Sox, Halos not taking anything for granted
Postseason rivals ready to renew acquaintances once again
ANAHEIM -- With all due respect to the other six teams involved in Division Series play, all of them richly deserving of their exalted places in October, there is no current series as fascinating as the Angels vs. the Red Sox.
OK, the Minnesota Twins currently aren't short on fascination. But what you have here is a matchup built on victory. There are the kings of the regular season, the Angels, who have won five AL West titles in the past six years. On the other side, we find the leading postseason team of this young millennium, the Red Sox, the only team to have won two World Series in this century.
That's good enough, but adding another layer to the plot is the fact that the Angels, as good as they have been in the regular season, have been able to do anything with the Red Sox in the postseason. These two clubs have met in the ALDS three of the past five Octobers. Boston has won nine games, Los Angeles has won just one.
Two of the three Red Sox clubs in question went on to win the World Series, so it wasn't like the Angels were stumbling against the neighborhood chumps. The central shortcoming in the previous two October losses to Boston was run production. In seven games, Los Angeles managed just 17 runs.
Due credit must be extended to the Red Sox's pitching staffs. Josh Beckett, for instance, dominated throughout the 2007 postseason. But from the Angels' perspective, more runs must be scored. And on paper, this Halos team would be more likely to score those runs than its predecessors. The Angels were second in the AL in runs scored this season. In 2008, they were 10th.
The Red Sox have been suitably impressed. When asked Wednesday what made the current Angels lineup so difficult, veteran lefty reliever Billy Wagner responded:
"Balance. They've got power, they've got speed. They've got clutch hitters. They can control the game with their running. They can hit the long ball, they can hit the gap. You can go out there thinking about [Vladimir] Guerrero and [Torii] Hunter and the next thing you know, their first two guys are on first and third."
There is no smoke blowing in that description of the Angels' offense. The Red Sox didn't get to be the Red Sox by underestimating the quality of the opposition. In the same way, Boston is justifiably confident about its own abilities. But the Sox are having nothing to do with the frequently asked notion regarding "being in the heads" of the Angels.
"I don't know anything about that stuff," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said Wednesday. "We're not mind readers. We feel like we're good enough to beat anybody. If we play well, we should be all right." On the Angels' side, the individual and collective success of their offense this season may well have given their hitters a boost in confidence. Hunter, always a leader with a keen sense of his team's emotional state, said that younger players on this team are conducting themselves with more confidence than they did in 2008.
"I'm not mentioning any names, but I listen to them and hear what they're saying and it's totally different," Hunter said. "I'm excited. They're pretty pumped up. You know, 'I'm going to get the base hit right here,' or, 'I'm going to go up and hit this guy,' or 'Watch this; I'm going to get a hit.'
"It's little things like that, that's the bulldog I've been looking for. Go up there thinking you're going to do it. You might not do it, but you think you're going to do it. I kind of like that. It's baseball. You can say you're going to do something, you pop it up, then you can say, 'Just missed it.'
"Just go out there and have confidence and everything will be fine, man. You're not going to do it every time, we know that. I'm saying have a little fun, that's all."
Baseball people invariably say that the past counts for nothing at these events. Hunter is clearly correct when he says that there is often no correlation between regular season performance and the postseason.
"Whatever you do during the season, it doesn't matter during the postseason," he said. "You see a lot of guys who hit 35 or 40 home runs, drive in 120 runs don't do nothing in the postseason. You have pitchers who dominated, and then get beaten. You can have teams that win 100 games and everybody expects those guys to win and then they lose. It doesn't matter what you did during the season, it's who wants it more."
By this time, the Angels must "want it" a whole lot. Then again, the Red Sox have been much more than OK in the postseason category of wanting it. There is another intangible at work here: Part of this series may come down to the Angels' ability to put the postseason past not only in the rearview mirror, but completely out of sight.
Either way, with two teams, two organizations of repeatedly proven quality this ALDS could well be the springboard to the ultimate postseason success.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.