera, Gary Matthews Jr., Garrett Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero all provide quality at bats (have averaged a .294 BA with a total of 363 RBIs). You can’t stress it enough; the Angels know how to make the most out of an opportunity with runners in scoring position.

Starters John Lackey (19-9, 3.01), Kelvim Escobar (18-7, 3.40) and Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91) have been instruments of successful warfare on the mound but that’s where the buck stops. The bullpen is more of a cloud then a halo hanging over this club’s heads.

Beginning with reliever Chris Bootcheck (3-3, 4.77), a right-hander who’s given up six earned runs in his last five outings, and ending with southpaw hurler Darren Oliver (3-1, 3.78), L.A. may be suffering from the fatigue factor that many clubs are afflicted with this time of year.

Even trusty slinger Scot Shields (4-5, 3.86) has been a bit shaky in recent outings, getting tagged in his last 6.3 innings of work for four earned runs, four base on balls with one blown save. In five games this season against Boston, Shields has sacrificed five runs (three of them earned) and tallying a bloated 8.10 ERA.

The Angels are 1-10 in John Lackey’s last 11 starts versus the Red Sox, but are 12-3 in Lackey’s last 15 road starts. The Halos have suffered with a 2-8 performance in their last 10 playoff contests when installed as an underdog.

Expected Starters: John Lackey Game 1, Kelvim Escobar Game 2, Jered Weaver Game 3, John Lackey Game 4 and Kelvim Escobar Game 5

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ALDS preview & pick: Angels vs. Red Sox
Each coast's best team meet Wednesday when the Los Angeles Angels roll into Fenway Park to face the Boston Red Sox for the first game of their best-of-five American League Division Series.

Boston won six of the 10 meetings with Los Angeles in the regular season but dropped two of three when they traveled to California. The Angels managed to split a four-game set in Beantown back in mid-August after getting swept on their first trip east in April.

The first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, with Angels ace John Lackey faces Red Sox’s Cy Young hopeful Josh Beckett in Game 1. Here's a preview on how this series will play out.


Why they’ll win: The veteran savvy Red Sox have plenty of big-game experience in both the lineup and the  rotation. Boston has remained one of the most balanced teams all season, ranking in the top 10 of most hitting and pitching categories.

The fourth-ranked offense in the major leagues features the bats of David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and now Manny Ramirez, who recently returned from a nagging abdominal injury. Add to these names home-field advantage for the postseason, keeping the BoSox in hitter-friendly Fenway Park for three of the five possible games.

Boston’s playoff rotation features three World Series-winning pitchers in Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Beckett alongside rookie phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka. Backing up the starters is the best and deepest bullpen in baseball. Relievers Jon Lester, Hideki Okajima, Eric Gagne and closer Jonathan Papelbon highlight a group that posted a collective 3.14 ERA this season.

Why they’ll lose: Boston is a big hits, big runs, big innings team. While it can explode for multiple scores it doesn’t have a lot of pop in the order. Outside Ortiz and Ramirez, and occasional power from Lowell and catcher Jason Varitek, the Red Sox don’t have any true deep-ball threats.

They do have Fenway on their side, but if Los Angeles can limit the damage done by the middle of the orde, they should be able to deal with the top and bottom of Boston’s lineup. The BoSox ranked 17th in the majors with 165 total home runs while the Angels limited their opponents to just 150 dingers this season.


Why they’ll win: The Angels can make something out of nothing and score runs at any spot in the order. They have dangerous speed on the bases and finished second in the AL with 139 swipes as of Sunday, thanks to track stars Chone Figgins and Reggie Willits.

Knocking in these baserunners are solid bats like Orlando Cabrera, Garrett Anderson and Gary Matthews Jr., who helped L.A. tie for an AL-best .301 batting average with runners on base. Injuries slowed slugger Vladimir Guerrero to just 27 home runs but the right fielder managed to tally 125 RBIs.

The Angels playoff rotation catches a break because Boston decided on the ALDS series schedule which gave the teams a day off on Thursday between Games 1 and 2. This allows the Game 1 starters to pitch twice during this five-game set. Nineteen-game winner Lackey will double up with Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver joining him, and possibly lefty Joe Saunders, in the postseason rotation.

Why they’ll lose: Los Angeles is in a similar situation as Boston. While it ranks amongst the American League’s best offensive teams it lacks power in the middle of the order. Injuries to Matthews and Maicer Izturis as well as a case of pink eye for Anderson could force manager Mike Scioscia to carry more reserve position players rather than beefing up his bullpen.

The lack of relievers could also hurt the Angels' reserve arms, who haven’t pitched well down the home stretch. Middle reliever Scot Shields closed the season with a 7.58 ERA during the last two months of the schedule. Lights-out closer Francisco Rodriguez showed signs of wear earlier this month but has returned to his familiar form in the past week. Los Angeles will depend heavily on its bullpen if the starters struggle against the BoSox like they did in the regular season, posting a 6.04 ERA versus Boston over their 10 meetings.

Prediction: Boston Red Sox in four games

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A capsule look at the Angels-Red Sox playoff series
A look at the best-of-five American League division series between the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox:

Schedule: (All times Eastern) Game 1, Wednesday, at Boston (6:37 p.m.); Game 2, Friday, at Boston (8:37 p.m.); Game 3, Sunday, at Anaheim (3:07 p.m.); x-Game 4, Monday, at Anaheim (9:37 p.m.); x-Game 5, Wednesday, at Boston (8:37 p.m.). (All games on TBS).

x-if necessary.

Season Series: Boston won 6-4.

Projected Lineups Angels: 3B Chone Figgins (.330, 3 HR, 58 RBIs, 41 SB, sixth in AL in batting, third in steals), SS Orlando Cabrera (.301, 8, 86, 20 SB), RF/DH Vladimir Guerrero (.324, 27, 125, used at DH recently due to sore arm), LF Garret Anderson (.297, 16, 80), CF Gary Matthews Jr. (.252, 18, 72, sore knee may limit him), 1B Casey Kotchman (.296, 11, 68), 2B Howie Kendrick (.322, 5, 39), RF/DH Juan Rivera .279, 2, 8), C Mike Napoli (.247, 10, 34).

Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia (.317, 8 HR, 50 RBIs), 1B Kevin Youkilis (.288, 16, 83), DH David Ortiz (.332, 35, 117, 52 doubles, .445 OBP), LF Manny Ramirez (.296, 20, 88), RF J.D. Drew (.270, 11, 64), 3B Mike Lowell (.324, 21, 120), C Jason Varitek (.255, 17, 68), CF Coco Crisp (.268, 6, 60, 28 SB), SS Julio Lugo (.237, 8, 73, 33).

Projected Rotations Red Sox: RH Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27 ERA), RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40, 201 strikeouts), RH Curt Schilling (9-8, 3.87).

Angels: RH John Lackey (19-9, 3.01 ERA), RH Kelvim Escobar (18-7, 3.40), RHP Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91).


RH Francisco Rodriguez (5-2, 2.81, 40/46 saves), RH Scot Shields (4-5, 3.86), RH Justin Speier (4-5, 3.86), RH Dustin Moseley (4-3, 4.40), RH Chris Bootcheck (3-3, 4.79), LH Darren Oliver (3-1, 3.91), LH Joe Saunders (8-5, 4.44, started all 18 games he appeared in).

Red Sox: RH Jonathan Papelbon (1-3, 1.85 ERA, 37/40 saves), LH Hideki Okajima (3-2, 2.22, 5/7), RH Eric Gagne (4-2, 3.81, 16/20 with Texas and Boston), RH Manny Delcarmen (0-0, 2.05), RH Tim Wakefield (17-12, 4.76, 0 relief appearances this season), LH Jon Lester (4-0, 4.57, 1 relief app.), LH Javier Lopez (2-1, 3.10), RH Mike Timlin (2-1, 3.42).


The Red Sox beat the Angels in the 1986 ALCS when they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the last three games, keyed by Dave Henderson's home run off Donnie Moore in Game 5. Boston clinched the series with an 8-1 victory behind Roger Clemens, then lost the World Series in seven games to the New York Mets. ... The Red Sox also beat the Angels in the 2004 AL division series, then won the World Series in a four-game sweep over St. Louis.. ... Boston was 6-4 against Los Angeles this season, with Beckett going 1-0 and Schilling 2-1. Matsuzaka has never pitched against the Angels. ... Ortiz hit .361 with four homers and 16 RBIs and Drew hit a team-best .382 in those 10 games. ... Gagne is pitching better after struggling while making the transition from closer to setup role since Boston acquired him at the trading deadline. He got his first loss for the Red Sox on Aug. 17 when he allowed three runs in the ninth inning to give the Angels a 7-5 win. ... Depending on various players' ailments, manager Mike Scioscia could do the same sort of lineup juggling he did for much of the season, with Figgins possibly moving from 3B to the outfield, and Maicer Izturis taking over at 3B. OF Reggie Willits also could fit into the mix. ... Figgins and Guerrero were sidelined when the Red Sox swept three from Los Angeles in Boston in April. But the Angels won four of the final seven meetings. ... Angels nearly swept a three-game series at home in early August. The finale took 4 hours and 2 minutes - tying the longest nine-inning home game in Angels history.

Big Picture Red Sox: Lowell posted career highs in batting average and RBIs and picked up the slack when Ramirez missed a month late in the season and Drew slumped most of the year. ... The Red Sox had the best record in baseball most of the season, opening up an 11 1/2-game lead in the AL East by May 27. The New York Yankees cut the lead to 1 1/2 games in the last two weeks before the Red Sox won four out of five games to secure home-field advantage through the World Series. ... Pitching has been Boston's strong point, led by Beckett, who posted his first 20-win season. ... Schilling has pitched effectively after coming off the disabled list and reinventing himself because of a loss of velocity. ... Matsuzaka finished strong after going 1-4 with a 9.57 ERA in five starts from mid-August to mid-September. ... Ramirez missed a month with a strained oblique muscle in his left side but went 6-for-14 after returning for the final week. ... Drew hit .393 in the last three weeks. ... Papelbon rebounded from last year's shoulder injury that ended his season on Sept. 1 to save 37 games in 40 opportunities. ... Pedroia is a top contender for AL Rookie of the Year. Angels: Back in playoffs for third time in last four years and fifth time since they won the World Series as a wild card in 2002. ... The Angels were in strong contention for the league's best record this season - and home-field advantage through the AL playoffs - until they lost three in a row to last-place Texas last week. Los Angeles finished 94-68, two games behind both Boston and Cleveland in the race for the best record. That could cost the Angels since they were a major league-best 54-27 at home and 40-41 on the road. ... The Angels essentially are the same team that finished second to Oakland in the West and didn't make the playoffs a year ago. The keys to their success this year included solid pitching, some emerging youngsters filling in when players were injured, Guerrero having his usual productive season at the plate despite some nagging injuries, and a healthy Anderson coming on strong after the All-Star break. ... GM Bill Stoneman, a former major league pitcher who has built the Angels around pitching, drew some criticism when he failed to acquire a big bat during the offseason to give Guerrero protection. But Stoneman insisted the Angels would be better than last year and he was right. ... Lackey was the staff ace, and Escobar also had a fine year. Although 2005 Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon was ailing and ineffective most of the season and finished with a 6-8 record and 6.34 ERA, and Ervin Santana was inconsistent, the rest of the team's pitching staff picked up the slack. ... Rodriguez again ranked among the best closers in the majors. ... Hitting seems particularly contagious for the Angels, with former Los Angeles coach Joe Maddon, now the Tampa Bay manager, saying they had a ''swarming'' offense that could put up runs in a hurry.

Watch For

- Big Three. Can Ortiz, Ramirez and Drew all hit at the same time? Drew slumped after signing a five-year, $70 million contract as a free agent. Ramirez was well off his usual production, even before being sidelined. Ortiz slumped at times while nursing a sore right knee that has required intermittent cortisone shots and days off.

- Big Schill. Schilling is known as a big-game pitcher, and for good reason. He is 8-2 with a 2.06 ERA in four different playoff appearances. He was co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with Arizona and then helped Boston win the '04 Series with his famous ''bloody sock.'' But the new Schilling is throwing in the high 80s instead of the low 90s, trying to induce hitters to get themselves out more.

- Fast Runners. Led by Lugo's 33 stolen bases and Crisp's 28, the Red Sox stole 96 bases with an 80 percent success rate that is the team's best since at least 1920. Lugo is only the third Red Sox player with more than 31 steals since 1935.

- Flying Angels: They're among baseball's busiest teams on the basepaths. They had more steals (139) than homers (123), and always seem to be trying to go from first to third on singles, whether they make it or not.

- Vlad Launching a 9-iron. Guerrero is able to get the barrel of the bat on the ball almost anywhere it's thrown, at times lifting pitches that are practically in the dirt up and over the fence.

- Big Game John. Lackey, scheduled to start the first and fourth games, likes to pitch in important games. In 2002, he became the first rookie since 1909 to win a World Series Game 7.

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Health and hitting of Ortiz, Ramirez improving

BOSTON -- David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are back where they want to be - in the heart of the Red Sox lineup and in the playoffs again.

After a season in which their power numbers decreased while their aches and pains increased, the Boston sluggers are set to swing away.

''It seems like everybody's ready to go,'' Ortiz said. ''We've been playing well and that's the shape you want to be in going into the playoffs.''

The Red Sox, who missed the playoffs last year, open the AL division series Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park.

Big Papi and Manny will be together in the third and fourth spots in the lineup for the first time since Aug. 28 when Ramirez was hurt against the New York Yankees.

''They have about as good a 1-2 (punch) as there is in baseball,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

A strained muscle in his left side kept Ramirez out for 24 games before he returned last Tuesday. Ortiz has been bothered by a sore right knee that probably will need offseason surgery.

Ortiz's 35 homers and 117 RBIs were the second fewest in his five years with Boston. But he hit a career-high .332 and led the majors with a .445 on-base percentage. He also led the AL with 111 walks and was second with a career-high 52 doubles.

''This might be one of my best offensive years in Boston,'' Ortiz said. ''If I hit 60 homers and I end up with a .320 OBP and a .240 batting average, do I help my team?''

He did it despite an injured left shoulder that has felt better since he had a cortisone shot in early August. He had a cortisone shot in his knee on Saturday, when he sat out the game against Minnesota, then played the next day.

''These past couple of weeks I was hurting really bad,'' Ortiz said Sunday. ''I woke up feeling good today.''

Ramirez finished with 20 homers and 88 RBIs in his seventh year in Boston; the only time he had fewer was as a rookie with Cleveland in 1994.

In the last week of the season, he was 6-for-14. Not once in the entire season did he publicly complain or ask for a trade as he had done in past years.

''I think he's in a real good place. He seems real happy,'' manager Terry Francona said. ''I've witnessed some of the hiccups along the way, but there's also a side of him that we're very proud of.''

With Ortiz having an outstanding year, Josh Beckett winning 20 games, Mike Lowell having his best season and Dustin Pedroia in contention for the rookie of the year award, Ramirez has been somewhat under the radar this year.

''I don't know if he cares where the radar is,'' Francona said.

Ortiz should be thrilled to know where Ramirez will be - batting cleanup just behind him. Ramirez primarily hit second last week to give him a chance for more at bats.

''He's not going to hit second,'' Francona said.

That improves Ortiz's chances to be even more effective.

''Not a lot of great players get pitched to in (certain) situations unless you have to,'' Francona said. ''With Manny standing back there for all these years, David's gotten pitched to.''

Ortiz played all 24 games that Ramirez missed and posted some impressive numbers - eight doubles, eight homers, 24 RBIs, a .318 batting average and a .449 on-base percentage.

''Numbers-wise, it's not'' his best season with Boston, Francona said. ''Effort-wise, leadership-wise, yeah, it very well may be. He really rose to the occasion when we needed him and he took some responsibility.''

In last Friday's 5-2 win over Minnesota, Ortiz doubled and singled to stretch his on-base streak to 11 appearances. It ended when he grounded out, but he hit a solo homer on his next at-bat.

''David's always been like that,'' said Minnesota's Torii Hunter, Ortiz's friend. ''I don't know where people think this sudden surge came from. David's always been my favorite hitter since we were in the minor leagues together.''

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire also knows Ortiz from their time together in Minnesota.

''All you can do is try not to give him anything too good to hit,'' Gardenhire said, ''but right now he's hitting good pitches and bad pitches.''

John Lackey, the Angels' Game 1 starter, was tagged for six runs in the first inning of his last outing against the Red Sox. Ortiz drove in the first two runs with a homer and Boston won 8-4 on Aug. 17 at Fenway Park.

The next day, Ortiz hit a grand slam off Game 3 starter Jered Weaver, tying the game at 6. The Angels didn't want to face him in the eighth so they walked him intentionally and he scored one of the four runs in the inning. Boston won 10-6.

''You'd like to try your best not to have to pitch to Manny and Ortiz in the same inning,'' Lackey said. ''I'll probably pick one or the other and challenge one of them and maybe not so much on the other one.''

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Matsui likely DH in opener; Ohlendorf could make playoff roster

UNION CITY, N.J. -- Hideki Matsui will likely be a designated hitter when the New York Yankees open the playoffs Thursday at Cleveland.

Matsui hit just .185 in September with two homers and 12 RBIs and had fluid drained from his right knee on Sunday in New York.

Yankees manager Joe Torre said Monday that Johnny Damon could start in left field and that he also was thinking about using rookie Shelley Duncan, a right-handed hitter, against C.C. Sabathia in Game 1.

''I'm pretty comfortable with way Johnny's played left field,'' Torre said.

Sabathia is 1-7 with a 7.13 ERA against the Yankees but hasn't faced them since 2004.

The Yankees swept Cleveland 6-0 in the season series, but those games seem like ages ago. Chase Wright, Kei Igawa and Sean Henn got the wins at Yankee Stadium from April 17-19. Cleveland got hot only after the series at Jacobs Field from Aug. 10-12, winning 31 of its final 43 games.

''We certainly know that the Cleveland team we played and beat every single game this year is a different ballclub than we're going to face on Thursday,'' Torre said at Jose Marti Middle School, where he opened a ''Margaret's Place'' safe room on behalf of his ''Safe at Home Foundation'' to prevent domestic violence.

Books have not set a line for this game.

ROCKET WATCH: Roger Clemens threw 49 pitches off a bullpen mound Monday at the Yankees' complex in Tampa, Fla., took 25 grounders and did some light running.

The Rocket, coming back from a hamstring injury, could throw a simulated game Tuesday. For now, he is on track to pitch Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

Torre planned to call him later Monday.

''If he feels he needs another session, I think we have choices at that point in time,'' Torre said.

Mike Mussina is the likely choice for Game 4, but if Clemens isn't ready, Mussina could pitch in Game 3 and be followed by rookie Phil Hughes.

Chien-Ming Wang pitches the opener, followed by Andy Pettitte in Game 2.

ANOTHER ROOKIE: Torre said rookie Ross Ohlendorf, who made his major league debut Sept. 11, could be an option for the division series roster. The Princeton product had a 2.84 ERA in six relief appearances, striking out nine and walking two.

''He's only been relieving for two months. His stuff certainly indicates that that could be his future,'' Torre said. ''We're going to go with kids, anyway. As far as the hesitancy, he's going to have some company, whatever our decision is.''

Torre said seven pitchers were sent home after Sunday's regular-season finale: Brian Bruney, Tyler Clippard, Kei Igawa, Jeff Karstens, Sean Henn, Matt DeSalvo and Chase Wright.

Ian Kennedy, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 13 because of a strained back muscle, was headed to Tampa on Monday and will have a bullpen session later this week. Kennedy will leave to attend his wedding Saturday in Missouri, then return to Florida. Torre said he could be available for the AL championship series.

BERNIE: Torre brought former Yankee Bernie Williams along with him to speak with the school children. Torre will be honored Nov. 9 at the ''Safe at Home Foundation'' dinner.

''Even though I was not a victim of domestic abuse,'' Williams said, ''I have relatives that were victims.''

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ALDS Preview - LA Angels of Anaheim vs. Boston Red Sox
October 2nd, 2007

(Sports Network) - After a one year absence, the Boston Red Sox return to the postseason as American League East champions and will start their quest towards a World Series title with an American League Division Series matchup against the AL West-champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

By virtue of finishing with the AL's best record at 96-66, the Red Sox will not only have home-field advantage throughout the postseason, but were also able to choose the ALDS series with the extra day of rest, which allows them to have their top two starters available, if necessary, for Games 4 and 5.

Meaning, of course, staff ace and potential AL Cy Young award winner Josh Beckett will get two starts if necessary on full rest.

Boston entered the season with extremely high expectations after a productive offseason that saw them land Japanese superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka, infielder Julio Lugo and outfielder J.D. Drew.

The Red Sox more than lived up to the hype, as they held the lead in the AL East virtually wire-to-wire, fighting off the hard-charging New York Yankees over the final couple of weeks to snap the Bronx Bombers' nearly decade long stranglehold on the division.

If there is a cause for concern it would be the health of outfielder Manny Ramirez, who missed most of the month of September with a strained oblique muscle. Ramirez, though, played the final week of the season and will be ready to go.

Ramirez, who is expected to bat cleanup in Wednesday's opener, missed 30 games this season and hit .296 with just 20 home runs, 88 RBI and 84 runs scored.

Of course, a healthy Ramirez makes cleanup hitter David Ortiz all that more dangerous. Big Papi's production (.332, 35 HR, 117 RBI, 116 runs) was down a bit this year, but there is still no other batter feared more in a big spot than him.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, got another incredible season from superstar Vladimir Guerrero, despite once again having very little protection in the lineup. The Angels rely on speed and a solid pitching staff, boasting a pair of Cy Young Award candidates of their own in 19-game winner John Lackey and 18-game winner Kelvim Escobar.

Guerrero, though, enters the postseason a little banged up with sore triceps in both arms that relegated him to designated hitter duties down the stretch.

All and all, though, the Angels cruised to their third AL West title in four years with a 94-68 record. Mike Scioscia's crew had the division wrapped up for the better part of September and was afforded the luxury of resting their starters the final week of the season.

These teams are no stranger to one another in the postseason, having met twice before, most recently in 2004 when Boston beat them in three games in the ALDS on their way to its first Word Series title since 1918.

They also met up in 1986 when Boston rallied back from a three games to one deficit to win a dramatic seventh game. Of course, the Red Sox then went on to lose in seven games to the New York Mets in the World Series.

Boston won seven of its 10 matchups with the Angels this season and is 20-15 in the series since the start of the 2004 campaign. The Red Sox also won five of the seven games played between the teams at Fenway this season.


Everyone knows about Ramirez and Ortiz in the Red Sox lineup, but third baseman Mike Lowell put one of the best seasons of his career together this year.

Lowell, who is due to become a free agent at season's end, hit .326 with 21 home runs and 120 RBI. If he stays hot in the postseason, managers will have a hard time figuring out a way to pitch to that trio late in games.

Although Ortiz's home run numbers were down, he did belt 52 doubles, the highest total for a designated hitter since the position's inception in 1973. His 1.069 OPS was also tops in the AL.

AL Rookie of the Year candidate Dustin Pedroia was the spark plug atop the order all season. The high-energy second baseman hit .317 with eight homers and 50 RBI and scored 86 times. Pedroia was also solid in the field and will be relied on heavily as a relay man since Los Angeles will likely run at will on Boston's outfield.

Drew became the target of fans jeers in Fenway after a disappointing first half that saw him hit just .258. Drew, though, brings plenty of postseason experience into this and a big October will erase the memory of a poor 2007.

Boston can also run, as Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo became the first Boston teammates with 25-plus steals since Tris Speaker (42) and Al Janvrin (25) ran circles around the AL in 1914.

Crisp, though, was bothered by some sort of virus late in the season that limited him in September. Pesky first baseman Kevin Youkilis also comes into the postseason a little banged up. He was hit in the wrist by a Chien-Ming Wang pitch back on September 15 and has played sparingly since. However, he should be ready to go come Wednesday night.

Even though everything in the Anaheim lineup is built around the amazing Guerrero, the Angels play a National League-style and rely on their speed to manufacture runs, as the Halos were one of two AL teams to finish with more stolen bases than home runs. They rank 12th in home runs with 121 but fourth in runs scored with 820.

The team also has outscored their opponents, 112-68, in the first inning and have a record of 44-18 when they score in the first frame.

Rookie Reggie Willits, Chone Figgins and shortstop Orlando Cabrera are the main culprits in that department, as all three had over 20 steals and will give Boston catcher Jason Varitek fits when on the basepaths.

Even with that, the Angels are going nowhere if Guerrero does not hit behind them. He failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time in a full season, but batted .324 and knocked in 125 runs. For whatever reason he hits better when playing the field (only .270 as a DH), so it will be interesting to see if his triceps allows him to do so, as the team definitely needs his rocket arm in right.

Veteran Garret Anderson had a bit of a revival this season and offered some protection to the great Guerrero, as he drove in 65 runs in the second half and finished the year at .297 with 16 homers and 80 RBI.

Guerrero is not the only ailing Angel, as Gary Matthews Jr. has been battling a right ankle sprain as well as a sore right knee. Matthews, who may have benefited the most from the rest in September, belted 18 homers with 72 RBI, 79 runs scored and stole 18 bases while playing a tremendous center field. His defense will be counted on in the cavernous center field of Fenway Park.



Beckett was sensational for the Red Sox this season and will likely be the AL's Cy Young Award winner after a stellar campaign that saw him post a career-high 20 wins with a 3.27 ERA, down from his 5.01 runs-per-game a year ago. He also cut his home runs allowed in half, giving up just 17 this season.

The 27-year-old right-hander, who pitched the clinching game for the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series, faced the Angels twice this season and was 1-0 against them with a sparkling 1.38 ERA.

After Beckett, Boston will hand the ball to the biggest question mark on their staff in the Japanese righty Matsuzaka, who was 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his rookie season.

After the team spent over $100 million for his services, Matsuzaka responded with a wildly inconsistent campaign and faded down the stretch, winning just two of his final nine starts.

Matsuzaka seemed to rise to the occasion time and time again in Japan and his performance here this postseason will be interesting to watch.

In Game 3 Boston manager Terry Francona will rely on one of the best postseason pitchers ever in the righty Curt Schilling, who carries an 8-2 lifetime postseason mark and two World Series championships into this series.

Injuries limited Schilling (9-8, 3.87) to 24 starts this season, so he should be nice and fresh after throwing just 151 innings.

Schilling, who is 3-0 in his four division series starts, was 2-1 in his three starts against the Angels this year and is 6-2 in his career against them with a 3.67 ERA in 12 games, seven of which have been starts.

Los Angeles will give the ball to a Cy Young Award candidate of its own in Game 1 in Lackey, who was 19-9 this season with a 3.01 ERA. Lackey, the hero of the Angels' 2001 World Series championship, finished the season up strong, as he won his final three starts and four of his last five decisions.

Lackey, though, has struggled in his career against the Red Sox, going just 1-6 against them with a 6.27 ERA in 11 starts.

Escobar had the best year of his career this season, posting a career-best 18 wins with a 3.40 ERA. However, Escobar was bothered by some shoulder issues late in the season, but had a strong start in his last outing of the regular season.

Escobar, who was rocked for three runs and five hits in just 3 1/3 innings of his ALDS start against the Red Sox in 2004, is 6-7 in his career against Boston with two saves and a 4.64 ERA in 36 games, 11 of which have been starts.

The Angels are 46-17 in games that Lackey and Escobar have started.

Jered Weaver will take the ball in the third game. He was 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA this season, and is 0-2 in four starts in his young career against the Red Sox.



Jonathan Papelbon came into spring training with the intention of starting, but when no one came in and took hold of the closer's role, Francona called upon his second-year pro to fill that spot once again. Papelbon responded with another sensational season with 37 saves and a 1.85 ERA. He is the first Red Sox pitcher in history with two 30-save seasons.

If Pedroia is not the Rookie of the Year in the American League, then Japanese right-hander Hideki Okajima may be. Okajima was dominant in the first half (2-0, 0.83 ERA), as he and Papelbon combined to form the best 1-2 punch at the end of games in the league. However, he struggled in September (8.10 ERA). Boston hopes some rest for him down the stretch did the trick.

When Eric Gagne was acquired at the trade deadline, most people applauded the move. Gagne, though, has been an utter disappointment, going 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and three blown saves in a Red Sox uniform. He is going to have to get a big out at some point if Boston is going to go far here. If he falters, Francona has the utmost faith in Manny Delcarmen.

Thanks to the Angels' starters going deep into games, Los Angeles' bullpen was one of the least used in the AL and should be fresh once the postseason starts. Closer Francisco Rodriguez is as good as it gets and converted 40 out of 46 save opportunities.

A big problem for the Angels in their 2004 series with the Red Sox was the lack of a left-handed reliever to oppose Ortiz and Ramirez. In addition to Darren Oliver, Scioscia may have another lefty, Joe Saunders, in the pen to combat the powerful lefties.

Scot Shields and Justin Speier will form the bridge to Rodriguez from the right side.



Scioscia is in his eighth campaign with the Angels and is the all-time leader in wins, guiding the club to 90-plus victories in four of the last six years. Scioscia, who skippered the club to the 2002 championship, is also the only Angels manager to bring his team to the postseason four times.

Francona is in his fourth year as head skipper of the Red Sox and has taken the team to the postseason in three of those seasons, including their first title in 86 years in 2004. The Red Sox are so well disciplined and rarely make a mistake in the field and all that is a credit to Francona.



With Crisp hurt for most of September, Boston got a look at its future center fielder in Jacoby Ellsbury and he answered the bell with a spectacular month. Ellsbury hit .361 with three homers and 17 RBI in the final month with eight stolen bases. He will probably see plenty of time as a starter this postseason too.

Eric Hinske and Bobby Kielty will provide some pop late in the games, while Hinske can also play a number of positions.

Maicer Isturiz was somewhat of an unsung hero for Angels, hitting .347 in September and .406 on the season with runners in scoring position.



This is going to be a dogfight. As big of big game pitchers as Beckett and Schilling are, Lackey is just as good. The key for the Angels is to get on base early and test Varitek and the outfield arms right off the bat. How Figgins, Cabrera and Willits do in front of Guerrero will go a long way in determining the outcome of this series. That is, of course, if Guerrero is going to be 100 percent. The Red Sox are going to hit. Everyone knows that.

Prediction: RED SOX IN FIVE

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Re: Red Sox-Angels series preview

AL Division Series Breakdown - Los Angeles vs. Boston
The Sports Network


October 3rd, 6:37 p.m. - John Lackey vs. Josh Beckett

October 5th, 8:37 p.m. - Kelvim Escobar vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

October 7th, 6:37 p.m. - Curt Schilling vs. Jered Weaver

2007 SEASON SERIES: Boston won, 6-4

After a one year absence, the Boston Red Sox return to the postseason as American League East champions and will start their quest towards a World Series title with an American League Division Series matchup against the AL West-champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

By virtue of finishing with the AL's best record at 96-66, the Red Sox will not only have home-field advantage throughout the postseason, but were also able to choose the ALDS series with the extra day of rest, which allows them to have their top two starters available, if necessary, for Games 4 and 5.

These teams are no stranger to one another in the postseason, having met twice before, most recently in 2004 when Boston beat them in three games in the ALDS on their way to its first Word Series title since 1918.

They also met up in 1986 when Boston rallied back from a three games to one deficit to win a dramatic seventh game. Of course, the Red Sox then went on to lose in seven games to the New York Mets in the World Series.

Boston won six of its 10 matchups with the Angels this season and is 20-15 in the series since the start of the 2004 campaign. The Red Sox also won five of the seven games played between the teams at Fenway this season.

The Red Sox will be playing in their fourth postseason in the last five years, while the Angels are in the playoffs as the AL West champions for the third time in the last four years.

Here are three big questions entering the series.


Japanese rookie right-hander Hideki Okajima was dominant in the first half (2-0, 0.83 ERA), as he and closer Jonathan Papelbon combined to form the best 1-2 punch in the league at the end of games. However, Okajima wore down in September (8.10 ERA). Boston hopes some rest for him down the stretch did the trick.

When Eric Gagne was acquired at the trade deadline, most people applauded the move. Gagne, though, has been an utter disappointment, going 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and three blown saves in a Red Sox uniform. He is going to have to get a big out at some point if Boston is going to go far here.

I am sure he is going to have a short leash, though.


Like Okajima, Daisuke Matsuzaka showed some signs of wearing out down the stretch, as he won just two of his final nine starts. Matsuzaka has never pitched this late into a season and has never thrown as many innings as he did this year.

The Red Sox would love for Matsuzaka to rediscover command of his offspeed pitches. Matsuzaka's best pitch, according to many scouts and insiders, is his changeup. However, that pitch seemed to disappear from his repertoire in the final month.

Boston was able to get Matsuzaka some extra rest down the stretch and it seemed to do the trick, as he pitched well in his final regular season start. However, he is on track for a Game 5 start and I am sure a lot of people in Fenway will be holding their breath in that one.


If there was ever a team that needed the rest in September it was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Not only was superstar Vladimir Guerrero nursing a pair of triceps injuries, but starter Kelvim Escobar had shoulder issues with outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. banged up with a number of leg injuries.

Guerrero has not started in the outfield in some time, but insists he will be ready to go on Wednesday. Obviously having Guerrero in right is huge for the Angels. Not only are his lifetime numbers at the plate better when he plays the field, but his rocket arm in right will keep Boston runners on their toes. Also it allows the older Garret Anderson to shift back to DH.

Given John Lackey's struggles in Fenway, Escobar's Game 2 start will likely be a must win. After a little extra rest prior to his final regular season start, Escobar responded with a solid effort. Hopefully that trend will continue for him.

Matthews is battling not only an ankle ailment, but is dealing with a sore knee. The Angels will need a fully healthy Matthews in cavernous center field of Fenway Park.

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Wakefield off Boston roster against Angels
October 2, 2007

BOSTON (AP) -Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has been left off Boston's playoff roster for its first-round series against the Los Angeles Angels because of his ailing back.

Manager Terry Francona said Tuesday that the goal was to get Wakefield healthy enough for later in the playoffs, should the Red Sox advance.

Wakefield (17-12) threw Tuesday, but did not feel good.

The Red Sox instead will carry a third catcher, Kevin Cash, who played 12 games this season after being called up in mid-August. Francona said the move would give the Red Sox more flexibility to make substitutions.

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Re: Red Sox-Angels series preview

Angels leave Matthews, Colon off ALDS roster
October 2nd, 2007

Anaheim, CA (Sports Network) - The Angels released their roster for the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox and two names not on the list were outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. and Bartolo Colon.

Matthews played in 140 games for the Angels this season, hitting .252 with 18 homers, 72 RBI and 79 runs scored. He is suffering from a left knee injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Wednesday.

Reggie Willits is expected to start in center field in place of Matthews.

Colon has an elbow problem in his throwing arm. The right-hander was not expected to be in the rotation, but could have been used out of the bullpen. He went 6-8 with a 6.38 ERA in 19 games this season.

The Angels start their ALDS in Boston on Wednesday night.

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