Posted on: September 21, 2009 5:19 pm
The nail-biting can now stop. Barring a collapse of 1995 proportions, the Angels will wrap up a third straight AL West title in about a week or so. And really, I don't think a collapse like that is likely under a Mike Scioscia-led team. Nope, they usually wait till the playoffs start for that (baddump-bump!). In all seriousness, I was a bit nervous for this past series with Texas in Arlington. I had visions of Marlon Byrd hitting homers and Neftali Feliz mowing down Halos (seriously, though, how good does that kid look? WOW). The boys showed some stones, however, in taking two-of-three from a pretty depleted Rangers squad who had dominated the Angels in every way over the course of the season. Props to the Rangers and their fans on a great season. I'm already nervous for next season.
But first, time to be nervous about the playoffs, where the Halos look headed for their eightteenth consecutive matchup with the Boston Red Sox. I'm really getting tired of this ALDS matchup, as I'm sure most Angels fans are. Whereas, I'd bet the Red Sox and their fans have noooo problem in seeing the Angels in the playoffs again, homefield advantage or not. I'm not gonna rehash the Angels recent playoff failures, as it's been done to death, but I'll be darned if the Red Sox don't look fairly vulnerable this time around. Of course, I remember thinking the same thing last year, soooo there's that. I guess.
This Angels squad looks to have all the ingredients to make a deep playoff run. It's one of the best offensive clubs in the franchise's history. They have a little more pop, to go along with the speed and agressive base running and the starting pitching looks to be rounding into shape as the regular season draws to a close. The biggest question mark is something Angels fans aren't used to questioning. The bullpen. Brian Fuentes has done little to instill confidence in Angels fans' hearts, although, by the numbers, he's been more effective than Franky Rodriguez this year. Jose Arredondo wasn't able to back up his fantastic '08 season and mainstay Scot Shields had season-ending surgery earlier in the season. Perhaps the best bullpen arm the Angels have right now is Kevin Jepsen, who is getting all the "closer of the future" tags right now. But remember, Arredondo got those same tags last season. Jepsen has been really good since some early season struggles and his power arm has really solidified the 8th inning. Is it a bad sign when you're more nervous when your closer enters a game than the set-up man. Yeah, thought so. Oh well, Bring on Boston.
Posted on: September 11, 2008 4:31 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2008 4:37 pm
While it's been a foregone conclusion for a few months now, the Angels repeating as AL West champions was not exactly a "gimme" when the team broke Spring Training. Injuries to the team's two best starters from 2007, trading away a Gold Glove shortstop, and an overcrowded outfield were just some of the reasons many were picking Seattle to dethrone the Halos.
Fast forward to September 11. The two young starters who were supposed to battle it out for the 5th spot in the rotation, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, were both All-Stars and absolutely carried the team in the early going with John Lackey missing about 5-6 starts and Kelvim Escobar missing the entire season. The trade that had many Angels fans scratching their heads turned out to be perhaps the most important thing the team did in the off season. While O.C. was fantastic at shortstop and the ideal #2 hitter, the stability Jon Garland provided at the back end of the rotation, especially with the loss of Escobar, was invaluable, and Scioscia and Reagins both knew Aybar and Izturis could hold down the fort at short, both defensively and with the bat. And they did. Another head-scratcher was the signing of Torii Hunter. Although we just gave a big contract to Matthews to seemingly be the team's CF for next few seasons, Hunter was signed to a big free agent deal himself, moving Matthews into a corner outfield/DH rotation with Garret and Vlad. While Torii was not exactly the "big bat" Halos fans have been waiting for, he was another bat and has played the best center field this long-time Angels fan has ever seen at the Big A (no disrespect to Devo, Pettis and Edmonds). Besides his glove and above-average bat, Torii also brought leadership and a winning attitude to a clubhouse that was maybe in need of a veteran vocal leader.
The MLB trade deadline is an exciting time for a fan of a team in the heat of a pennant race. Heck, it's even at least mildly interesting to the fan's whose teams are already looking forward to next season, with the chance getting some young prospects for aging veterans. For Angels fans, it has recently been a time to watch other contenders grab a bat or an arm for the stretch run while we "stand pat" and "go with the players who got us here," wherever "here" is. As a result, our offensively-challenged teams have been bounced out of the postseason rather abruptly, especially last season, when the Red Sox whipped us in three straight en route to their second World Series title in four seasons.
Not this year. The normally gun-shy Angels finally pulled the trigger on a deadline deal, landing slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Braves. While it was tough seeing home-grown youngster Casey Kotchman go, it was clearly the right move and a move the team had to make if they wanted to avoid another early exit from the playoffs. And when Tex started hitting, I'm sure many a Casey-who? was heard around the Big A. Kotch was a nice young talent. Tex is a big-time, switch hitting masher and an ideal guy to hit in front of Vlad in the Angels lineup. Even if the free-agent-to-be walks after this season, I applaud the team for making the right deal in order to win now.
In my view, the hallmark of this Angels team has been balance. As of right now, the team is 45-29 at home, 43-28 on the road (by far, the best in the bigs), 30-16 vs. the East, 24-17 vs. the Central and 24-16 vs. West. They haven't had many prolonged winning streaks or losing streaks. They just went about winning series after series. Two of three here, three of four there, and before you knew it, they had one of the best records in baseball and had opened up a chasm of Grand Canyon-like proportions in the AL West over the disappointing Mariners and the young A's, who had since traded away many talented vets for prospects. Starting pitching has once again been the team's biggest strength, with all five starters reaching double-digit win totals. Francisco Rodriguez has been the anchor to a solid bullpen, and is closing in on the single-season saves record of 57. He has both done a great job and has been the beneficiary of many close Angels wins, but the results are hard to argue with.
I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, but the Angels will have a few weeks to rest up and prepare for the playoffs while many teams continue to duke it out, night-in and night-out for a spot in the postseason. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar are both battling hamstring issues, and while youngsters Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez have filled in admirably, it is important the two starters get back in time to get a week or so worth of at-bats leading into the playoffs. The Angels don't have the most explosive offense, but with everyone healthy, do have balance and guys that can contribute up and down the lineup.
On paper, this is the best-equipped Angels squad we've seen in a while. Perhaps even better than the team that won it all in 2002. But the games are not played on paper and if the Halos are to win it all this year, they'll need some of the magic that '02 team had. Maybe not a three-homer game from a light-hitting second baseman or a three-run homer in Game 6 of the World Series to cut into a huge deficit, but a 2-out RBI hit here and sac-fly there could be the difference between celebrating another championship and thinking, "wait till next year."
Posted on: August 7, 2008 1:03 pm
Even though their batting averages are flirting dangerously with the Mendoza Line, the Angels catching duo of Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli have given the team outstanding production from behind the plate. In fact, it's tough to find another Major League club that can match the pair's combined 21 HR and 67 RBI.
Napoli, who's currently on his way back from a shoulder injury, has belted 12 HR and knocked in 29 RBI in just 142 at-bats. His homerun rate of a dinger every 11.8 AB's is among the best in the bigs.
Mathis has caught nearly every game since his buddy (the two are good friends off the field) landed on the DL, and though streaky, has contributed 9 HR and 38 RBI to an Angels offense that needs every position player to pull his weight with the bat. If Mathis can find some more consistency at the plate, he looks like manager Mike Scioscia's choice to play the bulk of the innings down the stretch.