Angels have to run against the Red Sox to have a chance

Updated: October 9, 2009, 1:34 AM ET

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Jon Lester takes the mound for the Red Sox against the Angels in opener of their ALDS.

The Boston Red Sox are quite familiar opponents for the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series. However, all those previous matchups resulted in Red Sox series wins.

The key for the Red Sox this time is pitching. Jon Lester, who opens the series, has to keep guys off base, especially the guys who can run. Jacoby Ellsbury will be a key factor against Angels starter John Lackey. If Ellsbury gets on base, he's going to steal. He will need to use his legs to create runs. Even though Lackey struggles against Boston, he has done some pretty good things in the postseason, including when he stepped up in 2002 and the Angels won the World Series.

Another important point the Red Sox must consider is to allow Lester to go deep in the game. That way, manager Terry Francona can mix and match his bullpen.

The key for the Angels is to focus on running. They have to get guys on base, from Chone Figgins to Erick Aybar to Bobby Abreu to Torii Hunter. They will have to make offense by taking the double play away from Lester, thus making him more concerned about the runners than he is about the hitter.

Keep in mind that Boston's pitchers don't keep runners close. They are very easy to run on. If you look at how the Angels played this year, that's how they won a lot of games. They showed a lot more patience at the plate. Overall, their on-base percentage is higher than it's ever been, but they ran -- and that's what they will have to do to beat Boston. If the Angels try to sit back and outhomer Boston, they will fail because the Red Sox just have too much firepower in the middle of their lineup. The Angels will have to run and run and run. If they make it a track meet, they will beat the Red Sox.

Lackey and Josh Beckett are capable of demoralizing a team, and it's unclear whether the Angels have that shutdown pitcher to counter it.

If Victor Martinez or Jason Varitek can handle those baserunners, it's over. In other words, if the Red Sox can beat the Angels with one of their weaknesses, there's nothing Los Angeles can do.

The first game is in Anaheim, but that won't make a difference. The Angels have yet to prove they can beat the Red Sox. If Boston jumps out early, for example -- let's say Ellsbury leads off with a hit, steals a base and scores a run -- don't be surprised if some of the L.A. players look at each other and say, "Oh no, here they come."

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Oct. 6 | Oct. 5 | Oct. 4 | Sept. 30 | Sept. 29

ON DECK: PLAYOFF WATCH

Rockies at Phillies, 2:37 p.m. ET

Cole Hamels was the king of October a year ago. Can he follow the dominance put forth by Cliff Lee in the series opener and push the Phillies to a 2-0 series lead? Or can Aaron Cook help the Rockies steal one before going back to Colorado? Cook pitched well enough against the Phillies in early August but didn't get much help from the offense in a 3-1 loss.

Cardinals at Dodgers, 6:07 p.m. ET

Adam Wainwright closed the regular season by going 7-1 in his final 11 starts. He had little trouble with the Dodgers this year, pitching eight shutout innings in a 10-0 rout July 28 and seven solid ones in a no-decision Aug. 19, a game the Cardinals won 3-2. Clayton Kershaw was so-so in the regular season, but his final start gives the Dodgers hope for a big postseason. Kershaw struck out 10 over six shutout innings in a 5-0 win over the Rockies, a victory that, at long last, clinched the NL West.

For the complete postseason schedule, click here.

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BBTN MINUTE: RED SOX-ANGELS PREVIEW

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks back at Derek Jeter's perfect night at the plate in the ALDS opener against the Twins. Jeter went 2-for-2 with a homer and three runs scored.

Perfect at plate in postseason game (2+ hits, 3+ runs scored) in Yankees history
Derek Jeter 2009 ALDS
Hideki Matsui 2007 ALDS
Derek Jeter 2006 ALDS
Derek Jeter 2002 ALDS
Reggie Jackson 1977 World Series
Babe Ruth 1926 World Series

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Cliff LeeCliff Lee's playoff debut went quite well. Making his first-ever appearance in a postseason game, Lee tossed a complete-game six-hitter in a 5-1 Game 1 win over the Rockies. He struck out five and did not permit a walk in a game in which he was one batter from a shutout before Colorado scored with two out in the ninth.
WORST
Jason Kubel• Perhaps still weary from an emotional win Tuesday and a late-night flight to New York, Jason Kubel struggled at the plate against CC Sabathia and the Yankees. Kubel went 0-for-4 and struck out twice in Minnesota's 7-2 loss. Kubel had had at least one hit in each of the four previous games as the Twins pushed into the playoffs.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Daniel Bard Daniel Bard was drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft by the Red Sox and worked his way into a large role in the Boston bullpen this season. He rode his 100 mph heat to 63 strikeouts, more than any other Red Sox reliever except Jonathan Papelbon. Bard also walked four batters per nine innings, though, one of the worst rates in the Red Sox bullpen.

Bard also showed why it was essential for him to throw his first pitch over for a strike; when he didn't, he often didn't recover well:

Bard's success (2009)
After 0-1 count After 1-0 count
BA against .128 .324
SLG against .234 .493
OBP against .150 .473
Strikeouts 49 12
Walks 2 20

The lesson for Bard is to get that first pitch over, something Bard has done only 55.4 percent of the time this season, below the 58 percent AL average. Bard also needs to be wary of the Angels, who take the first pitch 78.5 percent of the time, third-highest rate in the majors.

-- ESPN Stats & Information

THIS DATE IN "THAT'S NASTY" HISTORY

Each night throughout the postseason, "Baseball Tonight" will remember some of the postseason's best pitching performances.

Oct. 8, 1956 -- Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history, beating the Dodgers 2-0. Nobody has really come close since -- only one other postseason pitcher since then has pitched even a walk-free, complete-game one-hitter: Kevin Millwood in the Braves' 1999 NLDS against the Astros.