ALDS breakdown: Angels
Aggressive running game could be key to toppling Red Sox
The Angels are the baseball equivalent of a basketball team always in a full-court press. Running up pitch counts while at bat, distracting the defense on base, digging for the extra base on the run ... that's their full-field press.
With Vladimir Guerrero and the revived Garret Anderson, they can come up with long-ball lightning, but that's obviously not their "A" game. The Angels were one of two AL teams (Baltimore being the other) with more stolen bases than home runs, which says as much about their skills set as about their mind-set.
Running teams into defensive mistakes has been a big part of the Angels' success, but that weapon will not be as useful against a steady and heady Red Sox infield. While they can run on the arms of the outfielders, Boston relay men, especially hyper second baseman Dustin Pedroia, compensate by setting up deeper.
The Angels' proven tendency to fight off tough pitches, in turn, will shift an enormous burden to Boston's setup relievers. With heightened emphasis on pitch counts for Curt Schilling (midseason shoulder tendinitis) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (worn down by unaccustomedly long season), the Angels could get into the bullpen two, three men away from Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
And that's where it could get interesting. Manager Mike Scioscia is going with a 10-man pitching staff, leaving him with an ample bench that will empower him to make numerous moves, counter and otherwise. Matchups are a big part of his approach, and of his and his players' preparation.
Key late-game matchups
Reggie Willits vs. Eric Gagne: The dynamic rookie outfielder can waste pitches with the best of 'em. If he puts Gagne's limited tank through a 10- or 12-pitch at-bat, one of two things will happen -- Gagne will stay on the mound for a possible beating, or Boston manager Terry Francona will be forced into something he fears, waving for Papelbon in the eighth.
Anderson vs. Hideki Okajima: A matchup clearly drawn in the clutch-situation lab. Your spot lefty out-man against their top lefty hitter. But Anderson has always gone against the grain, consistently hitting only a few points lower against southpaws, and he can blow up the obvious move.
Angels secret weapon
Youth: The Angels have a lot of core players without postseason experience -- Mike Napoli, Howie Kendrick, Willits, Erick Aybar -- and it could show against a seasoned bunch of Red Sox.
American League Division Series schedule
|Wed., Oct. 3||6:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||3 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||9:30 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||6:30 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||6:30 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||6 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|* If necessary. All times ET.|
Manager: Mike Scioscia
Knows, and adapts to, his personnel as well as any manager. Likes to play "little ball" early, planting the bunt and hit-and-run in the opposition's mind. At times he can be too stubborn in resisting lineup changes -- and that hurt in 2004 ALDS against the Red Sox.
The Angels have been a team of momentum -- good and bad. In a short series, that could be a dangerous DNA. They have to overcome being spooked by Fenway Park, remembering that Green "Monster" is just a name.
Three reasons Angels will win
John Lackey, as hard-nosed a competitor as there is on the mound, gets them at least a Fenway Park split, and the Series never returns to Boston.
Guerrero will finish the job he started with his too-little, too-late Game 3 Grand Slam against the Sox in the 2004 ALDS.
If Joe Saunders joins Oliver in the bullpen, they'll have two lefties to tail Ortiz -- unlike in 2004, when they didn't have any. (Papi is 4-for-19 lifetime off those two.)
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.