Commentary

Vlad, Manny major questions entering postseason

Originally Published: September 30, 2007
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

The top five questions heading into the Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox:

Red SoxAngels

How healthy is Angels right fielder Vladimir Guerrero?

He is well enough to hit, but he does not appear well enough to play right field in the first round of the playoffs because of an inflamed right triceps muscle. That cuts into one of the Angels' strengths, their bench flexibility.

With Guerrero in right field, the Angels would have several options at DH, including Maicer Izturis, Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales. But, with Guerrero as the DH, regular third baseman Chone Figgins likely will have to play right field.

How healthy is Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr.?

Not very healthy. Matthews has a left knee injury and a right ankle injury. He's a guy who depends on his speed, and his legs won't be under him, which greatly diminishes his chances of being a major factor in the series.

Matthews' defense in center field is crucial, but if he can't move well out there, the Angels are going to have issues, especially playing at Fenway Park. If Matthews can't go, Reggie Willits likely will play center field. He is no Gary Matthews Jr. on defense. Simply put, Willits in center and Figgins in right isn't a good situation for the Angels.

John Lackey

Lackey

Can John Lackey beat the Red Sox?

That might be the biggest question of the series. Lackey is a Cy Young candidate: He won 19 games and led the American League in ERA (3.01), but against the Red Sox this season, he was 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA and allowed 20 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

Lifetime against the Red Sox, Lackey is 1-6 with a 4.77 ERA. And he is even worse at Fenway Park, where Game 1 will be played. Lackey is 1-3 with a 7.98 ERA at Fenway in his career. He offers no explanations and no excuses for his struggles against the Red Sox, especially at Fenway, but the Angels won't win if Lackey pitches poorly.

After Josh Beckett, what is the state of the Boston rotation?

It's unclear if the Red Sox have a true, quality No. 2 starter. Curt Schilling is one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, but he is 9-8 with a 3.87 ERA this year. And, says one scout, "Hitters can sit on his fastball now, and it's not what it used to be.''

Daisuke Matsuzaka's stuff was much better in his past two starts, but he is a bit of a mystery entering his first postseason. Tim Wakefield's past few rough outings will land him a spot in the bullpen.

Speaking of the Red Sox's bullpen, there are plenty of issues with it. Is Hideki Okajima over his tired arm? Will Eric Gagne throw his changeup more often and become the eighth-inning guy the Red Sox need? Questions, questions, questions.

Manny Ramirez

Ramirez

Will Manny be Manny?

Left fielder Manny Ramirez has not played a full game in the outfield since he pulled an oblique muscle Aug. 28. And even before he got hurt, he wasn't producing like the Manny who is headed to the Hall of Fame.

This was the first year since 1994 that he didn't hit 25 home runs. It also was the first year since 1997 that he didn't drive in 100 runs, and his .493 slugging percentage is more than 100 points lower than his career .600 slugging percentage entering this season.

The Red Sox don't have the same dynamic offensive team they've had in recent years entering in the postseason. They're going to need Manny at his best. There's a real question whether he can be at this point.

Prediction: Red Sox in five.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Is This a Great Game, Or What?", has been published by St. Martin's Press and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.