Sunday, May 01, 2005

Halos Beat Santana, Salvage Final Game in Homerdome

Johan Santana, ace starter for the Minnesota Twins, had not lost a game since July 2004 prior to Sunday. That streak came to a skidding halt dispite another pitching gem from the star left-hander. Santana gave up just two hits in 8 innings but unfortunately for him they both left the yard. Vladamir Guerrero and Jose Molina both went deep on Santana and in the process supplied 100% of the Halo offense in a 2-1 Angel victory Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis.

Bartolo Colon outdueled Santana through 7.1 innings, allowing 2 hits and no runs while striking out 7. Colon also did not walk a batter in arguably his finest outing as an Angel. But the stellar performance was marred in the eighth inning when Colon came down awkwardly while leaping (ok, maybe leaping is not a word that should be associated with Colon. Perhaps fully stretched out and about enough air under his feet to slide a piece of paper) on a Metrodome single that Jacque Jones had bounced in front of the plate and over Colon's outstretched glove. From the Angels' web site:
"It's not as bad as I thought it was when I first came out of the game," said Colon, who landed awkwardly on the slope of the mound.
Scot Shields entered the game and gave up a single and a walk before Manager Mike Scioscia went for his closer, Francisco Rodriguez, with just one out in the eighth. K-Rod induced an inning-ending double play ball from Matt LeCroy. In the 9th Shannon Stewart led off the inning with a home run off Rodriguez but the Halo closer mowed through the next three hitters to earn his sixth save and help the Angels end a two game skid.

Most Angel fans (including me) probably figured this series would turn out exactly the opposite of the way it did. Santana was a prohibitive favorite to win on Sunday but the pitching match-ups favored the Angels in the first two games. One thing is certain, these are two well-matched teams that play very similar styles of baseball. Both are balanced and both enjoy playing small-ball, situational type baseball to augment strong pitching and solid defense.

In game one of the series on Friday the Angels were frustrated to not knock Minnesota starter Carlos Silva out of the game. After scoring 4 runs in the first three innings the Angels were held scoreless the rest of the way and lost the game 4-7. Depsite hitting the ball hard the Angels kept running themselves out of innings with stupid mistakes like Chone Figgins trying to turn a double into a triple in the first or Dallas McPherson misreading a fly ball and getting doubled off first in the 4th inning. Twice the Angels had runners on the corners with nobody out and twice they left them stranded. That lack of clutch hitting and absent-minded baserunning can clearly be pointed to as the reason for the Angel loss that night. For a team that claims to butter it's proverbial bread with solid defense and "small ball" execution they might want to add some "base running fundamentals" into the mix.

In game two Brad Radke looked like the ace he once was and held the Angels to 2 runs over 7.1 innings while scattering 7 hits. Kelvim Escobar allowed 4 runs over 7 innings while giving up 9 hits to the Twins on Saturday. In just his second start of the season Escobar did not look nearly as sharp as in his first, walking four and allowing a titanic home run blast to Justin Morneau to open the scoring in the first. All-and-all not a horrible pitching performance but people were more critical given the lack of offensive production from the Angel bats.

In three games at the most hitter-friendly park in the American League, the Halos managed just 8 runs and firmly shows that this team is in an offensive funk. In fact, the Angels have not really put together a strong offensive game since April 23rd when they took the A's to the wood shed 9-5. Since that point the Angels have averaged just 3.5 runs per game and have gone 4-3 and have done that well only because their starting pitching and bullpen were excellent in the victories. The Angels' opponents have averaged just 0.75 runs per game in their last four victories. The message here is that the problem with the Angels is clearly on the offensive side of the game. Steve Finley remains mired in his season-long slump, hitting just .227 with 12 RBI and 8 runs scored. Dallas McPherson, despite flashing some impressive leather in the Minnesota series, has suffered the aforementioned base running blunder and is hitting .238 with 0 HR and 1 RBI in 40 at-bats. On the defensive side Chone Figgins is playing his way back to the bench with 3 errors (he can thank Darin Erstad that it is just 3 errors) including one butchered double play that looked like Elaine's 'dance' from Seinfeld. Somehow Erstad rescured Figgins yet again by digging a ball out of the dirt. While I did compliment McPherson for his improving defense he does have two errors in just 12 games giving him a .935 fielding percentage to start the year. If the Angels are not going to score runs they certainly can not afford to give their opponents extra outs.

Next Up: Three games in Seattle against the third place Mariners (2 games back of LA at 12-13).


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