How sweep it is!!!

The Boston Red Sox are going to the American League Championship Series. Let’s enjoy this for a day or two, then I think it’s important to reflect on some good things and some bad things that need to be worked out before game one on Friday.

First of all, anytime you sweep a team it’s great, but we need to remember that Boston swept a very beat-up team. The Angels’ two best players were playing with one arm (Vlad Guerrero) and one eye (Garrett Anderson). Their best defensive centerfielder was out (Garry Matthews Jr.), and their only pitcher with playoff experience was left off the playoff roster (Bartolo Colon). Not to mention the Angels had John Lackey pitch at Fenway, which pretty much concedes a Boston victory. I don’t want to sound like “the glass is half empty,” but the point I want to make is that whoever Boston plays in the next round (Cleveland) is going to be healthier, hungrier, and more determined than the Angels were.

In order for Boston to advance to the World Series they are going to need a repeat performance from their pitching staff. Beckett, Schilling, and the bullpen were phenomenal. Francona managed aggressively. He had guys stealing, hitting and running, and going for the extra base. They also had some big hitting from Papi, Manny and Lowell.

One of the bad things I noticed was that it seemed like Boston left a ton of runners on base. As the World Series gets closer, every run is important. These guys can’t be stranded. It also seemed like Boston grounded into a bunch of double plays. They are going to need Drew, Pedroia, and Coco to be more consistent at the plate. They looked lost up there a few times.

Another thing, and I hope Terry Francona finally realizes this: Eric Gagne sucks. He blew Schilling’s hard earned shutout tonight. I was surprised that he was even put on the playoff roster. Gagne has not pitched one meaningful inning since his acquisition. He has been a bust. Theo Epstein needs to eat a little crow and admit he blew it on this one. I personally would have given that spot to Julian Tavarez. Tavarez is much more versatile. He can start, as well as be the long reliever if needed. He has done whatever the Sox have asked of him this year. He’s a goofball, but even when he rolls the ball to first base, it’s still better then when Gagne is out there.

The Red Sox have the players to get the job done and win the World Series, but they can’t count on always getting the clutch home run. Getting the little things right is what is going to take Boston to the next level.

Throwing Dice

When a team is down one game to none in a five-game series, game two is a must-win. With the exception of the 2004 Red Sox, teams don’t come back from a 2-0 deficit.

That’s why tonight the Angels are going to put out their best lineup and leave it all out on the field. We’ll see Vlad playing right field. Mike Scioscia will have his guys trying to bunt for hits and steal bases, with a few hits and runs mixed in for fun. These are the things that got the Angels into the postseason. If they can’t do these things now, it will be what puts them into the off-season. You could say that this is the most important game for both teams to win.

Terry Francona knew the importance of this when he announced the starting rotation. Game one was a no-brainer. Cy Beckett was starting – easiest decision ever. For game two he had some options: Curt Schilling, Dice K, or Tim Wakefield. What we didn’t know at the time was that despite his solid final start of the season, Wakefield’s back was still hurting, so he was out. I think everyone assumed Schilling would start game two. After all, he’s pitched well during his last five starts, and is arguably one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time.

Dice K has looked good, not great this year pitching in the Major Leagues. Earlier in the season, he caught a lot of teams off guard with his array of off-speed pitches picking up some wins. The second time against these same teams, batters would force him to hit his spots, driving up his pitch count and frustrating Dice K at times. The key for Dice K is getting that first pitch for a strike and then nibbling the corners with his off-speed pitches. If he gets too cute with his pitches and can’t command his fastball it could be a rough outing.

What concerns me about Dice K is that he is a different pitcher when there are runners on base. I don’t know if he focuses too much on the baserunner, or he doesn’t get enough leg push pitching from the stretch, but with a team like the Angels, who can get on base and are disruptive on the base paths, I worry how Dice K will do. But this is a guy that had very little run support and was still able to win 15 games as a rookie, playing in the toughest division in baseball.

So what made Francona go with a rookie for the biggest game of the series? Everyone has heard the stories of Dice K throwing 250+ pitches in a high school playoff game, then going out and throwing a no-hitter in the final for only the second time in Japanese high school baseball history. He followed that up by dominating the competition during the World Baseball Classic, posting a 3-0 record and winning the MVP pitching against the best players on the planet. Some pitchers have the ability to take it up a notch when it matters. It’s like they have an extra gear.

So why would Tito Francona send out a 15-win rookie with the knack of pitching lights out in big games against a team that has never faced him?

Something tells me we’ll find out tonight.

Game One goes to the Sox

The score for last night’s Red Sox/Angels game doesn’t do justice to just how badly the Angels were beaten. The score may have been 4-0, but it could have easily been 10-0.

Beckett dominated. There are not enough words to describe his performance. Complete game, 4 hits, no walks, no runs. This guy is a big game pitcher.

This game could have been so much uglier for the Angels if it weren’t for Crisp, Drew and Varitek hitting into inning-ending double plays. Or the second base umpire calling Lugo out on his steal attempt when he was safe by a mile. Or the home plate umpire calling strike 3 on Man-Ram when the ball was clearly 6 inches off the plate. Boston could have been in double digits by the 5th inning.

The Sox had their chances to put a big number on the scoreboard tonight but were unable to capitalize. A couple of days off before Game 1 may have cooled their bats a little, but fortunately there is no better batting practice pitcher around than John Lackey. I still can’t believe that Lackey won 19 games this year. Who exactly was he pitching against, the Oakland Little Leaguers of Santa Monica? What makes this even better is that if Boston is to lose one of the next two games, we get to see Beckett face John (S)Lackey again in Game 4. But I think it’s more likely we’ll just see him next season.

This was a good game for the Boston Red Sox. Great pitching, stellar defense, and decent hitting. The Sox played with a lot of confidence last night. I can only see them getting better as the playoffs continue.

The next Sox game is Friday night. This gives Red Sox fans the opportunity to become temporary Indians fans tonight. Let’s all hope A-Rod continues his post-season struggles, Chien Mien Wang gives up 15 runs, and Joba Chamberlain eats Derek Jeter before the game. Go Tribe!