Monday, October 8, 2007

Gearing Up for the ALCS

As some of you know I attended Game 1 of the ALDS, certainly an experience I won't soon forget. Josh Beckett put on a performance that sticks with those in the stands for the remainder of their days, completely dominating the hapless Angels bats. Perhaps Beckett put the hex on the LA hitters for the series, because they could only muster four runs off Sox pitching following the Game 1 shutout. Yesterday afternoon, the Red Sox dispatched an over-matched Angels team to advance on in this year's playoffs. I'd have to think that either Cleveland or New York would be scared to come to the Hub on Friday night, similar to how scared the Diamondbacks must be about welcoming the Rockies to Arizona on Thursday.

What we saw in this series against the Angels was a team ready to go deep into this month and return to Boston with its second World Series crown in four seasons. It was nearly impossible to pick a star of the ALDS for the Red Sox. Even when Matsuzaka struggled in Game 2, the resilient Sox bullpen bailed him out big, with four pitchers busting through 4 1/3 innings of hitless relief. David Ortiz proved nearly impossible for the Angels to deal with as they only retired him twice in the three games, and also came up with two big home runs. Dustin Pedroia had difficulty in his first ever playoffs series, including jamming his shoulder in Game 2. But he played through the pain, turned in some big defensive plays, and delivered a double in the 8th of Game 3 to begin the clinching rally. Curt Schilling, the postseason master, turned in yet another October gem in Game 3, providing a gusty seven innings and pitching through some major jams with his no mediocre stuff. And Manny Ramirez was reborn, blasting two towering shots including the jaw-dropping walk-off in Game 2 that sent a Nation into a frenzy.

Much like the '04 team, the Red Sox are winning in October of 2007 not because of the contributions of a few but with the combined effort of many. Terry Francona has these guys believing in the collective power of unity that drove them to the 2004 crown. All of the problems leading up to their eventually clinching of a playoff berth have been erased, and the team seems to be hitting its stride at just the right moment. It is my firm belief that with two dominant playoff starters, an untracked duo of Ortiz and Ramirez, and a consistent Timlin-Lopez-Okajima-Delcarmen-Papelbon bullpen, the rest of the team will rally around these factors and there's just about no chance this club won't bring home the hardware yet again.

The Indians can sport a relatively inexperienced yet dominant postseason duo themselves, but I can see the Sox pitchers taking care of the Tribe hitters fairly easily. The Yankees don't seem as invincible as they were at the end of the season, and I'd feel pretty good about an ALCS against them in which the Sox have homefield advantage. The Red Sox are a seasoned playoff team, with about a dozen members sporting at least one World Series ring. I feel confident in their ability to get through the next series, and while Arizona and Colorado are both dangerous clubs, I can't help but feel the Red Sox are the odds on favorites to be World Champs again.

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