Boston Sports Forum Commentary
Del N. Jones
It would be hard to look at the Anaheim Angels and not admire what they just did.
The Angels traveled to Oakland and bogarted the Aís for the American League West title in the final weekend of the season. They snatched the first two road games and left the overrated hosts forced to play a meaningless regular season finale with the shame of just choking up the division that was theirs for much of the second half.
Now thatís the vibe you want to begin the playoffs. Better yet, thatís the vibe you want to end the playoffs.
As the champions.
The Red Sox will look squarely at what sharp, fundamental baseball is all about starting Tuesday afternoon when they travel to Anaheim for the start of the five-game divisional series with the Halos. The Red Sox wonít have to feel around for the intensity they are searching for after clinching a spot early last week. It will be right in front of them, owned by the opponent, and they better emulate it or an 0-2 hole may follow them home to Fenway Park on Friday.
ďAnaheim is playing very well, so are we,Ē Johnny Damon acknowledged. ďIt's going to be a great series. To be the best, you have to go through the best. This is a very good team, a team that has a chance to do special things. We're all very excited.Ē
The Angels know very well how to parlay a late-season run into gaudy World Series rings as 2002 proved. With Bartolo Colon and Vladimir Guerrero the two biggest additions to the small market club that spent like a large one in the offseason, the Angels are what the Sox want to be.
Guerrero, Garrett Anderson and Troy Glaus are the lefty-righty pillars in the middle of the lineup, while the speed of David Eckstein and friends at the top of the order make Anaheim a fast offensive machine with horsepower to match.
Both the front of the rotation and the end of the bullpen are good enough to win important games, while the defense committed the sixth fewest errors in 2004.
Can you say balanced?
While everyone including your local postman will try and dissect this intriguing series and look for clues to how it will play out in terms of matchups, tendencies and minor decisions that carry major consequences, the Red Sox had better look to improve their defense against the run increase their chances.
The Angels led the majors in stolen bases with 143 with six different players in double figures, which is no surprise considering how they do things. Conversely, the Sox led all of baseball in stolen bases allowed with 123 thefts. Base runners stole 77 bases on starting catcher Jason Varitek. He caught 23 other would-be thieves. Doug Mirabelli surrendered 46 steals in 2004 and caught eight runners as the backup.
The 31 times Varitek and Mirabelli caught runners was only 23rd-best this year, something that will surely end up on the Anaheim scouting report.
When the two teams played this year the Angels stole 11 bases in nine games. The Sox won the season series 5-4 and the last four, but itís no accident that the Anaheim nabbed six bases in four wins.
Now as the Sox themselves try to become more slasher than slugger, they can appreciate the strategy. Boston has also tried to employ it to a greater small ball degree after the all-star break with encouraging results. Despite the huge power seasons by twin Dominicans Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, better fundamentals in general is the primary reason these Sox still have games to play on the schedule.
Itís amazing how hitting a cutoff man, turning a routine double play and taking the extra base can win baseball games. In the playoffs those Little League details can win championships on any level.
The Sox donít have to look far for an example in their first series. The Angels have shown how good baseball can get you places. It won an improbable title in 2002 with the rally monkey and not much else, and the same model with quiet but potent talent has put Anaheim in the current position to chase another.
Are the Yankees still the model in which the Sox aspire? Nah.
The Angels now have that job, and Boston gets a chance to beat them.
Commentaries by Del N. Jones are posted on Boston Sports Forum on Mondays. His weekend columns can also be read in the Saturday/Sunday edition of The Patriot Ledger or at patriotledger.com.