Angels Manager Mike Scoisia called the Red Sox pitching the key to their success this year, and I'm inclined to agree with him. "If you look at their starting rotation and you look at their ability to close out and hold leads, that's the real heartbeat of that club." Scoisia said.
Since the Angels chose to have a day off between each game except games 3 and 4, each team has the option of only using 3 starting pitchers. When this format was announced I was expecting Josh Beckett to make 2 starts in this series if necessary, and given his career postseason stats, 6-2 with a 1.73 era, I felt pretty good about that. Now we know that baring any setbacks Beckett will pitch in Game 3, Jon Lester will pitch game 1.
Lester won 16 games for the Sox this year with an era of 3.21 making great strides as a starting pitcher this year, and the case can be made he was the Sox best pitcher. The Angels will counter with John Lacky in game 1. Historically the Sox have owned Lackey, in his career against the sox he is 3-6 with an era of 5.56. Lackey may have righted his ship this year at Fenway as he almost threw a no hitter before it was broken up by Dustin Pedroia in the 9th inning. Personally I like Lester in game 1, he's been there for us all season and the numbers back it up.
Game 2 the Sox start Dauiske Matsuazaka vs Ervin Santana. We all know Matsuzaka's problems, throwing too many pitches and walks, but he is 9-0 on the road this year with a 2.37 era. Santana had another solid year for the Angels winning 16 games, however he's never fared well in the playoffs, giving up 8 earned runs in less the 12 innings pitched.
Game 3, we should see Beckett. If he's healthy, which is a question, his past playoff performance says the Sox win. A team with Josh Beckett has never lost a post season series. Joe Saunders, who really came out of no where to have a great season will oppose Beckett in game 3. If Beckett can't go the Sox would counter with Tim Wakefield or Paul Byrd, my money is on Wake, hopefully we won't have to cross that bridge. If they first two games split, Beckett in game 3 could shift all the momentum to the Red Sox and Jon Lester in game 4.
If necessary, in games 4 and 5 we'll see the starters from games 1 and 2 again with game 5 being back in Anaheim. Tony Massarotti wrote yesterday that in games Lester and Matsuzaka started this year the Red Sox are a combined 45-17, and when Beckett started they were 13 and 14, a losing record. This isn't a dig on Beckett, it highlights the strength of the Sox starting rotation; when Lester and the Dice Man pitch the Sox win!
Moving on the Bullpens, both clubs have dynamite closers in Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod saved 62 games this year a new major league record, while Pap saved 41 games. Saves are possibly the most inflated stat in baseball, but it is important to have a guy able to close out the game in October. The days off between games is also beneficial to the closers as both Francona and Scoisia don't have to worry about over using their bullpens.
Watching Papelbon this September he didn't look as dominant; a buddy of mine told me he saw that Pap's opponents batting average against in Septemeber was +.300. However, I had Krod on my fantasy team this year (Championship team by the way) and I can tell you it was a rare night that he worked a perfect 9th. Everyone thinks as the guys as automatic, and for the most part they are, but consider this, the Sox have gotten to Krod in the playoffs before, Papelbon has never given up a run in the postseason.
If starting pitching doesn't decide this series the bullpens leading up the closers might. The Sox seem to have stabilized things between Masterson, Okajima and Delcarmen. Count on Delcarmen working the 6th and 7th innings if necessary, since Masterson moved to the bullpen Manny has a 1.60 era over 33-2/3 innings. Okajima and Masterson will serve as the bridge to Pap in the 9th. Masterson has struggled throwing strikes at times this year, although overall I would say moving him to the bullpen has been a success. Masterson had a great slider and sinker and Okajima has been much better down the stretch run, using his change up more effectively.
The Angels boast one of the better bullpens in baseball, with Scot Sheilds and and Jose Arrendondo anchoring the middle innings. Shields has been a horse for the Angels dating back to their first World Series run in 2002 and Arrendondo is a young kid who doesn't let many people on base, and when he does they don't often score. Arrendondo hasn't walked anyone this year and is sporting a 1.62 era, and he won 10 games out of the pen, not bad.
Overall I'd say the pitching match up is a wash in this series. If Beckett was making 2 starts I might give the edge to the Sox, however things look pretty even to me. So what will it come down to? As simplistic as it sounds and is, whoever pitchers better. If Matsuzaka goes 3 innings in his two starts and the Red Sox bullpen starts sinking like a German sub the Sox could be in some serious trouble. If Lackey and the other Angels starters go out and get rocked by the Sox as they have in the past all the rally monkeys in the world won't be able to stop the Red Sox from moving on to the American League Championship Series.
Check back later today for a breakdown of the lineups!