Red Sox Record for the Week of September 28: 4-3
Since last week’s regular season games didn’t matter much other than being tune-ups for the playoffs, which for the AL Wild Card-winning BoSox and AL West division-winning Angels begins Thursday night at 9:37 pm ET in Anaheim, I won’t spend time going over them except where mentioned and will instead preview and predict what to expect in this ALDS showdown.
Red Sox-Angels Playoff History
Boston Bruins fans don’t have much in common with LA Angels fans, except that they are both probably sick of seeing the same playoff opponent year after year end the hometown team’s season. For the Bruins faithful, it was the damn Montreal Canadiens who time and time again knocked the black and gold out of the NHL playoffs (until last season when the Bruins returned the favor). The Red Sox itself, until the 2004 ALCS, had a similar fate against the Yankees.
But for Angels fans, they likely have bad memories of the 1986, 2004, 2007, and 2008 playoffs, when they saw their team eliminated from postseason by the BoSox, who themselves would appear in three World Series and win two of them (1986: lost, 2004 & 2007: won it all). In fact, the Angels have never beaten Boston in postseason play.
Red Sox-Angels Pitching Match-ups
John Lackey (11-8) likely has nightmares about pitching against Boston. In 17 career games facing them, he is 3-9 with a 4.95 ERA, and that includes losing all three career postseason starts going back to 2007. Still, he must take comfort that he gets to face the Sox lineup at home to start Game 1 Thursday night, where his ERA in ’09 was 2.11, compared to 3.80 away. For the second playoffs opener in a row, he will face Jon Lester (15-8), who dominated Angels hitters in last year’s division series, holding them scoreless through 14 innings in Games 1 and 4.
Though it’s difficult to see how, the Boston lefty hopes to do even better this postseason against the West Coast powerhouse, while Lackey is looking to repeat or do better than his two earned runs in Games 1 and 4 in last year’s ALDS but get more run support and his first playoff win versus Boston. I don’t know about a win but with a lineup that batted .285 for the year to lead the majors, the Angels should be at least able to crack the scoreboard against Lester.
Friday night, Game 2 (also in Anaheim) will see clutch playoff-tested co-ace and 17-game winner Josh Beckett go up against the younger but impressive 16-game winner Jered Weaver. Beckett will be looking to atone for a lousy 2008 postseason that saw him post an ugly 8.79 ERA in three starts, including ALDS Game 3 against Anaheim in which he allowed four earned runs over five innings.
This year’s ALDS Game 3, at Fenway Park on Sunday will see youngster Clay Buchholz make his playoff debut and will face Angels lefty Scott Kazmir. Kazmir has a mediocre 4.89 ERA for 2009 but since coming over in a trade from the Rays, in six starts, his ERA is 1.73 and owns a 2-2 record.
Buchholz, on the other hand had two lousy starts (13 earned runs) at Fenway to close the regular season last week against Toronto and Cleveland but has allowed three earned runs or less in 12 of his 16 starts, all of it coming post-All-Star break. Thus, he deserved this start over Dice-K, who has been solid in his return from the DL but hasn’t pitched long enough to earn it. That said, Kazmir has a definite advantage over Buchholz in league and playoff experience.
Pitching match-ups for Game 4 Monday in Boston haven’t been finalized yet but the Angels will start another lefty Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60 ERA), while the Sox could start Lester again just as they did last year. Or less likely, Sox manager Terry Francona will take a chance on Dice-K (4-6, 5.76 ERA), even though he pitched six impressive scoreless innings against these Angels September 15. Saunders has had the fortune of a good offense score behind him but if it’s Lester he’s up against, as I think it will be (just like the ’08 ALDS), a betting man (which I’m not) would smartly pick him and the Sox in this game.
Red Sox Health And Roster Moves
The core of the Red Sox are much healthier going into the 2009 ALDS than they were at this time last year. Josh Beckett (17-6, 3.88 ERA), who in 2008 struggled and missed time due to back and elbow issues has been durable for much of 2009, as he made 32 starts, struck out a career-high 199 batters and pitched a career-high 212 innings. He had some mild back pain recently but got a cortisone shot to take care of that and is by all accounts healthy.