Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

PICK THE SOX IN FOUR

The Red Sox will prevail in their five-game series against the Angels in the ALDS. Here's why:

The Angels were just 2-5 at Fenway this year. The Angels' best hitter, Chone Figgins (.330), ended the season 0-for-22 and may be dealing with a recurring wrist injury. Vladimir Guerrero is ailing from an elbow problem, and Gary Matthews has been left off the postseason roster due to an injured knee.

If that's not enough, Game 1 starter John Lackey's career numbers against the Red Sox should encourage Red Sox fans — 1-6 with a 6.24 ERA. This year he was 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA.

The 2007 regular season contests between the two teams broke down this way:

Reds Sox: 6 wins; 6.4 runs per game; .290 team batting average; 9 home runs.
Angels: 4 wins; 4.2 runs per game; .260 team batting average; 7 home runs.

The Angels are a strong hitting team, ranking fourth best in baseball. Only three teams struck out less than the Halos, and they also swiped the third most bases in the majors. And while the Angels scored the sixth-most runs in baseball, they were 28th (out of 30 teams) in homers.

The Sox and Angels were second and third in strikeouts-per-nine-innings. But while the Sox pen had the second best ERA in baseball at 3.14, the Angels pen ranked 20th in the majors at 4.22.

That's just one reason why the Red Sox are a better team than the Angels, who won 94 games.

Tying Cleveland for the best record in the majors, the Red Sox won 96 games en route to their 10th straight winning season. They were fourth in runs, sixth in batting, 15th in stolen bases and 18th in home runs.

Having the AL's best record gives the Sox home field advantage through the ALCS, should they advance that far. That should benefit them to some degree. The Angles were just 2-5 at Fenway this year. On the other hand, the Sox were 1-2 in Anaheim. However, throughout the history of baseball, the home team has won roughly 54 percent of the time, and it's been essentially the same in the playoffs.

Some key players to the Sox postseason success:

Mike Lowell had a career year. His career-best 120 RBI led the team. He also hit .324 and had 21 home runs. As usual, he was steady in the field and made difficult plays look routine. However, he did have a career-high 15 errors after finishing with just six last season.

Dustin Pedroia finished the season with 165 hits, including 39 doubles, and scored 86 runs. But perhaps most impressive was his .3173 batting average -- the highest average ever for a qualifying rookie second baseman. Pedroia just edged Pittsburgh's Jim Viox, who hit .3171 in 1913.

David Ortiz finished with career highs in batting average (.332), on-base percentage (a major-league best .446), doubles (52), and hits (182). He also hit 35 home runs and scored 116 runs.

Manny Ramirez will rise to the occasion in the postseason. Count on it. And if JD Drew and Coco Crisp make even decent contributions, the offense will flourish.

As for pitching, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon will inspire confidence in their teammates and frustrate opposing hitters. But they cannot do it alone. They will need help from Daisuke Matsuzaka, veteran Curt Schilling, the surprising Hideki Okajima, and a resurgence from Eric Gagne. Since his meltdown in Toronto on September 18th, the former All Star closer has pitched 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief, with six strikeouts and just two walks and three hits.

There is, however, one other important x-factor in the pen.

Manny Delcarmen was scored upon in just three of his last 26 appearances dating to July 31, and ended the season with 10 consecutive scoreless appearances. He held batters to a .179 average in that span, striking out 21 in 24 innings while allowing 10 walks and 15 hits. Of the 12 runners he inherited, just three scored. In his last nine appearances, spanning 8 1/3 innings, Delcarmen walked just one while striking out eight. If he rises to the occasion, and lives up to all the potential the Red Sox have been banking on, the Red Sox pen will be overwhelming.

The Angels had a grinding September, playing 28 games in 30 days and finishing the month at 14-14.

The Sox, on the other hand, played 27 games and went 16-11.

When it comes to momentum, offense, rotation, bullpen, and playing in Fenway, the Red Sox have the edge over the Angles and should prevail in four games.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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