Red Sox Head West

With tight races and surprising contenders emerging in the AL East and Central this season, the West-leading Los Angeles Angels haven't gotten the attention that a league leader usually receives.

A marquee matchup with the defending World Series champions might change that.

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The Boston Red Sox travel to Anaheim on Friday for the first time since sweeping the Angels out of last year's playoffs, as the AL's top two clubs open post-All-Star break play with a three-game set.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Los Angeles -155 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 8.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 73% of bets for this game have been placed on Los Angeles -155 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

While Boston (57-40) has been in a close battle with upstart Tampa Bay in the East and the Central has featured a tight race between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota, Los Angeles (57-38) has quietly compiled the AL's best record and is tied with the Chicago Cubs for the best mark in the majors.

By winning their last two games before the break against second-place Oakland, the Angels opened up a six-game division lead - the biggest in baseball - as they seek their fourth West title in five years.

They are just 11th in the AL with 409 runs, but superior pitching has been the key. Since John Lackey's return to the rotation on May 14 from a triceps strain, the Angels have a 3.43 ERA - third-best in the majors.

"This is the deepest rotation we've had since I've been here," ninth-year manager Mike Scioscia told his team's official Web site. "We're sending a guy out there every day who can get us deep in games and give us a chance to win."

While Lackey (6-2, 2.46 ERA) has posted impressive numbers since being activated, he's struggled in his last two starts, going 0-1 with an 8.49 ERA. He gave up 15 hits - the most by an AL starter this season - in 5 2-3 innings of Los Angeles' 11-10 win at Texas last Thursday.

Lackey has also struggled against Boston, going 1-6 with a 6.27 ERA in 11 starts. He lost Game 1 of last year's division series between the teams, giving up four runs in six innings of the Angels' 4-0 defeat.

Manny Ramirez is 10-for-23 with four home runs and seven walks against the right-hander. Ramirez homered twice against the Angels in last year's playoffs as the Red Sox finished their second sweep of Los Angeles in four seasons.

The Red Sox went into the break with a half-game lead in the East after winning five of six to overtake the Rays, losers of seven straight.

Slugger David Ortiz remains out with a wrist injury, but he's expected back perhaps as soon as next weekend.

"We're in a good position," catcher Jason Varitek told the Red Sox's official Web site. "I don't believe this team has hit a really good stride yet. We've had to mix and put a lot of pieces together. We do miss the big man in our lineup."

Boston's bats have picked up the slack in Ortiz's absence, however - no one more so than J.D. Drew, who leads the Red Sox with a .412 on-base percentage and .572 slugging percentage.

One of 10 All-Stars between the Angels and Red Sox, Drew was named MVP of Tuesday's All-Star game after hitting a two-run homer in the AL's 4-3, 15-inning victory.

Clay Buchholz (2-4, 5.70) hopes to begin turning his season around Friday. In his first start back after stints on the DL and at Triple-A Pawtucket, the right-hander walked five and allowed four runs in five innings of a 7-3 loss to Baltimore on Friday.

In his first major league appearance Aug. 17, Buchholz beat the Angels 8-4, allowing eight hits and four runs in six innings.

Los Angeles took two of three at Boston from April 22-24.

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