Most prognosticators are looking forward to a victory for the Red Sox over the Angels, in a Divisional Series that starts today. Moreover, the Sox won the regular season series (6-4), the Angels are suffering from injuries (for example, Vlad Guerrero will hit rather than play right field), and #1-starter John Lackey is 1-6 with a 6.27 ERA in 11 career starts against Boston.
It is clear that the Sox were built for the regular season, and they had the best record there (along with Cleveland) in the majors, at 96-66; they play a modern-day version of Earl Weaver-style baseball: pitching, defense, and three-run homers.
Yet the Angels seemingly offer a counterpoint: they are second in the AL in stolen bases (the leader, ironically, is Baltimore), after leading the league the past three seasons; over the past few days, talking heads on the Boston airwaves have repeated incessantly that 121 times the Angels went "first-to-third on a single."
But the Angels scored 822 runs over the course of the year, 4th in the League to the Red Sox's 867 (good for third); the Angels allowed 731 runs (5th), significantly more than the Red Sox's 657 (1st). Playing small ball may have its disadvantages over the course of 162 games, but it can clearly be important in the context of a short series, and especially an elimination game.
While Lackey has struggled against the Sox, Dice-K's second half (5-6, 5.19 ERA) has left everyone wondering about all of the fuss. While it may be possible that the bad second half was the result of wearing down, it also could be the result of hitters seeing Dice-K a second time; by pitching him in Game 2 (rather than Curt Schilling), the Japanese 'rookie' will be seen by the Angels for the second time in a week in a hypothetical Game 5.
A Sox opening round loss will be bitterly disappointing -- and bitterly recounted on talk radio -- but it's not outside the realm of possibility. While the Sox should win, don't bet the (subprime) mortgage on it.