We know the who (Angels vs. Red Sox), we know the what (best out of five American League Division Series), we know the where (game one at Angel Stadium) and we know the why (so that the winner can advance to the American League Championship Series).
What we don't know is the when because New York, which boasts the league's best record, can't announce the playoff schedule they will choose until their Division Series opponent--Minnesota or Detroit--is decided after Tuesday's one-game playoff between the Midwesterners.
The Yanks can start either Wednesday night or Thursday night, with Boston and LA of Anaheim getting the schedule New York discards. Pundits think the Bronx Bombers take the Wednesday option to compound their opening-round opponent's jet lag and to get a between-game rest advantage over their arch foe Boston before those two inevitably square off in the ALCS.
But the Beantowners must first travel through Anaheim and the Halos' game 1 pitcher, John Lackey.
Thank God he's not starting in Boston.
Before more on that, let's look at all the potential series matchups:
Game 1: Lackey vs. Jon Lester
Game 2: Angel Jered Weaver vs. Sox Josh Beckett
Game 3: Angel Scott Kazmir vs. Sox Clay Buchholz
Game 4 (if necessary) Angel Joe Saunders vs. Lester
Game 5: (if necessary) Lackey vs. Beckett
Game 1: Lester is a beast. Lackey has a history of problems with the Red Sox, particularly in Green Monsterland, and while the Angels have a history of problems with the Red Sox in the playoffs (see 2008 and 2007), the Halos did spank the Massholes in the regular season series. So, yeah, opening in Anaheim is a good thing.
Game 2: With Beckett, make that two beasts--although he has suffered from back spasms and has had to undergo cortisone shots before picking up the rosin bag. We love the Weave, but he can be either unhittable or supremely lit-uppable. Having the home crowd behind him can only help. Let's just hope it's not like one of those regular season games where there seem to be as many Red Sox fans in Anaheim as Rally Monkeys.
Game 3: It's on to Boston, which some are setting up to be the pivotal game of the series. That's because Boston's Buchholz has been inconsistent of late. Teams that play small ball like the Angels seem to particularly get in Buchholz's head, and he's already indicated he may be nervous starting a playoff game. It's counterintuitive that the Angels would give a lefty a start with the Green Monster behind him, but Kazmir has pitched great over his career in Beantown. The Halos' best shot to advance to the next round involves winning at least one of the first two at home, ride Kaz's arm to victory here and at least make it back to Anaheim in one piece for game 5.
Game 4: On the one hand, Lester will be pitching at home--heck, possibly even for the series if it isn't already over. On the other glove, he'll be doing so on less rest than he is used to. The conventional wisdom is Boston will go as far into October as Lester and Beckett are able to take them. The counterintuitiveness mentioned about Kazmir also applies to "Million-dollar Joe" Saunders, another southpaw who has had much success in Fenway.
Game 5: Beckett not only will be pitching on less rest (if it even goes this far), but he'll be doing so in Anaheim after a plane flight. Read that conventional wisdom line above again, then think about this: Texan warhorse Lackey will have avoided working in New England altogether, he'll have had his full rest and he'll have a chance to win the series at the place he loves pitching the most.
Of course, a team can not live on starting pitching alone. The Boston bullpen is deeper, and don't even get me started on Angel closer Brian "I'm No K-Rod" Fuentes. If he blows a save in the playoffs, the players around him (not to mention the fans) will suffer a letdown anytime they see Fuentes so much as warming up in the bullpen.
However, I haven't heard anyone mention this X factor for Anaheim: Ervin Santana, who was nearly unhittable in his final start and has long and short relief experience. Hell, he'd produce fewer cringes taking the mound in the ninth with a one-run lead than Fuentes would.
The Angels as a whole have three years worth of bulletin board material courtesy of Boston to get them motivated. If they hit anything like they did the last week of the regular season (as opposed to the two weeks before that), they should be competitive. Their aggressive running game gives the Sox and, in particular, catcher Jason Varitek, fits.
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Can that even get into the heads of Lester and Beckett? A team can dream. Also keep in mind that while Boston smoked the Halos in 2007, the Sox barely got by Anaheim last season. They are more banged up now than they were then. The Angels are healthier and we can only hope hungrier.
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More 2009 Postseason Throwdown action can be found for the following teams:
Los Angeles Dodgers: http://blogs.laweekly.com/ladaily/sports/
New York Yankees: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/baseball/
St. Louis Cardinals: http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/baseball/
Colorado Rockies: http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/baseball/