Halos need quick start against Sox
History says Angels must get down to business in a hurry
ANAHEIM -- One postseason irony that has been present since the beginning of the expanded playoff format is that the pressure per game is not highest in the World Series. The pressure per game is highest in the opening round, the Division Series.
This is how it will be for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night at Angel Stadium when they open their Division Series. The Angels are 1-9 in their three Division Series attempts against the Red Sox. They are in great need of a fast start.
You can start out slowly and still win a Championship Series. The Red Sox provided the ultimate proof for this notion in 2004, when they were down, 3-0, to the Yankees and came all the way back to win the AL pennant and eventually, the World Series.
You can start out slowly and still win a World Series. The 1996 Yankees, for instance, lost the first two games at home to the Atlanta Braves, but never lost again and became world champions. Coming back from an 0-2 deficit in a Division Series has been done, but the margin for error is obviously smaller. In fact, a bad hop, a bad break, a bad call, can loom larger in this format simply because each game has a greater share of the outcome.
|2004||1||Red Sox 9, Angels 3|
|2||Red Sox 8, Angels 3|
|3||Red Sox 8, Angels 6|
|2007||1||Red Sox 4, Angels 0|
|2||Red Sox 6, Angels 3|
|3||Red Sox 9, Angels 1|
|2008||1||Red Sox 4, Angels 1|
|2||Red Sox 7, Angels 5|
|3||Angels 5, Red Sox 4|
|4||Red Sox 3, Angels 2|
There has always been an undercurrent of opinion that a matter of this much importance ought to be settled just as the other series are, in a best-of-seven format. On the other side of the issue, this postseason could extend well into November. Given the possible November weather factors in northern, open-air ballparks, baseball would be well-advised to wrap this thing up before Thanksgiving. Currently, every postseason has the potential to extend to 19 games. That might be enough.
If you're the Red Sox, the only team to win two World Series in this millennium, you probably don't think the format needs any adjustment, whether radical or marginal. If you're the Angels, with five division titles in the last six years, but this painfully consistent problem with the Red Sox in the first round, you might welcome a change or two.
On the possibility of changing the Division Series to a best-of-seven format, Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said: "Actually I've thought about that and I would love to see it, seven games. Five games, you know, it can go a little quick. Those teams you think are going to win, the next thing you know, they're out of it. But seven games, you never know what's going to happen, things can change.
"Yes, I'd like to see that, but I'm not the Commissioner, I just work here. A blue-collar worker, that's it."
But for this October, the best-of-five remains in effect. The Angels need a different kind of start than the last three tries against Boston. "We need to go out there and get Game 1," said catcher Mike Napoli.
The Angels have the home-field advantage, but they had that last year against the Red Sox, as well, and it didn't make any difference. One thing that will stay the same for the Angels is the identity of the Game 1 starter. John Lackey will be in this role for the third straight postseason, against the same team. Nobody doubts his ability, or the overall quality of his work, but Lackey lost Game 1 starts against the Red Sox in each of the last two Octobers.
These performances have not been terrible, but they also haven't been quite good enough. In 2007, Lackey gave up four runs in six innings, and up against Josh Beckett, who would go on to have a postseason for the ages, that wasn't going to be a winning performance. Last year, he gave up two runs in 6 1/3 innings, which should have been a winning performance, but wasn't because Boston lefty Jon Lester gave up one run -- unearned -- over seven innings.
When Lackey was asked about the Red Sox "hex" on the Angels, he wisely wasn't having any of it. The difficulty against the Red Sox is obvious, but it probably isn't witchcraft.
"Their hex, huh?" Lackey said. "I don't know how to answer that. They're a great team. I mean, it's a definite challenge, but it's a new year. We take each year in and of itself. So we've kind of moved on past that and focusing on this year."
If the Angels have in fact moved on, that's all to their benefit. There is no easing into a best-of-five playoff, particularly one in which the recent results have been so one-sided. The Angels need to turn this thing around and establish themselves immediately in Game 1. The Red Sox would gladly settle for the status quo, which means victory for them.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.