Angels manager Mike Scioscia confirmed his rotation plans for the team’s American League Division Series against the Red Sox after John Lackey’s final regular-season tune-up on Thursday night.
With the Yankees widely expected to choose the three starting pitcher format of the ALDS following Joba Chamberlain’s rough outing against Kansas City on Wednesday, the Angels and Red Sox are both planning to use a four-man rotation in their matchup.
For the Angels, that means right-hander Ervin Santana is heading to the bullpen, because Scioscia wants Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, and Joe Saunders to make up his starting staff.
Although Scioscia did not indicate the order in which that quartet will operate, the Halos’ pitching schedule for the final few days of the season may be telling. Lackey pitched on Thursday, Weaver is set to go Friday, Kazmir is on tap for Saturday, and Saunders is expected to close out the season on Sunday. It stands to reason that this is the order they’ll be used when the division series begins on Thursday at Angel Stadium.
If that assumption is correct, Lackey will square off against left-hander Jon Lester in Game 1. Lackey lost to the Red Sox in his last start against them, but he pitched well in a 7 2/3 inning, three-run outing at Fenway. He was 6-5 with a 3.86 ERA in Anaheim this season, while Lester was 8-5 with an identical 3.86 mark on the road. The good news for the Angels – who did not face the new-and-improved Lester this season – is that the Boston southpaw’s ERA was a full run higher away from Fenway Park than it was in the friendly confines (2.86).
The hypothetical Game 2 matchup would feature Jered Weaver against Josh Beckett. Beckett was 0-1 in his two starts against the Halos this year, and the Red Sox were 0-2, but he pitched better in the second meeting — an eight-inning, three-run no-decision that resulted in a 4-3 Boston loss at Fenway. Conversely, the Angels beat the Red Sox in both of Weaver’s outings against them, and he logged 13 2/3 innings and allowed just one earned run (two total). Weaver has been significantly better at Angel Stadium (9-3, 2.90 ERA) than on the road (6-5, 5.04 ERA), while Beckett is 9-1 at Fenway Park and just 7-5 otherwise, so there is a clear home-field advantage for Scioscia’s team in this one.
When the series moves to Boston, the Red Sox will be set to throw two more right-handers, while the Angels will counter with a pair of lefties. Assuming Clay Buchholz pitches well in his final start of the regular season on Sunday, he’ll be tasked with outdueling renowned Red Sox- killer Scott Kazmir in Game 3. The Halos have not seen Buchholz this year, and the Sox have not faced Kazmir since he was traded to Anaheim, but Kazmir has experience against Boston. In 13 career starts at Fenway Park, he has a 3.59 ERA and has frustrated many Boston hitters. Buchholz had been pitching beautifully before imploding against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, but if that outing was a fluke, Game 3 could feature a terrific duel of 25-year-old studs.
Game 4, if necessary, would pit Joe Saunders against Daisuke Matsuzaka, which could be the most lopsided affair in the series — in either direction. Things have been looking up for the Red Sox at the craps table of late, as Dice-K has been a much more confident and effective pitcher since returning from the disabled list. He hurled six shutout innings against the Angels at Fenway on Sept. 15, his best outing of the year to date. Saunders, on the other hand, coughed up five runs (two earned) in just 5 2/3 innings in Boston on Sept. 16, and has a 5.23 ERA on the road this season. The Halos have dropped both of his starts against the Sox in 2009, but all of that could turn on a dime if Matsuzaka reverts to his springtime woes.
Should the series be pushed to the limit, a rematch of Lackey and Lester would almost certainly be repeated.
On paper, the rotations seem about even, with an earlier edge to the Red Sox being negated by the Angels’ acquisition of Kazmir. Of course, when it comes to the bullpens, Terry Francona’s squad has a considerable edge.
The Angels-Red Sox matchup is far closer than it has been in recent years, and the starting rotations are the best evidence of the increased parity between the teams.