The Best!

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John Lackey might not agree, but when Jason Bay flew across home plate ahead of Mike Napoli’s tag, the better team won this American League Divisional Series.

The Red Sox outhit and out pitched the Angels. They made fewer mistakes in the field and far fewer mistakes in the basepaths. In short, to crudely paraphrase the gist of the AngelFan post we featured at the beginning of last week, run differential trumped intangibles.

Indeed, intangibles appeared to be all the Angels had. And they failed them. Instead, the hyperaggression on which Los Angeles has thrived under Mike Scioscia again let them down — turning into tangible outs at second, at third and at home.

The fact remains — and this has been true since 2004 — that the Angels’ small-ball style of play cannot compete in a short series against a team featuring shut-down pitching and solid-to-elite defense. Without patience to fill the bases or power to clear them, the Angels were again a mirage, propped up by luck as evidenced by their success in one-run games and a lousy division.

This year was supposed to be different. I believed it. Certainly the national media, who overwhelmingly picked the Angels to win this series, believed it. Not only were the Angels a 100-win team, they had picked up the patience and power they had so desperately needed in Mark Teixeira.

We should have realized. One hundred wins means nothing. Not when the Angels played 54 games against teams with no better than a .488 winning percentage while the Red Sox played 54 against teams with no worse than a .531 winning percentage. The Red Sox scored 80 more runs and allowed three fewer than the Angels despite the glaring difference in quality between their divisions.

So, yes, Teixeira. He certainly added more to this Angels club than we’d seen in previous postseasons, batting .467 and reaching base 55 percent of the time. The heart of the Angels lineup was fearsome for once, as Tex was followed by Guerrerro (who bat .467) and Hunter (.389). Yet not a single one of the three hit a home run. All of them finished with slugging percentages lower than their on-base percentages.

The Angels outhit the Red Sox, 42-38. They drew the same number of walks, 15. They finished with a batting average 23 points higher and an on-base percentage 14 points higher. For the first time, they managed to fill the bases. They still couldn’t drive them home.

The Red Sox hit 10 doubles, the Angels hit three. The Red Sox hit three home runs, the Angels just two. Jason Bay hit .412 and slugged .882. J.D. Drew hit .286 and slugged .571. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .333 and slugged .500. Not surprising, then, that the Sox outslugged Los Angeles by 31 points and posted an OPS 17 points better. The Red Sox also struck out fewer and stole more bases.

Likewise, the Angels committed four errors to the Sox’ one, anf went eight for 40 with runners in scoring position, a dismal .200 batting average.

Most damning, however, was the small-ball philosophy by which the Angels have lived for most of this decade and by which they have died nearly every time they’ve reached the postseason. Only one Red Sox player was thrown out on the basepaths — Jacoby Ellsbury, when he stole second and overslid the bag. The Angels had three men thrown out on the basepaths: Guerrero, out by a mile trying to advance from first to third on a bloop single, Hunter, out by a mile trying to advance a single into a double, and Erick Aybar Reggie Willits, caught off third when the Angels last night inexplicably attempted a suicide squeeze in the ninth with one out and a high-contact hitter at the plate.

The reason for the Angels’ inability to convert their style into runs (43 men left on base to the Red Sox’ 36)? Undoubtedly, the Sox’ pitching and defense. The latter is anecdotal, but how many plays did the Angels make that rivaled Ellsbury’s snare of Teixeira’s liner in Game 1? Or Mark Kotsay’s two terrific catches in Game 4? Or Youkilis’ devastating throw to nab Guerrero (or Bay’s to cut down Hunter)? Instead, we saw a botched pop up that scored three runs. A three-base error. A bobbled grounder that unsettled Lackey enough to throw a meatball to Dustin Pedroia.

Pitching? Statistically, it wasn’t a contest. No Angel pitcher rivaled Jon Lester’s 14 innings without an earned run. And Jonathan Papelbon showed that Francisco Rodriguez may hold a record, but he doesn’t hold the title of league’s best closer. The Angels’ bullpen certainly showed why they were among the best in the league, but the Sox’ pen held their own — especially as Shields and Rodriguez stumbled, twice.

The Red Sox went into this series banged up. They did not have great performances from two of their three starters. Their MVP candidate went 1 for the series. Yet they won.

They won, in part, because they were facing a deceptively weak team whose problems and inherent flaws were masked by the poor opponents they faced the most. But it was a team the Sox had not yet proved they could beat.

Now the Sox go to Saint Petersburg, where they face another team with a better regular-season record. A team that faced the same opponents they did. But also a team they’ve shown they can beat. It looks to be an epic struggle — but the Red Sox are used to those in the ALCS.

So bring on Tampa Bay. We’re ready.

27 comments… add one

  • YES! that is all…
    well, that, and how good does that Kotsay pick-up look right now?

    dw (sf) October 7, 2008, 10:31 am
  • True dat. Bring it.

    DUFF - SF October 7, 2008, 10:34 am
  • Wasn’t that Reggie Willits out at third on the squeeze?
    But speaking of that play by Varitek, in my mind it ranks up there with clutch defensive plays in recent post-season memory. But since I’m probably still biased with emotion right now, I’ll try to ask as objective a question as possible:
    Best ever, or BESTEST ever?
    Discuss.

    FenSheaParkway October 7, 2008, 10:52 am
  • During much of the regular season, I thought Kotsay’s bat looked pretty done, and there were points where I wondered in this series what Sean Casey had done to Tito to merit his adequate but experienced glove and generally superior bat being shutout of the lineup.
    Then I saw Kotsay playing centerfield defense at first base last night. Had a couple nice hits too, and would have been the hero last night if Texiera didn’t make another amazing diving stop at first.
    Texiera was the difference between a fairly easy sweep and a really intense four-game series. I kinda disagree with the tone of Paul’s post because our flaws showed at times, while the Angels went out of their way to give us the series.
    But Tampa Bay really better watch out all the same. A non-rusty Josh Beckett, Pedroia and Ortiz swinging hot bats again, and a refreshed bullpen makes for a dangerous team. Let’s get ‘em.

    Hit Dog October 7, 2008, 11:10 am
  • In all fairness, Tex played amazing defense–I think he had 4 amazing diving grabs down the 1st-base line during the series. Aside from him though… mediocre Angels defense.

    Atheose October 7, 2008, 11:11 am
  • Tex is just awesome – in every facet of the game.
    Also, everyone thought I was stupid when hoping for LAA in the DS. Normally, I wouldn’t say it, but: yyyyyyyyooooooooohhhhhhhhhoooooooo!!!

    Brad October 7, 2008, 11:23 am
  • Congrats, Sox Fans. I’m pulling for a Sox/Dodgers WS, just because the story lines would be so rich. Manny/Nomar vs. Sox; Torre vs. Sox (again, but in the WS this time); two storied franchises, two great old ballparks, etc.

    nettles October 7, 2008, 11:28 am
  • Yeah, it’s going to suck seeing him sign with the Yanks next month.

    Atheose October 7, 2008, 11:29 am
  • In other news, Boras has informed the planet that it will take 5yrs/85 million to get your paws on Manny Ramirez this winter.
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.
    Come on NY, pony up! I kid of course. If NY did that, they deserve to officially be unrecognized as a organized sports franchise.

    Brad October 7, 2008, 11:33 am
  • Wait, didn’t he reportedly want 5 years/100mil a few months ago?

    Atheose October 7, 2008, 11:36 am
  • I’m pulling for the same, nettles. Then, I’m pulling for Manny to be sat on his ass every single AB. Or walked. Let someone else beat you on that team.

    Brad October 7, 2008, 11:36 am
  • I just heard 5/85 on ESPN, Atheose.
    Either way, if it happens, it will go down as the stupidest signing of all time. And, that includes Barry Zito.
    One year in, that knee will act up, he’ll start throwing away ABs, complaining about how the press treats his kids, and how much he hates the city, and then demand to be traded because of a lack of disrespect.
    Please, Beckett. Do your thing, big guy.

    Brad October 7, 2008, 11:39 am
  • Oh I believe you Brad, I’m just surprised because the number being thrown around this summer was 5/100. Guess Boras tested the waters (illegally) and found that 100mil was too steep.

    Atheose October 7, 2008, 11:49 am
  • Reading that LA Times article and hearing all the Halos say they are the better team is both laughable and maddening to me. So they owned us in the regular season? We own them in the post-season. It’s like they have no respect for the fact that we are the defending champs! The win feels amazing, but how about a little respect????

    Letia October 7, 2008, 11:54 am
  • The Angels, I think, are suffering from the problem that every team does when they lose a very close series filled with very close games. They’re pissed off and dwelling on all the little things that would have turned the whole thing around, not the things they did to screw it up (or the things we did to win it) so it ended the way it did. Ironically, this is probably the way a lot of their opponents felt this year because they won so many close games.
    I am a little surprised none of them gave any props to Lester, though – he and Bay were the MVPs of this series.
    Boston/Tampa is going to be a hell of an ALCS – Beckett needs to get healthy and effective quickly, because we can’t win a seven game series entirely on the back of Jon Lester, no matter how awesome he is.

    Micah-SF October 7, 2008, 12:24 pm
  • I kinda disagree with the tone of Paul’s post because our flaws showed at times, while the Angels went out of their way to give us the series.
    My post very much focuses on how the Angels’ flaws played into this series. It’s not terribly complimentary to say you’re better than an overrated team who feasted off weak opposition and made blunders all over the field for roughly four straight games. The Sox had some clutch hitting and some great pitching by Jon Lester, but the fact that they could win while two starters cough it up (which I mentioned in my post, I believe) says a lot about the Angels’ weaknesses. In all, to pat myself on the back, I think I balanced the rah-rah post-win cheerleading with the acknowledgment that the Red Sox were helped immensely by numerous Angel mistakes and failures.
    Corrected the Aybar/Willits mistake. Aybar was the one bunting. Thanks, FSP.

    Paul SF October 7, 2008, 2:07 pm
  • “The fact remains — and this has been true since 2004 — that the Angels’ small-ball style of play cannot compete in a short series against a team featuring shut-down pitching and solid-to-elite defense.”
    I’m not exactly sure what type of style of play works well against shut down pitching and elite defense. You’re not hitting many HRs off shut down pitching either…
    The Red Sox were fortunate to capitalize on bad play; it’ll be interesting to see how you handle a team that isn’t necessarily “hot or cold” in the traditional sense, but one that makes very few mistakes and hits in all the right spots.

    310ToJoba October 7, 2008, 3:21 pm
  • “And Jonathan Papelbon showed that Francisco Rodriguez may hold a record, but he doesn’t hold the title of league’s best closer. ”
    Yes, that title belongs to Mariano Rivera or Joakim Soria.

    Jimmy October 7, 2008, 5:40 pm
  • Yes, that title belongs to Mariano Rivera or Joakim Soria.
    Or Joe Nathan.
    I didn’t say it belonged to Papelbon (what’s that about assuming?). K-Rod is no better than fifth. This series proved he’s certainly not the best.

    Paul SF October 7, 2008, 5:54 pm
  • i don’t have much doubt that the best team won this series; certainly the better strategy won it. i think both paul and i (and many others) have been rather vociferous in our assertions that the sox were clearly better. they were, but it’s important to keep in mind that in the context of two above average baseball teams, the margin that makes one team “considerably better” (choose your own adjective) is extremely small, and that the thinness of that margin is magnified in a short series. that’s part of what makes baseball so much fun, and so frustrating/exciting.

    YF October 7, 2008, 8:14 pm
  • I have been away all day, travelling, but I can’t help but think that John Lackey doesn’t ever watch his own closer pitch, that he’s off in the hot tub when K-Rod closes games. If he did watch Rodriguez, he’d give our second baseman a little more leeway for his reaction following his huge hit in last night’s game.
    As for Paul and YF, well, I give them credit for having more confidence in the Sox’ superiority than I had. And that being said, I think YF’s last post is spot-on: the difference in quality between these two teams is very hard to measure. We discussed the “crapshoot” issue earlier this week, and though I don’t subscribe to the idea that the best team always wins (even though they do, most of the time, Mr. Lackey), I do think that with some assessment the result of most series can be seen as perfectly explicable. These four games, in retrospect, showed the Sox to be better constructed for this specific series, and hence, the better team. The regular season difference of four wins (head-to-head notwithstanding) in the context of the imbalanced schedule renders those four wins somewhat less substantial. Lackey is right in that the Sox were inferior to the Angels during the regular season. But he would have been a fool to write off their chances before the series started, and he’s in denial about why the Sox won. They won because for this series, which is all that matters, they were, but for one game, the better team.
    As for these games with the Rays? I need a day to think!

    SF October 7, 2008, 9:55 pm
  • That was Pedroia’s only hit of the series. That’s going to have to change when the Rays are the team to beat.

    310ToJoba October 7, 2008, 10:14 pm
  • Regarding the Angel loss and comments that the better team did not win … somewhere, the Rally Monkey is slinging his own feces against a wall in frustration.

    SoxFan October 8, 2008, 3:05 am
  • The Angels’ post-series comment showed why they lost: They believed they were entitled, and dweled on that rather than execution.
    On another note, it just occurred to me that a Boston-LA World Series would, I believe, involved the oldest and third-oldest ballpark in MLB. Hard to believe that Dodger stadium, which played a key role in the movie “Better Off Dead” is now the third oldest Major League ballpark, Wrigley Field (Blues Brothers), being the second-oldest, and Fenway Park (Field of Dreams) being the oldest.

    I'mBillMcNeal October 8, 2008, 8:29 am
  • “which played a key role in the movie “Better Off Dead” ”
    refresh my memory- what was the part in the movie…

    Ric October 8, 2008, 11:25 am
  • (**spoiler alert!!)
    The very end.

    FenSheaParkway October 8, 2008, 11:33 am
  • Joe Nathan is so underrated (from playing for the Twins), but that guy’s nasty.

    Lar October 8, 2008, 12:15 pm

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