You don't see this every day. This AL Division Series features the team with the best record in the league against the best team in baseball. As a reward for winning 100 games, the Angels get to try and beat the defending champions, the team with the best run differential in the AL, the best defense in the AL and far and away the best third-order record in baseball. That's all. Meanwhile, the Rays will draw the weakest team in the field on 38 hours' rest.
Of course, the question is whether the Red Sox that take the field on Wednesday night in Los Angeles of Anaheim are that caliber of baseball team. Already, their nominal ace is down to one start in the series, maximum, while their starting third baseman and right fielder, who combined for 42 at-bats in September, are questionable for the opener. The healthy Red Sox are better than the healthy Angels, but that may not be the matchup that we get this week.
The Red Sox could start both
There's definitely a drop-off if the two stars can't play. The absence of Drew leaves the Sox a bit OBP-shy, while Lowell has power that Casey doesn't. Missing one of them isn't devastating, but missing both closes the gap between the Sox and Angels significantly. It's not going to be a bad offense, regardless; it's only championship-caliber if everyone plays and is healthy.
Oh, the Sox improved at the trade deadline, and I mean on the field.
The Angels have everyone healthy, and the lineup above is more or less what they ran out there in the last week of the season. That could work on Wednesday night against
These are not your older brother's Angels. While they still emphasize contact hitting and aggressive baserunning, the roster simply doesn't have much speed. Only
Keep in mind that the full-season stats don't quite give you the full picture of this offense. He didn't get a fraction of the attention Ramirez did, but
If everyone is healthy, the Sox won't use their bench very often.
The Angels can use
The injury to Beckett leads the Sox to ordering their starters by 2008 performance, which isn't such a bad thing. Whether Beckett can pitch in Sunday's Game 3 is uncertain, although he is expected to do so. The drop-off from Beckett to
The Angels' decision to take the longer series is peculiar, because they have a significant edge over the Red Sox in the fourth rotation slot no matter who pitches. By allowing the Sox to skip that slot and bring back Lester on full rest in Game 4 -- the Sox have yet to commit to this -- they gave away value. This is probably the most evenly matched element between the teams in a short series because of that decision. They themselves will push both
Sox fans head into October a bit nervous about their pen, not unlike how they entered October 2007. That worked out all right. The key element here is
The Angels' bullpen is well-known, has been long before Rodriguez ripped off a new single-season saves record this season. With
The Angels' decline in baserunning is mirrored by the degradation in their defensive performance, which is slightly below average per
There's not much of a difference here, as you have two of the very best in the game, managers of three of the last six world champions. Each runs a bullpen well, each avoids going too long with starters and neither is prone to the big mistake. We can nitpick any individual decision, but on balance neither team has an edge, and neither will be hurt by its man in the dugout. If there's something to watch, it's whether Scioscia lets his team be overly reckless on the bases, given that they won't have many baserunners to play with.
The Angels have lost nine consecutive postseason games to the Red Sox, and were swept out of last year's Division Series almost without a fight. With that said, the roles are a bit reversed this time; the Angels come in mostly healthy, while the Sox are fighting injuries. That could make the difference. It's hard to make a prediction without knowing the status of Drew, Beckett and Lowell, and even that statement implies that it would be easy to do so if we did. It wouldn't be. These are two of the best teams in baseball playing three to five games. There is no result -- a sweep, a five-game series, either team winning -- that would come as a surprise. With that said, I'll go with the better team when healthy, and say