|Role reversal?||10.01.08 at 5:15 am ET|
The formulas always seemed like polar opposites. The offensive success of the Angels was defined by an attacking style on the bases that was meant to compensate for the absence of power outside of Vladimir Guerrero. The run totals of the Red Sox were dictated almost solely by their ability to power the ball over the fence.
That, at least, seemed the glaring difference of the two teams when they met in the American League Division Series in both 2004 and 2007. But at this year’s trade deadlines, it was suggested that the two teams fundamentally altered their identities.
The Angels acquired a new middle of the order presence in Mark Teixeira. The Red Sox, meanwhile, shed one of the great sluggers in the game in exchanging Manny Ramirez for Jason Bay. Ever since, members of both teams believe that the stylistic differences between the two teams have narrowed.
“I think we can do some of the same things (that the Angels are known for) now,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “We’re a little different team than we used to be. We go first to third better, I think we were third in the league in stolen bases and I think we were pretty efficient at it.”
“We weren’t relying on one or two guys (after the Ramirez trade). We weren’t relying on a three-run homer in the seventh or eighth inning,” added second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “We were trying to find a way to score a run, whether it was bunting a guy over, stealing a base, doing the little things. We’ve played great defense since Jason (Bay) came over. We’re playing the game a bit differently. I don’t know what the power numbers are, but it seems like we’re scoring runs in different ways.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, meanwhile, described the difference between his team in the 2007 Division Series as compared to this one like “night and day…Last year against Boston, we were a skeleton club.”
Injuries had deprived the Angels of any depth aside from Guerrero. Outfielder Gary Mathews was left off the postseason roster due to an injured knee. Casey Kotchman ended up missing the Division Series finale due to illness. Garret Anderson was unable to see clearly due to conjunctivitis, and also had to leave the Series finale after his first at-bat. The Sox could pitch around Guerrero with impunity, confident no one else who could hurt them. Boston outscored the Halos 19-4, and out-homered them 5-0 in a convincing three-game sweep.
Now, with Teixeira and Torii Hunter joining the likes of a healthy Mathews and Anderson, such lopsided numbers no longer seem likely.
“They’re much more dangerous through the middle,” said Francona. “They’ve always had the ability to run, now you put a couple of bats in the middle that can leave the ballpark, Teixeira works the count very well. He makes you certainly think twice about doing something with Vlad, so it gives them a couple of different looks and add some punch right in the middle of their lineup and it makes their lineup deeper. We talk about that with us all the time.”
The notion of the similarities between the clubs has some basis in how the two teams have performed over the season’s final two months.
The two teams have each hit 55 homers since August 1 (the Sox in 1,862 at-bats, the Angels in 1,870). They played small ball with similar frequency, as Los Angeles (of Anaheim, naturally) has 11 sacrifice bunts and 21 sac flies, while the Sox have seven sacrifices and 20 sac flies.
Overall, however, the Sox have been a more effective offense. They averaged a major league-leading 5.8 runs per game in August and September while hitting .283 with a .367 OBP and .460 slugging mark en route to an A.L. best 34-19 record. The Angels scored 5.0 times per game while producing marks of .276/.340/.427 while playing .600 ball (33-22).
In September, however, with Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew sidelined for much of the month, both teams scored 137 runs in 26 games. That would suggest that the margin of difference between the two clubs is very different than was the case in their previous postseason encounters. That, in turn, offers the promise of a compelling Division Series.
“This series won’t be determined on what happened July 30th, it won’t be determined on what we did last year. It will be two very good teams going at it and see how it ends,” said Francona. “They know us real well and we know them real well. Whoever plays better will win. (There are) not going to be a whole lot of secrets.”
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