This movie always seems to have the same plot and the same ending. Since the Angels won the World Series in 2002, they have played the Red Sox three times in the postseason, lost all three series and won only one of 10 games. The past two years, the Red Sox held the Angels to 16 runs in seven games. But the Angels won this season's series 5-3, scored 47 runs and have reasons to suggest that this year's postseason will be different indeed.
Here are five questions:
1. What is the state of Boston's starting pitching?
A little shaky. Chances are, the Red Sox will go with Jon Lester in Game 1, Josh Beckett in Game 2 and Clay Buchholz in Game 3. Lester showed no effects from being hit with a line drive Sept. 25; he was terrific against the Indians on Oct. 1, allowing no runs and two hits in 6 1/3 innings. Beckett missed a start down the stretch with back spasms, but despite telling friends that he's healthy, is he healthy enough to be the Beckett who has been one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time? Buchholz had a terrific stretch going until he gave up five home runs in his next-to-last start. Is he ready for a start in the playoffs, or is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has pitched a lot of big games in his life, a better fit for Game 3?
2. How much better offensively are the Angels than last year?
It's not comparable. The Angels finished second in the major leagues in runs scored, behind only the Yankees. The Angels scored over 100 more runs than they did last year for a variety of reasons, including Kendry Morales (.303, 105 RBI) getting a chance to play, and the signing of Bobby Abreu. The secret to the Angels' offense is that they have quality hitters at every spot in the order. They have 10 players with at least 50 RBIs, tying the 1930 Cardinals and 2007 Tigers for the most ever. The Angels have 10 players with 100 hits, tying the 2004 Tigers for the major league record. With Vlad Guerrero finally slowing down, the Angels might not have that devastating hitter in the middle of the order, but they have hitters everywhere. And they lead the major leagues in batting average (.296) with runners in scoring position.
3. Who will get the big outs in the sixth and seventh innings for the Red Sox?
This sounds minor, but no bullpen concern is minor in the postseason. Boston had a loaded bullpen earlier this year, but Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, Takashi Saito and Hideki Okajima haven't been at their best lately. The eighth inning appears to be covered with Billy Wagner and Daniel Bard, but Bard has never pitched in games this big. Jonathan Papelbon constantly works out of trouble, and has not recorded a double play all season.
4. Who is the Angels' ace?
They don't really have one. But they have six complete-game shutouts this year, most in the major leagues, which implies that they have several pitchers who are No. 2 or No. 3 starters. The last pitcher to throw a shutout for them, Ervin Santana, will not make the rotation for the Red Sox series. And Matt Palmer, who went 11-2 -- including 9-1 as a starter -- will spend at least the first round as a reliever. That's how deep the Angels' starting pitching is, with, in order, John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders scheduled to start. Kazmir, when with Tampa Bay, has had some success against the Red Sox, but Lackey is the key to this series. He is only 3-7 lifetime with an ERA over 5.00 against Boston.
5. Where is Boston's offense these days?
After a slow start and times when they simply didn't hit, the Red Sox are a very good offensive club these days. They finished third in the major leagues in runs scored, behind only the Yankees and Angels. David Ortiz may not be the hitter he was five years ago, but he has become a very productive hitter again. It seems when Jason Bay hits, so do the Red Sox. If he and J.D. Drew hit, the Red Sox will be very difficult to stop, especially having Victor Martinez in this postseason.
PREDICTION: RED SOX IN FIVE
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.