Simulation: Rays, Angels advance to ALCS

The 2008 American League playoffs include three teams that have won four of the previous six World Series: the AL West champion Los Angeles Angels, who won the 2002 World Series, the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox, who won the 2005 World Series, and the Boston Red Sox, who popped the champagne in 2004 and 2007.

The big surprise addition who crashed the party was the Tampa Bay Rays, who went from perennial bottom-dwellers to 97 wins and first place in the tough AL East.

Can the banged-up Red Sox repeat without Manny Ramirez? Will the Angels prosper with Mark Teixeira? Are the White Sox worn out from extra games at the end, or do they have momentum? Are the young Rays ready for the spotlight of postseason play?

At the request of ESPN, we employed our Diamond Mind simulation software to project the results of the AL Divisional Series. Before revealing our projected results for the ALDS, here is a brief recap of our methodology:

  • We updated our projections and ratings for each player based on his 2008 regular-season performance.

  • Although playoff rosters were not yet finalized, we used our best judgment about who would be selected, the starting rotations, the batting orders, and the bullpen and bench roles.

  • We made judgments about players who are carrying an injury into the postseason. Beyond deciding, for purposes of setting these roles, whether or not a player would play, we did not attempt to simulate how such an injury might hamper the player, except to the extent already reflected in his regular-season performance.

  • We then simulated each series 1,000 times.

As unpredictable as the outcome of the regular season can be, luck can play an even greater role in a short series. Nevertheless, the results of our simulations project the Angels to handle the Red Sox, while the Rays are heavy favorites to dispatch the White Sox; the result would be an ALCS without any worries about chilly weather. Neither AL series projects to be as close as the two NL series. The Angels already looked to be favored, but Boston has an even tougher hill to climb because of so many injuries. In our simulations, the Angels won 574 out of 1,000 series runs:

For our simulation runs, we assumed Josh Beckett would start only Game 3, J.D. Drew would be able to start all games and Mike Lowell would be limited to pinch-hitting duties. That's quite a difference from last season, when the Red Sox were fairly healthy for the postseason and had Ramirez.

The Red Sox were able to average 4.36 runs per game in our simulations, but the Angels averaged 4.71. While our simulations show the Red Sox getting decent production from Drew, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay, the rest of the lineup failed to produce. Particularly disappointing was David Ortiz. Without Ramirez to protect him, Big Papi managed only a .200 batting average and an OPS of just .761 against Angels pitching. The credit goes to the L.A. staff, which posted a team ERA of 3.71 against the defending champions.

Still, expect the Red Sox to put up a fight before they go down; 409 of the 1,000 simulation runs had the series going the distance.

While the Angels appear likely to beat the Red Sox, the simulations show the Rays to be prohibitive favorites in the first playoff series of their history, beating the White Sox in 640 of the 1,000 simulation runs. That's huge. In fact, the most frequent outcome was a sweep by Tampa Bay:

It wasn't difficult to see why the Rays won so many series. While scoring a reasonable 4.36 runs per game, Tampa Bay held the ChiSox to just 3.6 runs per game. The Rays' starting pitchers were the stars, with standout performances from James Shields (2.79 over the 1,000 sim runs), Matt Garza (2.84), and Scott Kazmir (3.00).

In a short series, especially one of only five games, the odds swing dramatically depending on who wins the first game. In the National League, we like the Dodgers and Phillies, but only if they win Game 1. But in the American League, the simulations indicate that the Rays are still the favorites even if they lose the opener, and the Angels still have a good chance even if they blow Game 1. So, we see this year's ALCS taking place in the warm weather of Florida and Southern California, as the Los Angeles Angels tangle with the upstart Tampa Bay Rays.