(What you need to know for tonight’s Angels-Red Sox game at 7 ET on ESPN.)
This series between the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox is the last time they will play this season, and Los Angeles probably can’t wait to get out of Boston. Since 1987 -- the year after the Red Sox erased a 3-1 deficit in the 1986 ALCS -- the Angels are 49-82 at Fenway Park.
After taking nine of 10 from the Angels last season, Boston this season is 6-0 against them. In those 16 games, the Red Sox have outscored the Angels 104-49.
The Angels do have the second-best road record in the American League behind the Tampa Bay Rays, but have allowed 16 runs to the Red Sox in the first two games of this four-game series.
On Tuesday, Angels hitters struck out 12 times. They lead the American League with 234. That’s very unusual for a Mike Scioscia managed-team. Since Scioscia took over as Angels manager in 2000, they’ve struck out the fewest times of any team in baseball, and have ranked in the top half of the American League at avoiding strikeouts in each of the last 10 seasons. The only season they ranked in the top five for most strikeouts was in 2000, Scioscia’s first season.
Vernon Wells, who’s struck out 24 times this season, is still hitting under .200 (.176) with just two home runs.
Why has Wells struggled thus far? He’s not chasing or swinging at more pitches this season, but he’s missing more pitches. Last season, Wells’ miss percentage was 20.7 percent. This year it’s 24.6 percent. He’s also hitting just .163 against right-handed pitching this season after hitting .291 against righties last season.
Perhaps Josh Beckett, who’s on the mound tonight for the Red Sox, is just what Wells needs to break out of his season-long slump. In 41 at-bats against Beckett, Wells has hit five home runs -- but only one in his last 30 at-bats.
Beckett will be pitching for the first time in a week. Boston has lost Beckett’s last four regular-season starts against the Angels in Fenway Park. In those starts, he’s 0-2 with a 5.74 ERA
Boston started 2-10, but has rebounded to go 12-5, and starting pitching has been key. In the first 12 games, Boston's starters had a 6.71 ERA and allowed 14 home runs, both of which were worst in the American League through April 15. In their last 17 games, the starters have a AL-best 1.86 ERA and have allowed just six home runs.
With Beckett on the mound, will Jason Varitek be behind the plate? If so, don’t expect him to have much success at the plate against Angels starter Ervin Santana (1-for-15 lifetime). The only active pitcher Varitek has faced at least 15 times and fared worse against is Santana’s teammate, Joel Pineiro (0-for-16).
In fact, the Red Sox have received very little offensive production from their catchers. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Varitek have combined to hit .167 with no home runs and seven RBI.
While Varitek has struggled against Santana, Carl Crawford has not. He’s 10-for-31 against Santana, and Crawford is showing signs of putting his bad start behind him.
Although Crawford is starting to hit (6-for-11 in May), Boston still is not hitting when it counts. The Red Sox rank 12th in the American League in batting with runners in scoring position (.225), and seventh in the league with the bases loaded (.267).