It was a good weekend for the Boston Red Sox, principally because they ended their maddening four-game losing streak and clinched a spot in the playoffs (it was also a good weekend for me because I slept here).
They may win the division, they may not; they may wind up with the league's best record, they may not. We do know the Sox will face either the Indians or the Angels in the playoffs. Who do the Sox most want to face of those two teams?
Well, just based on the head-to-head results, the Indians seem like a favorable choice. The Sox went 5-2 during the season against them, and 6-4 against the Angels. That 5-2 record was helped by a 3-1 stint in July that featured the twin 1-0 pitcher duels between the Beckett-Matsuzaka and Sabathia-Carmona tandems. The Sox beat up Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee in the other two games. In May, the Sox took two of three and managed to avoid Sabathia and Carmona in doing so.
The Angels, meanwhile, took four of seven games from the Sox in the second half after Boston had swept a rain-shortened three-game series in April. The Sox have hung two losses on Angels ace John Lackey and somehow managed to avoid ever facing No. 2 Kelvim Escobar. The Sox had mixed results in two games against Jered Weaver.
Reality, however, has a way of messing with perception. Never mind that the Sox were a Gagne implosion away from going 7-3 against Anaheim this year, this Angels team seems to have significant flaws in their rotation that Cleveland does not. It might make the Halos the better choice for Sox fans hoping to see more than just three-to-five games of October baseball.
- Sox offense vs. CLE: .282/.342/.456 (.798 OPS/98 tOPS+), 4.9 RPG
- Sox pitching vs. CLE: .223/.292/.358 (.650 OPS), 3.05 ERA
Likely Sox playoff starters vs. CLE:
- Beckett (two starts): 1-1, 15 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 14 K, 1.80 ERA
- Matsuzaka (two starts): 1-1, 12.2 IP, 16 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 4.26 ERA
- Schilling (one start): 1-0, 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, 1.29 ERA
- Wakefield: No starts
Likely Indian playoff starters vs, BOS:
- Sabathia (one start): 0-1, 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 1.29 ERA
- Carmona (one start): 1-0, 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 0.00 ERA
- Westbrook (one start): 0-1, 6 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 7.50 ERA
- Byrd (one start): 1-0, 6 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1.50 ERA
You see the problem. The Red Sox beat up on Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers, two pitchers they are unlikely to see in the postseason. They, like most of the league, managed very little against Sabathia and Carmona, and Byrd gave them trouble, as well -- even if it was just one start apiece. Despite the better record against Cleveland, that Indian one-two punch is lethal -- more lethal at this juncture than the Sox' because Sabathia can easily outduel Beckett in Game 1, leaving the Sox to throw Schilling or Matsuzaka against Carmona.
Now the Angels:
- Sox offense vs. LAA: .290/.364/.452 (.816 OPS/104 tOPS+), 6.4 RPG
- Sox pitching vs. LAA: .260/.307/.401 (.708 OPS), 3.99 ERA
Likely Sox playoff starters vs. LAA:
- Beckett (two starts): 1-0, 13 IP, 11 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, 1.38 ERA
- Matsuzaka: No starts
- Schilling (three starts): 2-1, 20 IP, 21 H, 9 ER, 1 BB, 12 K, 4.05 ERA
- Wakefield (two starts): 1-1, 11 IP, 12 H, 7 ER, 5 BB, 5 K, 5.73 ERA
Likely Angel playoff starters vs. BOS:
- Lackey (two starts): 0-2, 9.2 IP, 20 H, 9 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 8.38 ERA
- Escobar: No starts
- Weaver (two starts): 0-1, 10.1 IP, 14 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 6.97 ERA
- Saunders (two starts): 2-0, 13 IP, 14 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 3.46 ERA
The Red Sox have had a lot better success against Angel starters this year, struggling only against Joe Saunders, whom the Sox could wind up not facing at all if they were to play Anaheim in the first round and the schedules aligned right. The numbers are obviously heavily sample-sized, but they do give an idea who the Sox and Angels have liked to face this year (John Lackey and Tim Wakefield).
The Angels have the easier starting staff to handle, while the Sox' starters -- or at least Beckett and Schilling -- have shown they can dominate both these teams. From this perspective, the Angels look much better.
Momentum and home-field advantage seem to matter little in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but it would be nice to not play a team who is tearing it up in September.
Team pitching and batting lines since Sept. 1:
- CLE: 14-6, 3.36 ERA, .262 BAA, .678 OPSA // 4.9 RPG, .263/.346/.449/.795, 26 HR
- LAA: 11-10, 4.52 ERA, .273 BAA, .765 OPSA // 5.2 RPG, .293/.366/.417/.783, 16 HR
- BOS: 12-8, 4.50 ERA, .241 BAA, .712 OPSA // 5.8 RPG, .283/.363/.464/.827, 25 HR
The Red Sox' pitchers, despite struggling this month, have limited opposing batters better than the Angels' have. Likewise, the Sox' hitters have outhit both their likely playoff opponents. The difference seems to be in the pitching -- Cleveland's is strong and shows no signs of slowing down; the Angels have seen Escobar collapse (10.19 ERA in four September starts) and have little else behind him and Lackey.
Top BOS/CLE/LAA starters in September (see if this list doesn't change your idea of what the Sox' postseason rotation should be. Also, thankfully for Angels' opponents, Mike Scioscia has decided to put the suddenly hot Ervin Santana in the bullpen in favor of Bartolo Colon while Escobar tanks):
- Carmona: 4-0, 1.27
- E. Santana: 2-1, 1.27
- Sabathia: 3-0, 2.03
- Beckett: 4-0, 2.25
- Lester: 2-0, 2.70
- Lackey: 1-1, 2.83
- Schilling: 0-2, 3.66
- Westbrook: 2-0, 4.56
- Byrd: 2-2, 5.12
- Weaver: 3-1, 5.32
- Matsuzaka: 1-1, 9.74
- Escobar: 0-2, 10.19
- Wakefield: 0-1, 12.08
Doesn't include today's games.
As much as we as Sox fans would like to see the Angels face the Yankees, it seems Boston has a better chance against Anaheim's starters than against Cleveland's, with both squads' offense roughly equal, at least over the past month. Obviously, seeing the Angels beat the Yanks means nothing if the Sox go down 2-0 to Sabathia and Carmona with the underbelly of the rotation coming up.
So if the Sox win, root for the Indians. If the Sox lose, root for the Angels. That's my advice, anyway.