Sunday, October 4, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Red Sox vs. Angels

This matchup is the perfect argument against a Best-of-5 series. I want to see two terrific teams like this playing a full series to determine the winner, and a race to three wins always feels somewhat artificial to me. What you have are two very evenly matched teams that, if they were in the National League, would have over 100 wins and would be prohibitive World Series favorites. I give the edge to the Angels, though, mostly because I believe they are the most dangerous team in baseball right now.

The acquisition of Scott Kazmir in late August may wind up bringing the Angels their second championship of the decade. Kazmir struggled early in the season before spending a month on the disabled list, but put up a 6-5 record with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.181 WHIP since returning to action at the end of June. He joins John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders in the Angels' playoff rotation, which for my money is the best foursome in the American League.

The Angels can hit too - eight of their nine regulars are hitting .285 or better. There isn't a lot of power (only Kendry Morales has more than 30 home runs), but every single player in that lineup is a threat with a bat in their hand. The Angels like to run (third in the American League in stolen bases) - and Boston catchers Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez will be hard-pressed to keep the Halos from running wild. Keep a close eye on second baseman Howie Kendrick, who has put up a .348/.391/.524 line since June 1; I'm predicting that this postseason will be Kendrick's coming-out party.

This team's one weakness is its bullpen. Brian Fuentes has not had a good year, despite notching 48 saves. He nearly lost his job earlier this month to Kevin Jepsen, and manager Mike Scioscia is smart enough not to blow a playoff series by playing the "proven veteran" card.

Boston, meanwhile, will put up a tremendous fight. Staff ace Josh Beckett has a 6.02 ERA and a 1.429 WHIP in his last nine starts, but his postseason track record suggests that he will put it all together when the lights are brightest. He has been surpassed by Jon Lester as the titular staff ace, and the Red Sox have a number of intriguing options (Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Paul Byrd chief among them) to fill out the postseason rotation. Buchholz has already been tapped as the third starter; manager Terry Francona may not trust Matsuzaka or Byrd enough to give them a start in this series.

The Sox have a better bullpen, even though closer Jonathan Papelbon has had an off-year. They do have a live young arm in Daniel Bard, who could play an important role in October. Throw veterans like Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez into the mix, and don't be surprised if Francona asks his relievers for four innings of shutdown ball at least once in this series.

Boston has a terrific lineup as well, with a starting nine that compares favorably with the Angels. The key may be David Ortiz, who has 28 home runs this season but has struggled otherwise. If he can find a way to channel his former greatness for three weeks, the Sox could win their third championship in six years.

Both teams can hit, but I believe in the Angels' pitching more than I believe in the Red Sox. This series will go the distance, but the Angels will win Game 5 in front of their home fans and will advance to meet the Yankees in the ALCS.

Prediction: Angels in 5

EDIT: An anonymous reader kindly pointed out that Justin Masterson was traded to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez deal, so he obviously won't be on the postseason roster. I think I confused Masterson with Michael Bowden, another hard-throwing youngster who isn't quite as advanced as Masterson and is unlikely to make the Sox's playoff bullpen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hate to tell you, but Justin Masterson was traded to Cleveland for Victor Martinez.