Given the difference in quality between the two leagues, this opening-round series is more like a semifinal or even finals-caliber matchup. The Red Sox and the Angels were third and fourth, respectively, in the majors in run differential this season, and third and second in wins.
These Angels are nothing like the ones you remember from past Octobers. They have scored more runs than any other Angels team in the Mike Scioscia era. They've hit more home runs and drawn more walks than any Scioscia club with the exception of his first, in 2000. While they still run a lot—211 stolen-base attempts, the second most in his tenure—they were caught a league-high 63 times and have become a slower team overall.
Los Angeles also allowed more runs than it has since 2000. The bullpen is almost entirely new, and the struggles of closer Brian Fuentes (3.93 ERA, seven blown saves) are representative of lowered effectiveness across the entire pen. That makes the Angels more reliant on their rotation, which was an asset in the regular season thanks to its depth. L.A. is 79--47 since ace John Lackey's first real start, on May 18 (he was ejected after the second pitch of a start two days earlier), which marked the end of early-season jerry-rigging due to injuries and the death of rookie Nick Adenhart. As deep as the rotation is, however, it lacks top-tier starters to match up with the Red Sox' Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, even granting Scott Kazmir's good work since his acquisition from the Rays on Aug. 28. The Angels will have the lesser starter in at least three of the five games.
Boston was able to win 95 games while ditching its shortstop and catcher and a big chunk of its midseason rotation, and while watching its once-mighty DH David Ortiz lose another 83 points of OPS from '08, when he fell off 189 points from the previous season. Despite challenges from the Rangers and the Rays, however, the Red Sox were never in real danger of missing the postseason, and they spent much of the second half tinkering with lineups and roles. Now that the postseason is here, the challenge is to get the best team on the field. That means reducing catcher Jason Varitek to a full-time spectator, sliding Ortiz down in the lineup and allowing Billy Wagner to assume a greater role in the league's best bullpen. There's a potential champion here.
The Angels would be a favorite against five of the seven postseason teams, but they once again draw the Sox, who can match them bat for bat and have both better front-end starters and a big edge in the bullpen. Red Sox in four.