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How They Match Up

October 01, 2008

* Offense: Since trading cleanup batter Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, the Red Sox have manufactured more runs, something they do well when the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury gets on base. Boston led the AL with a .358 on-base percentage and was third with 120 stolen bases. With Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew possibly slowed by injuries, they may rely as much on speed and clutch hitting as power. David Ortiz, recovering from a wrist injury, hit only 10 homers in his last 55 games, but Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis had MVP-type years. The Angels have a nice blend of speed (Chone Figgins, Erick Aybar) and power (Mark Teixeira, Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Mike Napoli), and they hit .279 with runners in scoring position. They don't draw as many walks as the Red Sox but have been more patient since Teixeira's arrival. Edge: Angels.

* Defense: The Angels are very strong in center field with Hunter, the seven-time Gold Glove winner, but they are not as strong at the corners, though Garret Anderson goes to the line for hits and throws to second base as good as any left fielder in baseball. Aybar can be spectacular at shortstop, but he also committed three errors in his last six games. Teixeira is a two-time Gold Glove winner. Catchers Napoli and Jeff Mathis have combined to throw out only 25 of 109 base stealers. The Red Sox cover a lot of ground in the outfield with Ellsbury, who can play all three spots, Jason Bay and Drew. Jed Lowrie isn't nearly as flashy as Aybar, but he hasn't made an error in 49 games at shortstop this season. Youkilis is Gold Glove caliber at first or third, his natural position. Veteran catcher Jason Varitek is still a master game-caller, but he can be run on. Edge: Red Sox.

* Starting pitching: Jon Lester has emerged as one of baseball's best left-handers, his fastball jumping from 89 mph last season to the 93-mph range. Though Daisuke Matsuzaka confounds the Red Sox with his walks (94 this season), he is 9-0 on the road and held opponents to a .211 average, .164 with runners in scoring position and .000 (0 for 14) with the bases loaded. If Josh Beckett (oblique injury) can't pitch in Game 3, Paul Byrd or knuckleball-throwing Tim Wakefield would step in. Angels ace John Lackey beat the Red Sox twice this season, taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning at Fenway Park on July 29, and Joe Saunders went 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts against them. Game 2 starter Ervin Santana didn't face the Red Sox this season, but the right-hander has been the Angels' best pitcher, with 214 strikeouts in 219 innings. Edge: Angels.

* Bullpen: Both teams have elite closers, the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez, who set a single-season record with 62 saves and, in his last 20 games, had an 0.50 ERA, struck out 22 and walked five in 18 innings, and Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, who converted 41 of 46 saves, struck out 77 and walked eight in 69 1/3 innings. Sinker-ball specialist Justin Masterson, often summoned when a double play is needed, and left-hander Hideki Okajima have been primarily responsible for Boston's plus-48 run differential in the eighth inning, but the Angels have two potentially dominant set-up men in Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo and a crafty left-handed veteran in Darren Oliver (7-1, 2.88 ERA). Both teams have middle-relief power arms (Kevin Jepsen, Angels; Manny Delcarmen, Red Sox) and plenty of length, with two starters in each the bullpen. Edge: Angels.

* Bench: The Angels are deep and versatile enough to absorb an injury to just about any starter, with Brandon Wood able to play shortstop and third, Robb Quinlan able to play first and third, and Reggie Willits able to play three outfield spots. Juan Rivera is also an excellent right-handed bat. Jeff Mathis, a strong and agile defender, will probably catch Ervin Santana in Game 2. Kendry Morales can pinch-hit from either side of the plate, and Willits is an excellent pinch-runner. The Red Sox have two good reserve outfielders in Coco Crisp and Mark Kotsay and a solid first baseman in Sean Casey, but backup catcher Kevin Cash won't play unless Wakefield pitches. Edge: Angels.

* Manager: Terry Francona, who guided the Red Sox to World Series championships in 2004 and 2007, will look to manufacture runs early in the game, and with a stable of speedsters at his disposal, he'll run at any time. He did a good job holding the team together through numerous injuries and the many -- or Manny -- distractions Ramirez caused before his trade to the Dodgers. Mike Scioscia, who guided the Angels to the 2002 World Series title, loves to hit and run and start runners to stay out of double plays, and, like Francona, didn't let a number of injuries slow the Angels. Edge: Even.

* Prediction: Angels in four games.

Mike DiGiovanna




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