MARCHING FORWARD: Their opponent, Kevin McNamara tells us, won more games than any team in franchise history and is light years removed from the crew that got swept in last year's American League Division Series. They still don't know if two of their key, middle-of-the-order bats -- Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew -- will be able to play. Joe McDonald's analysis of the series starts by saying "This year could be different."
And yet the Red Sox keep on keeping on, forging into this year's ALDS with a confidence that's not really shared by many outsiders. One reason for that confidence: Jon Lester, the Games One and Four starter, profiled here by Jim Donaldson. They also have more hope than they did earlier that Josh Beckett will, indeed, be ready to pitch at some point in the series. (projo.com) Donaldson tells us Jacoby Ellsbury is back at the top of the order, and may be ready to pick up where he left off last October.
Still, there's no question things are different. In last year's ALDS, the Angels were eaten alive by the two-headed monster of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. This year the monster has only one head and Angels manager Mike Scioscia, reports McNamara, says it's different this time around. Not worse necessarily, he emphasizes; just different. Ortiz tells Donaldson it's not a bad thing because "[everybody's] on the same page now."
But not many people are buying it.
The Angels haven't forgotten that they've lost every postseason series they've played against Boston and are riding a nine-game playoff losing streak against the Sox; the Riverside Press-Enterprise's Michael Becker discusses that pro-Sox/anti-Halos 'karma' as a tangible factor in his pre-series analysis. The karma, though, doesn't mean much to most national analysts; their consensus is voiced by Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown, who says the Red Sox have too many 'almosts' -- the hitters they have in the middle of their lineup now are 'almost' as good as Ramirez, they're 'almost' as healthy as the Angels -- to win the series. Four of Yahoo!s five baseball experts agree; they're picking the Angels.(Baseball Analysts, though, says the Red Sox have a better chance of winning the World Series than the Angels.) There's even talk in Los Angeles of an all-Southern California World Series.
Starting tonight at 10:07 p.m., the talk ends and the game begins. And we'll see if the Sox' confidence is justified.
COME BACK SOON, AND COME BACK OFTEN: If you were here last night you got constant news updates from McNamara and Donaldson throughout the late afternoon and early evening: 24 in all between the time of their arrival at Angels Stadium at 2:28 p.m. Eastern time to their departure at 7:57 p.m. That'll be the case today, too, as they'll begin reporting as soon as they arrive at the park (a little later than yesterday, since it's a night game). We'll keep on updating the site with news as it happens throughout the day, as the game progresses, and then as it ends. And there'll be a full postgame report right here tomorrow.
BEEN HERE BEFORE: One of the Red Sox' strengths is postseason experience, which Dustin Pedroia will attempt to pass along to those teammates who don't have it. One of them is Jason Bay, who's absolutely delighted to be playing in October. (projo.com)
K-ROD VS. CINCO OCHO: A subplot to the series is the battle of closers: Jonathan Papelbon (left) against Francisco Rodriguez. (projo.com)
MANNY UNHAPPY RETURNS: Speaking of Ramirez -- which we were, a while ago -- Gerry Callahan doesn't have a lot of kind things to say about Manny's recent Boston critique. (Boston Herald)
MR. MAY: We don't really know how he hits in May, but we know from first-hand experience that Vladimir Guerrero hasn't really been a force in October. (Los Angeles Times) The Angels hope that changes this year.
SHOW TUNE: The Red Sox came in third in Foxsports.com's ranking of World Series contenders.
IMAGINE IF . . . Where would the Red Sox be without Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson? WEEI.com's Alex Speier asks that question as he ponders what would have happened if the Red Sox had completed the Johan Santana deal last winter. He calls it "the non-trade that shaped the Sox."
MAN AT THE TOP: Dan Shaughnessy has an in-depth -- and fascinating -- profile of John Henry, who thoroughly enjoys owning the Red Sox.
THEIR TIME OF YEAR: The Globe's John Powers looks at the new Red Sox, an organization that has made playing in October a rite of autumn around here. And of the most important members of that organization, writes the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman, is Terry Francona.
HOW'D THEY DO? Chad Finn looks at the preseason projections for Red Sox players in last year's Bill James Handbook and compares them to what actually happened. (Touching All The Bases)
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: The Rays finally have an ALDS opponent -- see below -- and they welcome them to the Trop, which the Tampa Tribune's Tony Fabrizio calls "a house of horrors for opposing teams."
ROSTER MOVES: Edwin Jackson won't be on the ALDS roster, since they need only four starters, and Carl Crawford likely will be back in left field when the Rays begin play tomorrow.
SING FOR THE RAYS: Kevin Costner is singing Tampa Bay's praises . . . literally. (St. Petersburg Times)
A CHAMPION AT LAST: It took 163 games and two extra days for them to get there, but the White Sox finally reached the winners' circle in the A.L. Central with a stirring 1-0 win over the Twins (Chicago Tribune) in the official kickoff to baseball's postseason. Jim Thome (right, AP Photo) provided the game's only run with a seventh-inning homer. Yahoo! Sports' Gordon Edes says the most surprised man in Chicago was White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who thought the team was dead after getting swept in Minnesota last week. There were 43,000 fans dressed in black at New Comiskey/The Cell/Whatever They're Calling The American League Stadium In Chicago These Days, and the Tribune's Rick Morrissey says out of that sea of darkness came the brightest night of the season. Not so for the Twins, however, especially since the dastardly A.J. Pierzynski -- who made the key defensive play of the game, catching a throw from Ken Griffey Jr. and absorbing an hellacious hit from Michael Cuddyer at the plate for the final out of the fifth inning, killing Minnesota's only scoring chance of the game -- was one of the key players for Chicago. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) It was a sad ending to an unexpected run at a championship for the Twins (Minneapolis Star-Tribune), but a great start to the playoffs . . . as memorable in its own way as the extra-inning slugfest put on by Colorado and San Diego last year in the National League wild-card play-in game.
YOU'RE WITH US, GARDY: The Twins are having internal discussions about offering a contract extension to manager Ron Gardenhire. (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
N.L. PLAYOFF BRIEFS: Pat Burrell tweaked his back during batting practice yesterday and may be unavailable for the Phillies' NLDS opener against the Brewers (Philadelphia Inquirer) . . . Gabe Kapler's shoulder injury means Brad Nelson made Milwaukee's postseason roster (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) . . . The Phillies' NLDS rotation is set: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer (Philadelphia Inquirer) . . . Baseball Musings' David Pinto looks at the Cubs-Dodgers series.
STAYING PUT: Brian Cashman has agreed to a three-year contract extension to stay on as general manager of the Yankees. (New York Post)
GOING DOWN THE LIST: Peter Abraham looks at the various free agents who may -- or may not -- be pursued by the Yankees, with opinions on whether or not the Yanks a) should or b) will sign them. (LoHud Yankees Blog)
FREE ADVICE: The New York Daily News' John Harper has some for the Mets: Get rid of Carlos Delgado, pursue J.J. Putz, be open to the idea of trading David Wright or Jose Reyes.
IF YOU'RE GOING TO TRADE WRIGHT . . . why not send him to the Yankees for Alex Rodriguez? That's Bugs and Cranks' Ed Valentine's suggestion.
CC SABATHIA WATCH: It's never too early to start it. The Giants may be interested (San Francisco Chronicle) -- and if they are they may have a big edge, since Sabathia (left, AP Photo) is from the Bay Area, allegedly wants to pitch close to home, and allegedly wants to stay in the National League -- and the New York Post's Joel Sherman reports the Mets may join the Yankees in pursuit of the big left-hander.
HARDWARE TIME: The award season is underway, with Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge being named the Comeback Players of the Year. (AP via projo.com)
A CLEAR CRYSTAL BALL: Congratulations to Sean McAdam, who was the fourth-most-accurate preseason prognosticator among the predictions charted by Geoff Decker's whereistand blog.
PASSAGES: Ex-Senators and Tigers shortstop Eddie Brinkman has died at age 66. (Detroit Free Press)
HERE AND THERE: The Cubs have extended Lou Piniella's contract through 2010 (Chicago Sun-Times) . . . Jim Leyland, on the other hand, says he's "disappointed" and "maybe I don't understand" why the Tigers wouldn't extend his contract, which expires at the end of 2009 (Detroit Free Press) . . . The Padres say they're "leaning toward" picking up Brian Giles' $9 million option for 2009 (mlb.com) . . . It's still not clear if the Dodgers' winning the N.L. West title was enough to save general manager Ned Colletti's job (Los Angeles Times) . . . The Mets' John Maine underwent successful shoulder surgery and should be ready for spring training (Newsday) . . . The Marlins won't bring back Kevin Gregg (Miami Herald) . . . Randy Johnson will have to take a significant pay cut if he wants to return to the Diamondbacks (Arizona Republic) . . . Chris Carpenter has decided against surgery and will attempt to mend his ailing shoulder with therapy and rest (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) . . . Art Howe and Matt Walbeck have been fired as Rangers coaches (Dallas Morning News) . . . The Yankees have decided to continue tours of Yankee Stadium until the end of the year. (New York Post)
OLD FRIENDS: Hanley Ramirez was voted Marlins MVP by the Florida writers but insiders don't necessarily agree, saying he's not playing to his full potential (Miami Herald) . . . The A's will decide whether or not to pick up Alan Embree's contract option after the World Series (San Francisco Chronicle) . . . Nomar Garciaparra served as the Dodgers' manager on the last day of the regular season. (Los Angeles Times)
AND FINALLY . . . Leave it to my good friend Repoz to find this clip of Christopher 'Mad Dog' Russo blowing a gasket -- happily -- over the Mets' latest collapse.
-- ART MARTONE