The Angels and Red Sox are not traditional rivals, but their playoff meetings are becoming an annual occurrence, with the Red Sox prevailing and the Angels wondering why they can't ever draw someone else. The Angels, traditionally built on speed, pitching and defense, have changed their approach this season, becoming more patient and powerful at the plate. In other words, they have become more like the Red Sox, in the hope of finally outlasting them. The matchup between L.A.'s rejuvenated offense and Boston's stellar starting pitchers -- particularly
If not for the Red Sox, the Angels might be the team of the decade. Instead of one World Series trophy, they could have four. The Red Sox have knocked them out in the American League Division Series in each of the last two years and three of the last five. The Angels may claim that the Red Sox are just another opponent, but they loom much larger. This September it became clear that the Red Sox had snuck into the Angels' psyche when L.A. lost a game at Fenway Park on two very questionable calls and closer
In past years the Angels have not matched up well with the Red Sox, mainly because Boston is so much more patient at the plate. But this season the Angels could not ask for a better matchup, at least in one respect: They ought to own the Red Sox on the basepaths. The Angels rank third in the major leagues in stolen bases and are traditionally the most aggressive baserunning team in the sport, with the possible exception of Tampa Bay. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have allowed the most stolen bases in the majors this season. Three times they have allowed seven or more stolen bases in a game. They will undoubtedly improve with
Despite all the various keys, first-round series usually come down to which team has better starters at the top of its rotation, and the Red Sox have the edge here. But it's not as clear as it once was, since Jon Lester took a line drive off his right leg in late September and Josh Beckett has been suffering from recent back spasms. Both conditions appear relatively minor, but the Red Sox are understandably cautious, given that their bid to repeat as World Series champions last year was derailed partly because of ill-timed injuries. When Lester and Beckett are at full strength they form arguably the best lefty-righty combo in baseball, and they get even stingier in the postseason, where Beckett has a 2.90 ERA and Lester's is 2.25. They're both power pitchers, but they know how to take advantage of over-aggressive hitters, which is how they usually dominate the Angels.