It’s looking more and more likely that the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels will meet in the AL division series for the third straight year, but the AL West leaders would certainly like to prove that the result this season might be different.
The Angels will try to set a tone in potential postseason previews in their two remaining games in Boston this week, but the Red Sox have a chance to notch their longest home winning streak of the season with a 10th straight victory at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
Boston (85-58) has lost just one total game in escorting the Angels out of the playoffs each of the last two years, and the Red Sox also swept Los Angeles in the first round in 2004 en route to their first World Series title in 86 years.
Assuming they hold onto their 5 1/2-game lead on Texas in the wild-card chase, they’d love a similar result this season, and they got a promising sign in Tuesday night’s series opener. Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes), making his first appearance in the majors in nearly three months, tossed six-plus shutout innings in Boston’s 4-1 victory.
“Long-term, it was very important,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Hopefully, it will give us a shot in the arm in the short term also.”
Los Angeles (86-58) would love a reason for optimism in a postseason series, but it has already won 12 of its last 15 games in the regular season against the Red Sox. That success hasn’t yet translated to October, a fact that could be in the Angels’ minds this week.
With Tim Wakefield(notes) injured, Boston’s next option beyond Matsuzaka for a No. 4 starter in the playoffs might be Paul Byrd(notes), the journeyman who has been good, bad and mediocre in three starts since coming out of retirement.
Byrd (1-1, 6.08 ERA) tossed six shutout innings in an Aug. 30 win over Toronto, then was tagged for seven runs in 2 1-3 innings of a Sept. 4 loss at Chicago. He didn’t get a decision last Wednesday after allowing two runs in five innings of Boston’s 7-5 win over Baltimore.
That was the only time in six games on this homestand that Boston’s opponent has scored more than one run. The Red Sox have won their last nine home games, equaling their season-best streak from April 17-26 and giving them the best home record in the majors at 51-21.
Angels left-hander Joe Saunders(notes) struggled at Fenway during last year’s division series, allowing four runs in 4 2-3 innings, but Los Angeles eventually won the game 5-4 in 12 innings - the only game the Angels have won in their last 13 postseason matchups with the Red Sox.
Saunders (13-7, 4.81) has been much better during the regular season in Boston, winning all three starts with a 2.75 ERA. He has won his last four starts overall since being activated from the disabled list last month, with a 1.85 ERA in that stretch.
Saunders allowed a run and three hits in seven innings of a 7-1 win over the White Sox on Friday.
“I feel strong. I feel good, I feel confident, and I’ve turned the page,” Saunders said. “I’m way past the injury and the DL stint, and I’m ready to go through the stretch.”
He’ll look to give the Angels an even stronger grasp on the AL West. They lead Texas by six games in a division they’ve already won four times in the last five years.