One hundred fifty-seven games into the 2009 season, the Red Sox finally secured their sixth post-season appearance this decade.
Well, they didn't actually secure it through their own accord; by losing to the Angels, the Texas Rangers eliminated themselves, allowing the Red Sox entrance into the October sweepstakes.
The outcome sets up a rematch of last year's ALDS between the Red Sox and Angels. It's become something of an October custom; the two clubs have already met three times this decade — 2004, 2007, and 2008.
The Angels will also be making their sixth post-season appearance this decade, and the fourth in the past five years. But aside from 2002, when they won it all, the post-season hasn't been kind to the Angels.
The Red Sox have been their arch nemesis. Going back to 1986, the Red Sox have won four consecutive series. And they have won nine of the ten post-season games played this decade.
The Angels possess a very potent offense; they are first in batting average, second in runs, second in hits, third in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging, and fourth in total bases.
The team from Anaheim has won 93 games so far this season, and clearly sports a balanced attack at the plate. In the past, the Angels' weakness was an inability to score runs; that is a problem no more.
This year, their weakness could be pitching. The Angels have had 14 different people start games this year, and have handed the ball at some point or another to 12 players making their major league debut, both major league highs.
Angels’ closer Brian Fuentes, though leading the AL with 46 saves, also has seven blown saves. In addition, his 4.05 ERA gives him the distinction of being just one of three AL relievers with at least 10 saves to have an ERA over four. And then there’s this; Fuentes’ strikeout rate has declined from 11.78 per nine innings last season to 7.82 this year.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox—who had been on a hot streak, winning 12 of 19 over a five-week span, and looking as good as any team in baseball—suddenly went cold.
First they were swept by the Yankees in New York. Then they followed that up by getting swept yet again; this time by the Blue Jays at home. That was odd; the Red Sox are an impressive 52-25 at Fenway this year, second best in baseball, behind the Yankees.
Ultimately, this is a bad way for a team to enter the playoffs.
Theo Epstein claims he's not concerned, and all that matters is that his team is in the postseason once again.
“If you look at it, I’m sure there’s evidence of teams finishing strong and going on to win the World Series," said the Red Sox GM. "But for every one of those examples, there’s an example of a team finishing strong and getting swept, or a team that lost 15 of its last 18 going into October and winning the World Series. So if you break down the numbers, there’s simply no correlation.’’
Hopefully he's right. In 2007, the Rockies were the hottest team in baseball going into the postseason, and then the World Series. But it didn't matter; the Red Sox swept them in four straight games.
The Red Sox have had some streaky play this year, at one point winning 11 straight games. And their current six-game losing streak ties their season high.
Obviously, a lot will come down to the health of key Sox players, such as Josh Beckett (back), Jon Lester (knee/quad), Mike Lowell (hip), and Kevin Youkilis (back). Injuries to Beckett and Lowell derailed their hopes for another World Series berth last year.
And will Clay Buchholz or Daisuke Matsuzaka prove to be the more reliable third starter? Buchholz seemed to have the spot sewn up until his recent meltdown on Tuesday night.
At times the Sox offense has carried the team this season. At other the times, the offense was impotent and the team won games on the strength of its pitching and defense.
To prevail in the playoffs, they will need it all to come together seamlessly, and to be firing on all cylinders simultaneously.
The Red Sox history against the Angels is a matter of perspective.
History is clearly on the Red Sox' side. But baseball is a numbers game, a game of luck and of odds. The Red Sox had won eleven consecutive playoff games against the Angels (dating back to 1986), before finally losing Game 3 in last year's ALDS. By that point, it was all over but the shouting for Anaheim.
But the odds have to eventually turn in favor of the Angels, don't they? This kind of lopsided playoff winning streak by the Red Sox against the Angels has to come to an end eventually—doesn't it?
The Angles certainly hope so. But the Red Sox would love to see history keep repeating itself.