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.

Study: West teams at a disadvantage due to jet lag

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JULY 14:  A Delta airlines plane is seen as it comes in for a landing at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on July 14, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Delta Air Lines Inc. reported that their second quarter earnings rose a better-than-expected 4.1%, and also announced that they decided to reduce its United States to Britian capacity on its winter schedule because of foreign currency issues and the economic uncertainty from Brexit.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Every year, when the schedules are released, we often hear about the teams that have it worst. Almost always, those teams are West teams. According to MLB.com, teams in the West division of their respective leagues had the top eight most travel-heavy schedules in 2016. The full list:

Team League Division Miles
Mariners AL West 47,704
Angels AL West 44,945
Athletics AL West 42,119
Rangers AL West 41,128
Dodgers NL West 40,294
Giants NL West 39,341
Astros AL West 38,553
Padres NL West 37,363
Rays AL East 36,916
Red Sox AL East 36,896
D-Backs NL West 35,312
Yankees AL East 35,252
Marlins NL East 35,226
Rockies NL West 33,287
Blue Jays AL East 32,895
Orioles AL East 32,322
Braves NL East 29,236
Royals AL Central 29,077
Twins AL Central 28,948
Phillies NL East 28,351
Mets NL East 26,832
White Sox AL Central 26,538
Cardinals NL Central 26,451
Pirates NL Central 26,134
Brewers NL Central 25,620
Tigers AL Central 25,450
Indians AL Central 25,176
Reds NL Central 25,108
Nationals NL East 24,664
Cubs NL Central 24,271

The averages by division:

  • AL East: 34,856 miles
  • AL Central: 25,176
  • AL West: 42,890
  • NL East: 28,862
  • NL Central: 25,517
  • NL West: 37,119

The maps aren’t up for 2017 yet, but rest assured that West teams will once again have it worst. It’s easy to see why, taking a look at the map on MLB.com. If you draw a line to split Texas in half and go straight up through North Dakota, there are only eight teams to the left of that line, leaving the other 23 condensed on the right side. When West teams aren’t playing intra-division games, they are traveling. That’s often not the case for East and Central teams. The Phillies and Pirates, for example, don’t even have to leave the state to play each other.

As Gizmodo points out, a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a link between jet lag and performance. Sleep scientist Ravi Allada of Northwestern University analyzed 4,919 games, finding that teams that traveled East performed worse than those that traveled West. Allada and his colleagues adjusted for home field advantage and park effects.

Specifically, teams that traveled from the West to the East lost more often than East teams traveling West. They gave up more runs and scored less runs. They hit for a lower batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. They gave up more home runs, accounting for most of the decline in run prevention.

There was a peculiar finding. Allada found that jet lagged home teams performed worse than jet lagged visiting teams. He hypothesizes that “teams may be more cognizant of their schedules when traveling away, thus mitigating jet lag effects,” he told Gizmodo.

The Braves ask Cobb County for $14 million more

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The Braves’ new ballpark in Cobb County Georgia is the gift that keeps on taking.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Braves have asked Cobb County for $14 million for roads, walkways and other pedestrian improvements around the stadium the team has already paid for but which it says the county is responsible. The county says it’s not responsible for them and that it has already paid nearly $70 million for transportation improvements around the ballpark, including on privately-owned property in the mixed-use development.

The reason this isn’t settled: at the time the deal between the county and the team was struck, there was a provision for the county to pay for $14 million for certain improvements. The Braves, this past September, told the county that it wants to be reimbursed for these projects under that provision and that the $70 million the county has already spent shouldn’t count. For reasons, I guess. It’s a bit complicated, but the AJC story lays it out pretty well. The upshot seems to be “why didn’t the Braves say they wanted the county to pay for these things long ago?”

The answer to that question, I suspect, is “because the Braves have been treated as entitled corporate welfare recipients since this deal was announced and they have learned that they can get away with almost anything.”