Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Angels Showing That Championship Swagger

This is not a perfect team. In fact, the glaring holes in the bullpen and in the starting rotation stick-out like the proverbial sore thumbs. But something has happened over the course of the past two weeks that is beginning to transform the 2005 Los Angeles Angels from a nice team in to a Championship caliber team.

1. 6-6 Road Trip equals Champs? When you face some of the toughest home teams in the Majors and still manage to split you have to be happy. If this were the playoffs and you had to play four in Boston you would probably be thrilled to walk away with two wins and then make the assumption you can win the majority of your own home games. It started off well yesterday as they snapped the Nationals 10-game win streak. With two more against the Nats followed by three with Florida, six with Texas (with a three-pack against the Blue Crew in between) the Angels are picking the perfect time to come together.

2. No blowout losses. During the last road trip the Halos did not lose a game by more than 3 runs. You have to go back to May 22nd to find a game the Angels did lose by more than 3 runs -- and that was just four runs to the Dodgers. In fact, for the season the Angels have won 11 games by a margin of five runs or better and lost just 4. That is a telling statistic in that the Angels have the lumber to punish many teams but enough pitching to keep them in most games. If the bullpen has finished their dubious detour into Diamondback territory, then the Angel hitters should be able to give them more than enough support.

3. Confidence is high. Repeat, confidence IS high. The long-awaited return of likening to Angel bats seems to be upon us. The Angels scored 10 runs against the White Sox, 13 against the Red Sox, 8 against Tim Hudson and the Braves and then posted 12 against the Mets. All on the road. Not to mention the eleven runs they pasted on the Nats last night in Anaheim. The Angels even gutted out a 4-3 victory over Pedro Martinez & the Mets to take the weekend series at Shea Stadium. This team knows it can score runs and now with a little taste of success, look for it to happen early and often from here on out. Dallas McPherson and Steve Finley are coming out of their shells and if those guys produce on a regular basis then becomes a very intimidating offense for opposing pitchers.

4. Pitching is good enough. No one is going to mention Cy Young and the Angels unless K-Rod catches fire the last half. But the starters are serviceable and with the exception of Kelvim Escobar seem somewhat durable. Ervin Santana returns to the mound tonight and if he can build on the success he had in his last outing, the Angels might have just filled a rotation spot for the next five years or so. The bullpen remains weary with Scot Shields and Brendan Donnelly (who gave up a walk-off 3 run dinger on Saturday to Cliff Floyd) still not back to where they were a year or two ago. But with the offense raking, they may have more runs to work with.

5. This is a two-team division. Neither the Mariners or A's are going to do anything to improve their clubs and right now, those are two pathetic teams. The Rangers are the only competition and right after I predicted their inevitable collapse in June, they went on to lose eight of their first 12 games in June. It's going to get worse for Texas as the Angels will look to step on their neck and enter the All-Star Break with a 7 game lead. If that happens look for an even uglier July as the Rangers play the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles and Toronto. The Angels also have games with the Yanks but the difference is that the Angels are not the Yankees' bitch unlike another team I could mention.

A lot could go wrong and I may regret putting these thoughts down -- but if I am right (and I am) then look for the Angels to start putting some distance between themselves and the Rangers. I will also go out on a limb and predict that the Angels will be the second team to clinch their division (after St. Louis who should clinch in early August).


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