The Red Sox and Angels started the season in similar fashion, with each team being swept out of the gates--the Sox by the Rangers, the Angels by the Royals. While the Red Sox would go ahead and lay another egg against the Indians, the Angels made quick work of their losing streak, and have emerged as one of the hottest teams since then, going 11-3 over their last 14 games.
For the Sox, their winning ways are a rather newer invention, going back only five games (four of which they have won). Still, at the moment, these are two of the hotter teams in baseball. As much as it may not seem an envious position to be in, though, the Red Sox may well be quite glad to face the Angels.
Since the year began, the Red Sox have faced a veritable flood of southpaws--an opponent their lineup is not exactly designed to face. Against the Angels, things are quite the opposite--four righty starters, and two of them without much in the way of Major League experience. Notably absent from the bunch: Angels ace and strikeout king Jered Weaver.
Still, the Angels have been a powerful offensive team of late--even if it does smack of unsustainability given that two of their biggest contributors are Howie Kendrick and Maicer Izturis, each with a wOBA nearly 100 points over their career averages. The other? Hank Conger: the rookie Korean catcher who's been a monster through a very short sample size.
So are the Red Sox' starters the ones to shut them down? Let's look at the matchups.
Game 1: Josh Beckett vs. Tyler Chatwood
After dominant outings against the Yankees and Blue Jays, Red Sox fans are all excited to see what Josh Becekett will do next.
Generally speaking, Angels Stadium has been kind to Josh over the years. A 4.00 ERA in 27 innings isn't the best you'll see, but an OPS against of just .656 is just pretty good. The problem for Beckett lies in the fact that he's never had to face Vernon Wells there. And while Wells hasn't been off to the best start this season, riding a seven-game hitting streak he's about to come up against a man he's hit to the tune of a 1.225 OPS.
Luckily, after Wells the only bat that's really punished Beckett has been Howie Kendrick, and that's more a matter of BABIP than anything else. What could be difficult, though, is that there's just no a lot of letup in the group. The Angels can field a group of batters where, while only one might be particularly good against Josh, there aren't many free outs involved.
As for Tyler Chatwood, well, it should be interesting. With a fastball that can hit the high-90's and a pair of strong off-speed pitches in his curveball and changeup, Chatwood has all the makings of a fine prospect. But at just 21-years-old and only seven innings in Triple-A, it's hard to imagine that Chatwood is really ready for the big leagues just yet. And he certainly hasn't ever seen quite so large a collection of hitters who can punish a righty like this one. The first time through the lineup might be easy, but once they've seen him, things could get messier.
Game 2: Jon Lester vs. Dan Haren
This is easily the marquee matchup of the series. Jon Lester--actually looking like himself in April for once--against Dan Haren--actually looking like Dan Haren again.
If you had to give one the advantage here, it would have to be Dan Haren. A career .661 OPS against the current Red Sox is rather more impressive than Lester's .785 figure against the Angels. Still, both have their weaknesses and strengths. Haren has never been happy to see David Ortiz at the plate, while Lester can have his troubles with Torii Hunter and Maiczer Izturis.
One thing that should be key for Lester is actually throwing strikes against the Angels. While he can often get away with swings-and-misses on cutters that move and/or dip out of the zone, the Angels just haven't been fooled all that often. When he actually does throw it in the zone, they haven't exactly killed him, so if he can just put it where he needs to and get a few calls, things could go swimmingly.
Game 3: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Ervin Santana
Amazingly, the Red Sox might once again be in line to win a Daisuke Matsuzaka game.
One game after dominating a Toronto Blue Jays team against whom he's had great numbers, Daisuke gets to face...a Los Angeles Angels team against whom he's had great numbers. It's not quite as extreme as with the Blue Jays--both Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu break the .800 OPS barrier against Daisuke, but other than that, it's something of a barren wasteland.
Ervin Santana can't claim the same, and other than some very poor numbers from Dustin Pedroia, it's the guys you would expect who have done the damage. Whenever Santana sees a Red Sox star stepping up to bat--particularly David Ortiz--he's going to have to deal with another guy who sees him well enough to get some hard-hit balls.
Given Pedroia's struggles against Santana and Marco Scutaro's relative success, don't be surprised if Terry Francona uses the opportunity to get the shortstop some playing time.
Game 4: John Lackey vs. Matt Palmer
It turns out that you can, in fact, go home again. After leaving the Angels for the Red Sox in free agency over the winter of 2009-2010, Lackey faced the Angels three times last year, and other than some home run trouble, kept them off the bases and away from home plate, managing a 3.38 ERA against them. He was particularly good in his one return trip to LA, holding the Angels to just two runs in over seven innings.
There obviously isn't much to go on as far as his numbers against current Angels are concerned. But what we do have is a few years of dominating Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells to go with some extra base hits from Bobby Abreu. Really, though, given the years involved, the Red Sox just need Lackey to not be the awful pitcher he was to start the year. If he can even be 2010 Lackey, than that will give Boston a good shot at taking the game.
After all, Matt Palmer just isn't all that impressive. Only making it to the majors at age 29, Palmer has a slow fastball which he partners with a curveball. Now, if this was a soft-tossing lefty, the Sox should just pack up and go home. But a soft-tossing righty? That's something else entirely for this group.
Having split the series with the A's, the Red Sox don't need to be looking for miracles here. As nice as a sweep would always be, they really only need a couple to stay in it, and that's certainly attainable between the journeyman, the rookie, and Ervin Santana. If they manage to take one off of Haren, then all-the-better. The Angels are a team that seems to be performing above both expectations and skill level (they have a full point's difference between their ERA and xFIP). Hopefully, the Sox are the ones who will cool them down.