Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Taking Stock: Beating the Angels?

Last year, I weighed the odds, considered the statistics, and made what turned out to be a conservative prediction: Red Sox over the Angels in four games. This year, it is Boston's lot to play the Angels in the first round once again, with an eye towards continuing a streak of nine straight playoff victories and advancing to the next round (although, as Hart Brachen so rightly put it, all of these games are pure gravy to those fans smart enough to enjoy the good times while they last), and my lot (enjoyable, to be sure) to make another prediction.

Because he is a clever person, Soxlosophy's Jonah Goldwater rounded up the major statistics involved in this upcoming series in a post yesterday, but here's some additional factors to consider:
  • The Power of Teh SuXX0r: In 13 post-season games (going back to that infamous ALCS in 1986), the Sox have a collective ERA of 2.82 and collective splits of .281/.366/.451, while the Angels have a collective ERA of 5.59 and collective splits of .232/.299/.341. In other words, the Angels have been pretty terrible in the post-season (particularly last year, when the broken and beaten remains of the offense cowered under a rock before the might of everyone not named Matsuzaka or Gagne), generally falling far short of their regular season production. This trend is great news for the Sox, who beat the Angels once in nine regular season games in 2008...and that one win was back in April, in Boston.
  • The Dice-K Factor: Speaking of Matsuzaka, we'd better hope that Friday's starter doesn't repeat past results when he faces the Angels in Game 2: in 9.2 innings (including the start in Game 2 of the ALDS last year), he's given up nine runs and hasn't gone any deeper than five innings.
  • Seeking the Better Lester: I have a two-part excuse for why Jon Lester has been the opposite of filthy awesome against the Angels in his career: first, 14.2 of his 19.2 total innings were from before 2008, when he was the inconsistent Houdini who danced on the edge of disaster start after start. Second, his only start against LAA came in late April, when he was still in this blog's doghouse for having a (in retrospect) Matsuzaka-level lack of efficiency. Since then, of course, he's become the savior of this rotation and his more recent performance gives me hope that tonight will not be a blowout.
  • Injuries: Drew, Lowell, and Beckett all sound like they're healthier now than they were at the end of September. Having Drew and Lowell back could raise the lineup out of their September doldrums (yes, that's right: the team's splits dropped 30 points in all three categories in one month) and give Boston a fighting chance to beat some potentially devastating pitching, while Beckett remains the standard bearer for playoff excellence who could be in a position to keep the post-season alive come early next week.
  • Lackey and Santana: The outcome of the first two games probably depends more on which versions of Lackey and Santana show up to the first two games. Lackey's already broken from his poor past against the Sox with two strong wins in 2008, but if he reverts to form, Boston has a chance to take a crucial first game. Santana is having an excellent year, but he's never been particularly effective against Boston. Games 1 and 2 could very well be high scoring affairs that eat through bullpens and make Game 3 that much more important.
Prediction: There are too many what-if factors for me to feel comfortable calling this one for Boston. We'll see what happens tonight, but right now I'm calling it for the Angels in four.