ALDS Preview: Red Sox vs. Angels

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Here we go again.
For the third straight season, the wild-card winning Red Sox and AL West champion Angels will match up in the ALDS. The Red Sox have gone through the Angels on the way to their last three World Series visits in 1986, 2004 and 2007. They also won last year’s series, only to lose to the Rays in the ALCS in seven games. Before the Angels salvaged Game 3 in last year’s ALDS, the Red Sox had defeated them in 11 straight postseason contests, dating back to Game 5 in the 1986 ALCS.
While the 2004 and 2007 series seemed like routs, the 2008 ALDS was well played. The Red Sox won the first two on the road 4-1 and 7-5, but the Angels bounced back to take Game 3 in 12 innings, winning 5-4. Boston won the finale on 3-2 on Jed Lowrie’s single in the bottom of the ninth.
2009 ALDS Probables
Game 1: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
Game 2: Josh Beckett vs. Jered Weaver
Game 3: Scott Kazmir vs. Clay Buchholz
Game 4: Joe Saunders vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Game 5: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
The Yankees have chosen the longer ALDS series, leaving the Red Sox and Angels to use four-man rotations. The first look at the matchups suggests that the Red Sox are going to have the advantage in Anaheim and the Angels in Boston.
Lester vs. Lackey
Lackey’s struggles against Boston are well known, but his worst outings have come at Fenway. He’s 2-5 with a 5.75 ERA in nine starts in Boston and 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in five starts at home. In the postseason, he’s gone 0-2 with a 3.66 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox (one in 2007, two last year). The Angels scored a total of three runs in those three games.
Lester’s postseason career opened in brilliant fashion. In his first start, he pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings to beat the Rockies in the clincher of the 2007 World Series. He then yielded just one unearned run in 14 innings to win twice against the Angels in the ALDS last year. The ALCS didn’t go so well, as he was beaten twice, but has a 2.25 ERA in 36 career postseason innings.
The Angels have given Lester big problems in the regular season. He’s 1-1 with a 7.78 ERA and a .393 average against in four starts versus the team. Still, all of those came before last year’s dominant postseason performance. Lester has been one of the AL’s very best pitchers for four months running, going 11-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 21 starts since the beginning of June. He finished third in the league with 225 strikeouts.
Lackey was also on a nice run, though he stumbled in his final three starts. He ended the year 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA. He was down to 3.47 following a solid outing in Boston on Sept. 15, but he allowed 12 earned runs over 13 innings in his following three starts.
Beckett vs. Weaver
Beckett’s postseason star lost some luster when he amassed an 8.79 ERA in three starts against the Angels and Rays last year. However, he was dealing with a torn oblique then and he’s still 7-2 with a 2.90 ERA lifetime in October. Unfortunately, he’s again not at his best headed into the ALDS. Beckett opened the year 14-4 with a 3.10 ERA, but he’s gone 3-2 with a 6.02 ERA since. He just missed a start with back spasms.
Weaver’s recent performance has also left a great deal to be desired. He started off 7-2 with a 2.08 ERA, but he went 9-6 with a 5.01 ERA in his last 20 starts. He was better than that during September, coming in with a 3.11 ERA, but he was helped somewhat by an easy schedule, as his wins came against the Royals, Mariners and A’s. Weaver did impress in his starts against Boston did year. Both came during his spectacular first two months. He allowed one unearned run over 6 2/3 innings to win April 10 and one run over seven innings in a no-decision on May 12.
The start for Weaver will be just the second of his career in the postseason. He lost to Boston after allowing two runs over five innings in Game 3 in 2007. The Angels left him out of their postseason rotation last year.
Kazmir vs. Buchholz
It looked like the Red Sox have overcome their issues with Kazmir when the left-hander went 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four starts against the team in 2008. However, Kazmir won both of his starts against the team this year and those came when he was a struggling Ray. He had a 1.73 ERA in his six starts with the Angels after posting a 5.92 ERA in 20 outings to begin the year. Kazmir is 8-7 with a 3.59 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox. He’s faced them 23 times, nine more times than he has any other team.
Just when the Red Sox were beginning to find some confidence in Buchholz, he went and turned in two stinkers at the end of the year. On Sept. 29, he gave up five homers and seven runs in five innings against the Blue Jays. On the final day of the season, he allowed six runs over three innings versus the Indians.
Before that, Buchholz was 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA. He’s still allowed one or no runs in seven of his last 11 starts. He’ll be pitching in the postseason for the first time in his career.
Saunders vs. Matsuzaka
The Angels can start a 16-game winner in Game 4. Saunders finished with a 4.60 ERA, but that was mostly the result of a bad midseason run in which he was pitching with a sore shoulder. He had a 3.26 ERA in April and May and a 2.55 ERA in eight starts after coming off the DL in mid-August. He’s also 4-1 with a 3.24 ERA lifetime in eight starts against Boston.
Matsuzaka just recently secured his postseason rotation spot. In four starts after returning from a second round of shoulder issues, he went 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. One of those wins came against the Angels, as he blanked the team for six innings on Sept. 15. He’s still putting plenty of runners on base — his WHIP since returning is 1.40 — but he’s remarkable in his ability to pitch out of jams. For the year, he has a .398 average against with the bases empty and a .254 mark with men on. He hasn’t allowed a hit with the bases loaded since 2007. In the postseason, he’s 3-1 with a 4.79 ERA.
The offenses
The Angels and Red Sox are second and third respectively in the AL in runs per game, behind only the Yankees. One would expect the Red Sox to have modest advantages in OBP and slugging, which the Angels would then make up for with the speed and situational hitting. However, there isn’t much of a difference. The Red Sox have a .352 OBP and a .454 slugging percentage, compared to .350 and .441 for the Angels. That’s not accounting for the difference that Fenway Park makes in Boston’s numbers.
The Angels do hit for a higher average, of course. They led the American League at .285, while the Red Sox came in at .270.
We’ll see how much of that advantage carries over to the ALDS. Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick have made a habit of wilting under the spotlight. Kendrick will likely only play against Lester, with the Angels preferring Maicer Izturis at second base for his defense. We don’t really know about Kendry Morales yet, but the Red Sox did hold him to a .200 average, no homers and two RBI in nine games this season. He fanned 12 times in 35 at-bats.
The Red Sox will have their full complement of players ready for the ALDS, though whether Mike Lowell (hip, thumb), J.D. Drew (shoulder) and Alex Gonzalez (hand) are truly healthy remains in question. Drew, at least, did his best to show he’s ready by smacking two homers on Sunday.
Also important for Boston is that both David Ortiz and Jason Bay are entering October rather hot. Ortiz hit .284/.390/.557 with six homers during September, while Bay came in at .299/.390/.598 with seven homers. Dustin Pedroia is also showing signs of life, having homered on both Saturday and Sunday.
Numbers
Angels won season series 5-4
Angels outscored Red Sox 44-40
Runs per game
Angels: 5.45
BoSox: 5.38
Runs allowed per game
Angels: 4.70
BoSox: 4.54
Bullpen ERA:
Angels: 4.49
BoSox: 3.80
Defensive efficiency
Angels: 17th in MLB
BoSox: 18th in MLB
Overrated angle
Angels basestealers vs. Red Sox catchers
It will certainly be a big subject on the telecasts. Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek are poor throwers, and the Angels have several guys who can steal a base. The Angels probably will do plenty of running if they can get a lot guys on base. But if they can get a lot of guys on base, they’re likely to fare well regardless.
What won’t get as much play is that the Red Sox should have some success there, too. The Angels stole 23 more bases than the Red Sox this year, but they were caught 24 more times. In fact, they led the league in times caught at 63.
Jeff Mathis, who has been doing more catching than Mike Napoli because of his defense, threw out 26 percent of basestealers this year. His career mark is 23 percent. Napoli was at 22 percent this year and 23 percent for his career. Combined, they allowed 126 steals and threw out 41 runners.
Martinez is expected to be Boston’s top catcher in the postseason, with Varitek perhaps not playing more than once a series. Martinez threw out just two of 19 basestealers for the Red Sox. However, 10 of those 17 successful steals came in Tim Wakefield starts and Wakefield won’t be pitching against the Angels. With conventional pitchers on the mound, Martinez has allowed seven steals in eight attempts over 27 games caught with the Red Sox.
So, yeah, the Angels should have an advantage here. Whether it’s a significant one will hinge on their ability to retire Jacoby Ellsbury. In the end, it typically comes down to who gets the most guys on base, not what the players do once they’re there.
Underrated angle
Banged-up Angels bullpen
Brian Fuentes’ struggles have been well publicized, but the Angels still had to be feeling good about the way things were setting up with power right-handers Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger mowing down hitters. Unfortunately, that’s all changed of late. Bulger, who had a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings from July through September, gave up two runs on Saturday and then complained of right shoulder tightness. He had a similar issue in late August that caused him to take a week off. Jepsen, who has given up eight runs in eight innings, has been experiencing dead-arm issues, according the Angels.
If those two aren’t 100 percent, then the Angels figure to have major problems in the latter innings. They may well end up giving key frames to Ervin Santana, who was left out of the rotation despite hurling a shutout against the Rangers in his final start of the season. It’d be risky, given Santana’s lack of experience as a reliever, but the payoff could be big.
Prediction
Red Sox in 4
With a number of question marks following in the rotation, the Red Sox will badly need Lester to set the tone in Game 1. Lester, though, has already made a habit of coming up big in his young career. He’s the better pitcher than Lackey, and even in Lackey’s good outings against the Red Sox, he always allowed a couple of runs.
If the Red Sox prevail in Game 1, then they can afford another off outing from Beckett or Buchholz, if not necessarily both. Their home-field advantage is as big as any in baseball, which should help a bunch in those Game 3 and Game 4 matchups that would seem to favor the Angels.

Remembering Carlos Delgado’s protest in the wake of Kaepernick

NEW YORK - AUGUST 9:  First baseman Carlos Delgado #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays watches the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 9, 2004 in the Bronx, New York. The won Blue Jays won 5-4.  (Photo by M. David Leeds/Getty Images)
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Over the weekend, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick created a stir when he did not stand for the National Anthem before an exhibition game and later told reporters that his refusal to do so was a protest of institutional racism in America. Given how issues which touch on patriotism and protest play in a sports setting, it’s not at all surprising that this quickly turned into a huge controversy, with many decrying Kaepernick’s act, even as many have rushed to his defense.

Because this is the NFL and because we live in the social media era, the volume of this controversy is understandably cranked to 11. But it’s not the first time an athlete has mounted such a protest. Back in 1995 NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf similarly refused to stand for the Anthem and the same sorts of pro and con arguments emerged, albeit at the far more measured pace of 1990s discourse.

In 2004 a baseball player made a somewhat similar protest. That player was Carlos Delgado, who made a point to not be on the field during the by then de rigueur playing of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch which most teams adopted in the wake of 9/11. Part of Delgado’s protest stemmed from his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It likewise reflected his protest of the United States Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a weapons testing ground for decades and Puerto Ricans’ call for the government to clean up the island which had become contaminated with ordinance over 60 years of bombing.

Delgado was backed by his team, the Blue Jays, who made no effort to intervene in his protest. He likewise had the support of his teammates. Even profoundly conservative ones like Gregg Zaun, who disagreed with the substance of Delgado’s protest yet respected his right to protest how he chose. At the time Zaun said “He has his opinion and he’s decided to use that as his platform. Whether or not I agree with him, I salute him.”

Which is not to say that Delgado did not take considerable criticism for his protest. Many, including commissioner Bud Selig, said that, while they respected his right to protest how he wished, they hoped he wouldn’t protest in such a fashion. Or, at the very least, they hoped to better understand why he chose to make a political statement at a sporting event, suggesting that they really didn’t think his act to be appropriate. Lost on them all, it seemed, was that the act of playing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch was itself a political statement, but I suppose that’s an argument for another time.

Carlos Delgado weathered the controversy well, playing for five more seasons after 2004 and maintaining the respect he had always had in baseball as a team leader, a respected veteran and a consummate professional. Kaepernick doesn’t have the track record in his sport that Delgado had by 2004 and there are some who have suggested that, this controversy aside, he may not have long in the league due to his skills and health and things. It’ll be interesting to see how those differences, as well as the different media environment in 2016 compared to 2004 affect this whole saga.

What we know for certain, however, is that Kaepernick’s reasons for protest are his own and he is, obviously, free to protest however he’d like. He is, of course, likewise subject to criticism from those who don’t care for his protest. That’s how free speech works. Even in sports, where a great many people choose to believe that protest and political speech, at least of a certain variety and of a certain leaning, does not have a place.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Derek Holland #45 of the Texas Rangers points out a pop fly against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 28, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rangers 2, Indians 1: Derek Holland was solid, allowing one run over six innings and Ian Desmond and Jonathan Lucroy each had an RBI single. The Rangers take three of four in what could be an ALCS preview. Although, given that no teams have been eliminated yet, any game between AL teams could be an ALCS preview if you think about it hard enough. Open your mind, man.

Dodgers 1, Cubs 0: All goose eggs until the eighth when the Dodgers cobbled together a run out of a hit-by-pitch, a two-base throwing error by Trevor Cahill and a fielder’s choice. Then all goose eggs after that. Brock Stewart and four relievers combined on a four-hit shutout for the Dodgers. This could be an NLCS preview, by the way. I won’t finish the joke here. I already told it.

Orioles 5, Yankees 0: Kevin Gausman had no trouble with the somehow resurgent Yankees, shutting them out for seven innings and fanning nine. I rarely say “fanning” for striking out and I don’t hear at all that often anymore. Back in the 80s it seemed like there was a lot more “fanning” going on. Steve Pearce drove in three. Earlier this season, while he was still with the Rays, I mistakenly identified some Orioles player in a photo as Steve Pearce. I’m glad he’s back where he belongs.

Blue Jays 9, Twins 6: Josh Donaldson hit three homers, including the go-ahead dong, continuing a year that, by the numbers, is better than his MVP year last season, even if people aren’t talking about it as much. On his third homer Jays fans tossed hats out onto the field. Get it? Yeah. Anyway, Minnesota had a 5-2 lead in the middle of the game but blowing moderate leads with lots of time to go is one of the primary traits of teams that suck.

Angels 5, Tigers 0: Jefry Marte hit a two-run homer and drove in a third run on a sac fly. Marte’s performance would really serve as a great “bet you miss me NOW, huh?!” game for him if anyone remembered that he played for the Tigers last year.

Phillies 5, Mets 1: A.J. Ellis hit a two-run double to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. Somewhere Clayton Kershaw shed a single tear, Iron Eyes Cody-style.

Padres 3, Marlins 1: Luis Perdomo tossed a complete game while allowing only one run and requiring only 99 pitches. Having six double plays get turned behind you certainly helps the old pitch count.

Rockies 5, Nationals 3: Nolan Arenado went 4-for-4 with a homer and a triple as the Rockies take two of three from the Nats. Lucas Giolito ran into trouble in the third when Arenado hit that dinger. Dusty Baker after the game: “It’s that one bad inning that does you in. That was the one bad inning.”

One Bad Day

So what I’m saying is, yes, Lucas Giolito is now either The Joker or Batman. That’s how this works.

White Sox 4, Mariners 1: Carlos Rodon allowed a run and five hits while pitching into the seventh. After a pretty disappointing season he’s turning things around lately, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last five starts.

Pirates 3, Brewers 1: The Sweep. John JasoGregory Polanco and Starling Marte all homered. Ivan Nova pitched well but left with a wonky hamstring. Which, given that Gerrit Cole is hurt, does not bode well for a team that needs everything to go right for the next month and change if they don’t want to go home in a month and change.

Athletics 7, Cardinals 4: The A’s have won four of five. Khris Davis hit a two-run shot and Steven Vogt hit a three-run homer. A’s starter Andrew Triggs got his first win. He’s from Nashville and said that a bunch of his friends and family drove to St. Louis from there to see him pitch. Can’t think of a road trip I’d rather do less in the August heat than Nashville-to-St. Louis, but you crank up the AC and do it for your friends and family I suppose.

Rays 10, Astros 4: Chris Archer allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings and struck out ten. Astros pitchers allowed ten runs on 15 hits and only struck out four. The order of things matters, man. Corey Dickerson his a three-run homer.

Giants 13, Braves 4: Four homers from the Giants — two from Joe Panik — to back a less-than-perfectly-sharp-but-good-enough-against-a-team-like-the-Braves Madison Bumgarner. The Giants took two of three from Atlanta to remain two back of the Dodgers. It was only the second series they have won since the All-Star break.

Diamondbacks 11, Reds 2: A.J. Pollock went 3-for-5 and stole two bases, showing Diamondbacks fans what they missed with him gone all year. Welington Castillo drove in four in this laugher of a game.

Royals 10, Red Sox 4: Down 4-2 in the sixth and the Royals put up an 8-run inning. Raul Mondesi‘s bases-loaded triple and Eric Hosmer‘s two-run single were the big blows. The Royals have won 17 of 21 and have moved to 5.5 back in the AL Central and three back in the wild card. They’re tied with Houston and are a game back of Detroit in that race. Maybe the defending champs were only mostly dead.