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October 6, 2008

Prospectus Q&A

Peter Gammons and Lou Merloni

by David Laurila

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The Angels are still alive, having survived a Game Three gut-check by outlasting the Red Sox in last night's 12-inning, five-hours-and-19-minute marathon by a score of 5-4. It was a game the Halos had to win, and in doing so they may have put the pressure back on the defending World Series champions heading into tonight's Game Four at Fenway Park.

Prior to last night's first pitch, ESPN's Peter Gammons, and former big-league infielder Lou Merloni, who currently works as a studio analyst for the New England Sports Network, shared their thoughts on the Red Sox-Angels series and the rest of the post-season action.

David Laurila: How would you assess the first two games of the series?

Lou Merloni: I think it's pretty much exactly how I thought it would come out. Anaheim is a great ball club, along with Boston, so it's basically a case of who comes out playing better. I think the Red Sox have just capitalized so far; they've stayed away from the big inning, and I think they've done a nice job of tacking runs on. It's a hard-fought battle between two very good ball clubs, and so far the Red Sox have been catching the breaks.

DL: Listening to Mike Scioscia and his players, there's no sense of panic in the Angels' clubhouse, but rather a quiet confidence. Given that they're on the brink of elimination, and have lost 11 straight post-season games to the Red Sox, do you buy that?

LM: Having kind of been in that situation in '03, my last year with Boston, when you constantly hear about it from the media—them talking about late-season collapses or post-season difficulties—it's hard not to ignore it as a player. You're constantly around it, because everyone is talking about it. So I'm sure that the Angels would have liked to have caught at least one game in their own town, back in Anaheim, to get rid of that and kind of move on. Unfortunately, they find themselves behind the eight-ball, down 0-2, so they're still answering those questions, and they will until they win a game. That's why I think tonight is so important, because the Red Sox can finish them off rather than giving them any kind of confidence.

DL: Do you feel that an Angels' win in Game Three can turn this series around?

LM: Yeah, I think it changes the whole series. You can say that the Red Sox won two straight, and how all they have to do now is win one out of three, but this is an Angels club that won 100 games. They have a lot of veterans over there, and if you open the door for them, they can take advantage of that. So I think it's very important for the Red Sox to come out and take this game tonight, because if they don't, it will cause future problems. This Angels aren't going anywhere. But if you sweep them—look at the Cubs. They're going to be answering these questions in spring training, and all year long, regardless of how the regular season goes.

DL: Are the Red Sox and Angels the two best teams still alive in the postseason?

LM: Well, I think it's tough not to say that Tampa is one of the great teams in the playoffs. It's about time that we start giving that team some credit. But if you take what Anaheim did this year, with the best record in baseball, and if you take the experience and success of this Red Sox club, I think it might be fair to say that. It's tough not to give Tampa its due at this point, though.

DL: Who do you see as the best team in the National League right now?

LM: Right now, I think the Dodgers are. They have a nice mix of depth in their lineup, one through eight, and their pitchers have been throwing the ball real well. I think it's going to be an interesting series between them and Philly, but I still like the Dodgers' chances.

---

David Laurila: How would you assess the first two games of the series?

Peter Gammons: I think that it's remarkable what a great pitcher can do to a series. To me, the tone of this series was set so strongly by the brilliance of Jon Lester. Just the dominance—watching him throw that cutter at 95 mph, in, and then being able to throw to the arm side and dominate the outside part of the plate; it was so overpowering to me. It set a pattern for them, and then the second game was one of those games where I think the Angels couldn't believe they lost, and that the Red Sox were very happy that they won. These two teams are so even that one or two people can turn it around, and I think that so far that difference is Jon Lester.

DL: It is sometimes said that building a team to win in the postseason is different from building a team to win over a 162-game schedule. Do you buy into that theory?

PG: I think the only way that's true is if you have really dominant pitching. You see teams win 90 to 100 games that have guys like Jeff Suppan pitching for them. I like Jeff Suppan, but you know what I mean. It's hard to win in the postseason with those guys, consistently. And it's hard to win without a pretty decent bullpen. But the Angels—if Lackey, Saunders, and Santana pitch in this series the way they did most of the season, then the Angels should be fine in the playoffs.

DL: How much is the Angels' aggressiveness on the base paths compromised by them not having quite as much speed as in past years?

PG: Being aggressive is great, but there is always the story about—and I don't know who it was—but the first year (Mike Scioscia) was managing, someone got thrown out trying to go from first to third. He came back and apologized—this was in spring training. And (Scioscia) said, no, you did the right thing; that's the way we're going to play here. But that's the type of thing that works much better in July than it does against a good defensive team in October. Now, when the Angels were playing the Yankees in 2002, they were running around the bases on Bernie Williams and the Yankees outfielders; that's one thing. But against a good defensive team, that kind of baserunning can come back to haunt you.

DL: Are the Red Sox and Angels the two best teams still alive in the postseason?

PG: Not necessarily. I think the National League teams are better than they've been in about four or five years. I think the Dodgers, and the Cubs, who had a very bad series but are still a very good team, and the Phillies—I think this is one time when we might see a more competitive World Series. Yes, I know that the Cardinals won, but that was something of a testament to being at the right place at the right time.

DL: Outside of acquiring Manny Ramirez, what has been most responsible for making the Dodgers a championship-caliber team?

PG: Getting Furcal back. They were 18-14 when Furcal was hitting .366 with about a 1040 OPS on May 5 when he got hurt. The other things that are important are Joe Torre deciding that, OK, we're not even going to worry about Andruw Jones, and we're going to sit down Juan Pierre and let Ethier and Kemp play every day. Getting that established lineup really helped them. Kemp has gotten better and better, and Ethier is becoming a really, really good player. Another thing is—and it happened near the end of August—they had lost on a Friday night to the Diamondbacks, and had made all sorts of errors, and the next day Jeff Kent went home to Los Angeles. After the knee operation, [Torre] benched Nomar Garciaparra, and put Berroa in there, and they won 14 out of their next 16. I think that with their sinkerball staff, that defense—and I don't know if you can quantify it—but I do think that psychologically they were just so much better when Billingsley, Lowe, and Kuroda weren't afraid to throw the ball over the plate.

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