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Prediction: Red Sox in five games

October 07, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

OFFENSE

The Angels had baseball's most prolific offense for most of the summer, shooting to the top of the major leagues in runs, hits and average with runners in scoring position, but they cooled considerably in September, batting .263 and averaging 4.3 runs a game. To their usually aggressive baserunning, the Angels have added more patience and power; they rank seventh in the league in walks and third in on-base percentage, categories they have lagged in for years. The Red Sox have a nice balance of power throughout their lineup with the left-handed David Ortiz and J.D. Drew, the switch-hitting Victor Martinez, and the right-handed Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay, but they can also wreak havoc on the bases with Jacoby Ellsbury, who led the league with 70 stolen bases in 83 attempts, an 84% success rate. Boston is even more patient than the Angels, ranking second in the league in walks and on-base percentage.

Edge: Red Sox.

DEFENSE

Three Gold Glove candidates -- Torii Hunter, an eight-time winner, Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins -- lead an Angels defense that has considerable range, especially when Maicer Izturis is playing second, and an ability to make game-changing plays. But the Angels are not as strong in the corner outfield spots, and Kendry Morales, though vastly improved since April, does not cover much ground to his right. Angels catchers have thrown out only 39 of 167 base-stealers (23%). The Red Sox are much better since they acquired Alex Gonzalez, the sure-handed shortstop, from Cincinnati in August -- Boston has baseball's best fielding percentage since Aug. 15 -- but only Dustin Pedroia, Youkilis and Ellsbury are above average. Their catchers -- Martinez and Jason Varitek share the position -- have thrown out 23 of 174 base-stealers, a success rate of 13%, a potential problem against the speedy Angels.

Edge: Angels.

STARTING PITCHING

The Red Sox have the bigger guns up front, but the Angels have more depth with Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders in the third and fourth spots. Boston's Jon Lester ranks sixth in the AL in earned-run average and third in strikeouts (225). The usually dominant Josh Beckett had a rough five-start stretch from Aug. 18 to Sept. 7, going 0-2 with a 7.76 ERA. He was scratched from a late September start because of back spasms and treated with three cortisone injections. Clay Buchholz, a midseason call-up from triple-A, was nearly untouchable from Aug. 29 to Sept. 24, going 5-0 with a 1.31 ERA in six games. In four starts since his mid-September return from a shoulder strain, the crafty Daisuke Matsuzaka was 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. The Angels' John Lackey pitched well against Boston in last year's division series, giving up four earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. Jered Weaver has been the Angels' most consistent starter all season. Kazmir (6-4, 3.05 ERA) and Saunders (3-0, 2.84 ERA) have had success in Fenway Park.

Edge: Angels

BULLPEN

The Red Sox are stocked with power arms, including closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has a 1.85 ERA and 38 saves in 41 opportunities and in postseason play has not given up a run, and set-up men Billy Wagner, who throws 95 mph from the left side, and Daniel Bard, who throws 99 mph from the right side. But Wagner has a 9.58 ERA in 11 postseason games, and Bard, a rookie, has shown signs of inexperience in some pressure situations down the stretch. Left-hander Hideki Okajima (6-0, 3.39 ERA) and hard-throwing right-handers Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito add depth. Angels closer Brian Fuentes led the major leagues with 48 saves, but his second-half ERA (4.81) jumped considerably from his first-half ERA (3.23). Rookie right-handers Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger helped stabilize the bullpen, and veteran lefty Darren Oliver has been consistent. Converted starter Ervin Santana could give the Angels a boost.

Edge: Red Sox.

BENCH

The switch-hitting Izturis (.300, 65 RBIs) gives the Angels a strong presence at second base against right-handers, and he can replace Aybar if the shortstop struggles. Gary Matthews Jr. was five for 11 with six RBIs as a pinch-hitter this season. Catchers Mike Napoli (power) and Bobby Wilson (defense) could play key roles, and Reggie Willits can bunt, run and provide late-inning defensive help. Boston has a superb backup defensive first baseman in Casey Kotchman. Power-hitting Rocco Baldelli, however, is questionable because of a left hip flexor, but otherwise would probably start in right field against Kazmir and Saunders. Varitek is an experienced game-caller but does not throw as well as he used to.

Edge: Angels.

MANAGER

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