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Red Sox Playoff Preview

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To help out a fellow SBNation blogger from Big Blue View, I was asked to post a Red Sox playoff preview at Valentine's Views on Sports.

Of course, I'd like you to visit Mr. Valentine's website, but if you like the color scheme too much of OTM.com, then you can stick around and read it here in its entirety:

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I knew this day would come. I have been asking bloggers who cover the various teams in the playoffs to write previews of their teamsfor me. You know, of course, that this is Yankees country here. However, in the quest for complete coverage, I have to turn over this post to a Red Sox fan. Thanks to Randy Booth of OverTheMonster for sending this our way. All we can say to Randy, though, is dude, it's 2004 payback time.]

"Yeah, I came down with a case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis the other day. But it's cool, I'm a Sox fan."

"I accidentally tanned on a nest of fire ants yesterday. But it's cool, I'm a Sox fan."

"The Red Sox have a 5 game lead over the Yankees as of September 1. I don't think I can handle it."

Life as a Red Sox fan is fun. When it comes to every day problems, it doesn't phase us at all. We brush it off like a Pedro Martinez fastball high and tight. A five game lead at the beginning of September, though, is a huge problem.

We start getting touchy. We start to get a little irritable when a big series is coming up. And honestly? We start to doubt.

However, this year was a little different. The Sox took the lead in the East on April 18 and never looked back. Sounds corny, but it's accurate because they never lost their stranglehold on the division. From April 18 to September 30, the Red Sox were kings of the East.

The Baseball Gods had to reward the Sox. They worked hard all season and then what was going to happen? The Gods would striketh down upon the Sox with the wrath of Willie Randolph? Nah. Not this time. Not this year.

The season is behind us. All that matters now are 11 extremely important W's that need to be earned by one, and only one, team. Let's break down the Sox a tad bit before Wednesday's showdown with the Angels.

Key Player to Watch: JD Drew

Call him "Nancy," I really don't care, but he could make or break the post-season for the Red Sox. He had his worst season ever as an MLB pro, but the big "MO" (ahem, momentum?) is all that matters when it comes to post-season baseball. In September, Drew batted .342 with four home runs, 18 runs batted in and a 1.072 OPS. That is very good for a guy who hit as low as .171 in May.

Key Pitcher to Watch: Daisuke Matsuzaka

Dice-K wasn't as good this season as some expected, but for a guy coming over from Japan and pitching over 200 innings, he did damn well. This will be Dice-K's first post-season experience and if we know anything at all about him, it's that he's an amazing "big game pitcher." Cliché term or not, he could go out and throw 250 pitches on Friday and be ready to go on Sunday. I think he'll be a force to reckon with this October.

Rookie to Watch: Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury is the "X-Factor" this post-season. Ellsbury has all the tools and was a lightning bolt in September for the Sox. He'll be used off the bench unless there's an injury to any of the outfield starters. Don't be surprised to see Ellsbury in every game, however, either as a late defensive replacement in left field for Manny Ramirez or as a pinch-runner. Mark his name down in your notebook for next spring, too, because he's an early AL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2008.

The "You-have-to-watch-when-he's-in-the-game" Player: Jonathan Papelbon

The man, the myth, the legend: Jonathan Papelbon. The best closer in the American League this year, in my opinion. JJ Putz was great, of course, but when you break down the stats, I think Papelbon gets the nod. Papelbon struck out 84 batters in just 58.1 innings pitched. Putz struck out 82 in 71.2 IP.

If I could only watch one player in baseball, it'd be our lovable closer Paps. Yes, he may dance around on the field with empty Coors cases on his head, but that's OK. He may do an Irish jig on the field once in awhile, but that's cool, too. As long as he comes in, makes the evilest of closer faces in baseball, and throws the gas past the batter, everything is perfect.

It's October: let the real games begin.