When you think of the Boston Red Sox, it’s hard not to focus on all the ways their offense can beat you.
They were second in the American League in hitting and scoring this season, have two of the league’s top six hitters in Dustin Pedroia (.326) and Kevin Youkilis (.312), the league’s stolen base leader in Jacoby Ellsbury (50) and a designated hitter in David Ortiz (89 runs batted in and 74 runs), who produced a run once every three at-bats.
But Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, who lost six consecutive playoff games to the Red Sox, isn’t making that mistake. Pitching, Scioscia insists, has been the real key to Boston’s success this summer.
“If you look at their starting rotation and you look at their ability to close out and hold leads, that’s the real heartbeat of that club,” he said. “They’ve got some guys throwing the ball very well in their rotation. They’ve got a premier closer. And they’ve been holding leads.”
If that’s true, then the heartbeat of Red Sox Nation probably skipped a bit when Josh Beckett was scratched from Wednesday’s opener of the AL division series against the Angels in Anaheim because of a strained muscle in his side.
Beckett, a former World Series most valuable player with the Florida Marlins, is one of the top money pitchers in baseball with a 6-2 record and 1.73 earned-run average in the postseason, including 2-0 and 0.56 marks in the division series. Plus Beckett has never played for a team that has lost a playoff series.
However, his absence, at least for the two games in Anaheim, could actually work to Boston’s favor because the Red Sox will now be forced to use 18-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 2 on the road, where he is 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA, holding opponents to a .178 average in 13 starts. Left-hander Jon Lester, a 16-game winner, will start Wednesday against the Angels, who had the best regular-season record in the AL against lefties.
Beckett may not be the only World Series MVP missing from the Red Sox lineup Wednesday.
Mike Lowell, who has a partially torn labrum in his right hip, has appeared in only 12 games since Aug. 13 and looked bad in an aborted attempt to play Friday against the New York Yankees.
But Lowell, who hit .274 with 17 homers in 113 games, was pleased with how he felt after taking batting practice Monday and said he’ll test the hip again today by taking ground balls at third base.
Outfielder J.D. Drew, a former Dodger, has also been mostly sidelined since mid-August, but he hit well in practice Monday and is likely to play.
Yet unlike years past, when much of the Red Sox attack was centered on Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, Scioscia said the Boston offense now is more balanced and could withstand the loss of Drew, Lowell or both.
“They’re running a lot more,” Scioscia said of the Red Sox, who had three players, including MVP candidate Pedroia, steal 20 or more bases. “They’ve got guys that can drive the ball, that get on base as well as anybody in baseball.
“So there’s a lot of things that are positive for them right now. And there’s a lot of guys that are playing well. It will be a challenge.”
Careful what you wish for
By finishing with the best record in baseball at 100-62, the Angels have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs -- which might not be much of an advantage.
Four teams in the AL won more often at home than the Angels, who also have lost their last four postseason games in Anaheim, going 2-7 there since winning Game 7 of the World Series in 2002. Still, given how the league’s other playoff teams have done in their ballparks, the Angels are happy to be opening here.
“It couldn’t hurt,” said John Lackey, who will start Game 1 for the Angels.
“We’ve obviously played pretty well on the road too this year,” he added. “But it’s always nice to get the start at home.”