Smells like October

Sox-Angels has an October feel

ANAHEIM -- There was no autumn nip in the air, more like the scent of sunscreen wafting around sun-drenched Angel Stadium. And, of course, there is the little matter of the last 40 or so games of the regular season.

Still, a sense of October arrived in Southern California this weekend in August.

With the Angels and Red Sox on the field and the intensity turned up a notch to pennant-drive mode, it's hard to imagine these two not meeting up again in October. They'll see each other one more time at Fenway Park in September, but a postseason dance after that seems almost compulsory.

This just in from the If the Playoffs Started Today Dept.: These two teams would in fact square off for a repeat of last year's American League Division Series, based on the current standings. Even if the standings jumble and these end up being the top two seeds in the AL -- certainly not out of the realm of possibility the way the White Sox and A's have cooled down -- you'd have to consider Red Sox-Angels as a viable pairing in the ALCS.

Lest we get so far ahead of ourselves as to be invisible to the naked eye, having three of the games relatively tight to the end and a four-game split the result this weekend, Red Sox-Angels looks like a marquee matchup any time of the year.

"You had two good teams going at each other, two good teams with a little different styles but each one in first place," Angels manager Mike Scioscia mustered as a synopsis through the disappointment of a 5-1 loss in Sunday's finale.

Of course, a lot can change between now and the postseason. But one thing that won't change is something you could have said in April and you can't help but repeat in August: These two teams not only could but should be there in October.

Actually, the whole concept of October is a little hard to imagine for Terry Francona, the Red Sox manager who, like his counterpart Scioscia, looks no further up the road than the next few games and looks back only to improve the present.

Francona likes the Angels, respects them as a worthy opponent. But he's not taking much time to consider whether they're on the road to October.

"I don't care if they make it," Francona said. "I just want us to make it."

Again, that's something that the last quarter of the season will determine.

But what's already apparent is that these two teams provide a matchup that's evenly matched and intriguing, owing in large part to different philosophies and different personalities.

You've got the Angels' pitching and defense -- both leading the American League -- vs. the Red Sox's hitting and more hitting -- leading the known universe. Offensively, you've got the slashing Angels personified by Vladimir Guerrero's strike zone the size of Orange County vs. the Red Sox's maddening way of racking up the opposition's pitch count. You've got MVP candidate Guerrero, who won it a year ago by carrying the Angels on his shoulders, vs. MVP candidate Manny Ramirez, ably aided by David Ortiz.

"Both teams match up well with the other," Scioscia said. "The things they do are a challenge for us to stop and the things we do are a challenge for them to stop."

One thing they have in common: They have fresh memories of being a World Series champion and then having to come back the next year as defending champions.

Like the Angels before them, the Red Sox are doing it mostly by averting their eyes from last year's historic accomplishment.

"Last year was 10 years ago," Francona said.

If it seems like Francona has removed the term "defending champions" from his vocabulary, well, he hasn't gone that far. But the point's the same.

"That's what we are, but it doesn't matter," Francona said. "If I could go over to Scioscia and say, 'Look, we're the defending champs, could you please use your bullpen different against us?' maybe I'd do it and that'd make a difference. But it just doesn't matter.

"You've got to pay attention to what you're doing now. If you can learn from the past, that's fine. We've learned some things from the past that have helped us. Other than that, it's about now."

Now for the Red Sox means Curt Schilling returning to the rotation and Manny being Manny -- which on Sunday meant Manny bumping into the umpire while gazing into the stands as he approached the plate, bumping into the wall after making a running catch and then bumping into a Brendan Donnelly pitch for a two-run homer to put the game in the bag.

Now for the Angels means getting their vaunted bullpen back on track and finding a way to protect Vlad, who will get an assist from Garret Anderson's return to the lineup and could get another boost if Steve Finley's 2-for-4 Sunday turns into the start of something at least decent, if not spectacular.

Now's pretty darn intriguing on its own with these two clubs. But with the way they match up, it's hard not to look forward to them meeting again.

See you in September for sure. But keep October open, too.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.