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How They Match Up

FIRST BASE: Darin Erstad is a Gold Glove-caliber defender who provided two of the biggest hits in the season’s final days, a three-run home run to put the Angels ahead of Oakland on Sept. 25 and a two-run double in the eighth inning that tied a game the Angels won, 5-4, over the A’s on Saturday to clinch the division title. Kevin Millar provides power (18 homers, 74 runs batted in) for the Red Sox and Doug Mientkiewicz is an outstanding defensive player. Edge: Angels.

SECOND BASE: As of Monday, Angel Manager Mike Scioscia hadn’t decided whether he would start defensive whiz Alfredo Amezaga at second and Chone Figgins at third, or Figgins at second and rookie Dallas McPherson at third. Anytime Figgins gets on base from the leadoff spot, he puts pressure on the defense. Boston’s Mark Bellhorn has been a nice fit in the No. 2 spot, with a .374 on-base percentage and some pop (17 homers, 82 RBIs), and Pokey Reese is a Gold Glove-caliber, late-inning defensive replacement. Edge: Red Sox.

THIRD BASE: Bill Mueller, one of the league’s best defensive third basemen, provided one of the most dramatic hits of Boston’s season, a walk-off homer against Mariano Rivera that gave the Red Sox an 11-10 win over the New York Yankees on July 24. The Angels will counter with either Figgins or McPherson, the highly touted power prospect who split the season between double-A Arkansas and triple-A Salt Lake before being thrust into the lineup when second baseman Adam Kennedy suffered a season-ending knee injury Sept. 20. Edge: Red Sox.

SHORTSTOP: David Eckstein slumped so badly in mid-September he was dropped from the leadoff spot, and he begins the postseason in a six-for-34 slide. But he’s one of baseball’s best situational hitters, an expert at the bunt and hit-and-run. Orlando Cabrera replaced the departed Nomar Garciaparra in Boston, and his efficient and sometimes spectacular defense is cited as one of the primary reasons for Boston’s late-season surge.

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Edge: Red Sox.

CATCHER: Bengie Molina might not be the most imposing offensive force, but he has a habit of delivering in the clutch -- he’s batting .320 with runners in scoring position and .500 with the bases loaded. Nagging injuries have had an impact on him somewhat defensively. Boston’s Jason Varitek has a .390 on-base percentage, 18 homers and 73 RBIs and can shut down opposing running games. Edge: Red Sox.

LEFT FIELD: With Boston starting only right-handers, Jeff DaVanon, who has never played in the postseason, will get the nod over Adam Riggs for the Angels, who suspended 27-homer, 104-RBI man Jose Guillen for the season Sept. 26. The Red Sox lean heavily on MVP candidate Manny Ramirez, who batted .308 with an AL-leading 43 homers and 130 RBIs and is not the defensive liability he used to be. Edge: Red Sox.

CENTER FIELD: This spot is manned by contrasting players, Johnny Damon filling the leadoff spot for the Red Sox with a .380 on-base percentage, 20 homers and 94 RBIs and Garret Anderson filling the run-producing fifth spot for the Angels with a .301 average, 14 homers and 75 RBIs in an injury-plagued season. Anderson is playing with a sore left knee that has affected him some on defense. Edge: Even.

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RIGHT FIELD: The return of Trot Nixon gave Boston an offensive jolt -- he’s batting .400 with three homers and 10 RBIs since coming off the disabled list in early September -- but the Angels counter with the hottest hitter in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero, the MVP candidate who hit .463 with nine homers and 15 RBIs in his last 15 games. Edge: Angels.

STARTING PITCHING: The Red Sox might have the best one-two starting punch in the postseason with Curt Schilling, who probably will finish second in the AL Cy Young vote, and Pedro Martinez. Schilling, co-MVP of the 2001 World Series for Arizona, is poised to pitch Game 1 and Game 5 if necessary. Angel ace Bartolo Colon won’t start until Game 2, and the team’s most consistent pitcher all season, Kelvim Escobar, will start only once, in Game 3. The Angels will need a step-up performance from left-hander Jarrod Washburn to have a chance. Edge: Red Sox.

BULLPEN: The Red Sox are solid, with closer Keith Foulke, the changeup specialist who had 32 saves, Mike Timlin and left-hander Alan Embree. But the Angels can be dominant, with veteran closer Troy Percival, who has converted 15 consecutive save opportunities since Aug. 6; super setup man Francisco Rodriguez, the slider specialist who has struck out 123 in 84 innings; Brendan Donnelly, who has regained his form after an injury-plagued first half, and the versatile and resilient Scot Shields, who has 109 strikeouts in 105 1/3 innings. Edge: Angels.

DH/BENCH: Boston designated hitter David Ortiz provides prodigious power from the left side (.301, 41 homers, 139 RBIs), and Angel DH Troy Glaus is one of baseball’s best natural power hitters from the right side, with 18 homers in only 207 at-bats of an injury-plagued season. The Red Sox have a deep and versatile bench that features speed (Dave Roberts) and is heavy on infield defense (Mientkiewicz, Reese). The Angel bench would be much better if so many of their reserves weren’t starting. Amezaga could be a key late-inning defensive sub. Edge: Red Sox.

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MANAGER: Terry Francona begins his first playoff series knowing his future as Red Sox manager could hinge on the result -- his predecessor, Grady Little, was fired just days after Game 7 of the AL championship series last fall for sticking with Martinez too long in a game the Yankees came back and won. Unlike many previous Red Sox managers, Francona is not afraid to put runners in motion in an attempt to manufacture runs. Scioscia has the experience of guiding the Angels to the 2002 World Series championship and favors the little-ball approach as well. Edge: Angels.

PREDICTION: Red Sox in five games.

-- Mike DiGiovanna


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