Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Back to Back!

The Angels completed their first goal in 2005: Repeat as AL West Division Champions. With a 4-3 victory over their arch rival, Oakland Athletics, the Halos clinched their second consecutive division title. Young Ervin Santana held the A's to two runs in 6.2 innings before Scot Shields came on in the with two out in the seventh with runners at second at third. Shields induced a ground ball to third baseman Chone Figgins for the final out of the inning and then retired the A's in order in the eighth inning. Closer Frankie Rodriguez gave up a solo home run to Marco Scutaro which brought the A's to within a single run with no outs in the ninth inning. But K-Rod sat down the next three Oakland batters to secure his 43rd save and send the Angels to the post-season for the third time in the past four years.

With the playoffs slated to start a week from tonight the Angels have plenty of time to set their post-season roster and rest weary players from the marathon season behind them. In particular, Bartolo Colon, Vladimir Guerrero, Garrett Anderson and Scot Shields have looked like some rest could in the past few weeks. Though Shields has come on strong over his past four appearances, pitching 5.1 scoreless innings helping the Angels to close out the 2005 campaign with a lot more authority than 2004 when the Angels did not clinch until the second-to-last game of the season.

A few notes on tonight's post-game:

*What was up with Rex Hudler's "interview" of Vlad Guerrero? He asked him to respond in either Spanish or English and Guerrero rambled on in speed Spanish while most viewers (me included) just watched with dazed and confused looks on their collective faces. For $12.4 million this season the big man can watch Bull Durham and learn his cliches. "I just want to do my best and help the ball club."

*Why was Tim Salmon getting interviewed? The big man did nothing but pull down $10 million to rehab all season and he gets on TV? Why not interview Brian Downing and Doug DeCinces while your at it?

* Props to Mike Scioscia for asking Hudler just before he doused his head with beer "will this hair stay on?"

Rock on Angel fans, time to party and enjoy watching those baseball snobs in the northeast panic about missing the playoffs while our spot is secure.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Halos Can Clinch With Split

The Angels open a series with second-place Oakland tonight that, barring a sweep by the A's, should culminate in their first ever back-to-back AL West Division titles. With their magic number at 4, the Angels need just two wins against Oakland to eliminate the A's and win the division. This has to be the team's goal as a single victory in the series would force the Angels to win two of their final three games on the road in Texas (or hope for Oakland to lose in Seattle).

The A's certainly have had no home-field advantage recently. So far in September, Oakland has lost 8 of 12 in their beloved concrete oval helping the Angels open up a 4 game lead despite a somewhat mediocre 15-9 mark this month. The Texas Rangers just took 2 of 3 from the fading A's who look like a team ready to surrender. The Angels can put them out of their misery with two quick wins which would also allow the Halos to rest their overworked bullpen and key starters in anticipation of the post-season.

The Angels put Division Series tickets on sale today and as of 5 pm were sold out for the three potential games at the Big A. In looking ahead to potential competitors, the Angels could literally face just about any team. If the current standings were to hold, then the White Sox would finish as the Division Champ with the most wins. The Tribe would win the wild-card but since a division team can not face a wild-card from within their own division the Sox would play the Angels. If either New York or Boston win the wild-card then the Angels would face whoever wins the AL East while Chicago draws the wild-card.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Angels May Juggle Rotation for Final A's Series

ESPN is reporting that the Angels are considering pushing Bartolo Colon from Sunday's scheduled start against Tampa Bay so that the Cy Young candidate can instead pitch the opening game of a crucial four-game set in Oakland. In all likelihood, the four games against the Athletics will likely settle the AL West race for this season.

The same ESPN article stated that Jarrod Washburn will return to pitch on Saturday against the Rays. That would set him up to pitch the final game in the Oakland series as well which may very well be the last regular season game that Wash throws for the Halos. A 7-8 season (so far) and a forearm plagued by tendinitis is not what he had hoped for in a contract year. If the Angels are desperate they may sign him to another one year deal in the same range as this year's $6.5 million deal. Hopefully the club can find a better use for that cash and simply keep Santana in the rotation next year. One use might be to find some better bullpen arms or a legitimate candidate to fill the DH role.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Seventh Heaven: Angels Rally to Drop Magic Number to 9

The Angels staged a dramatic 4-run seventh-inning rally to defeat the Texas Rangers 7-6 in a game where the Angels looked outgunned at the plate and overmatched on the mound. Texas starter Kameron Loe cruised through the first 3.1 innings, giving up just a run on 2 hits and a K. But while facing Vladamir Guerrero the Angel slugger returned a K-Lo offering in the form of a line drive directly at his skull. The ball miraculously hit Loe's head perfectly, deflecting to third base for the out and not leaving a cut or a mark of any kind (at least initially). Loe left the game but he looked as though he was ready to start pitching again. Hopefully his injury was as mild as it appeared but to anyone who has seen the replay, dude is lucky to be alive much less unharmed.

But despite Loe leaving the game the Angels managed just one more run off the Ranger pen through the next 3.2 innings while the Rangers touched-up Lackey for four runs and Brendan Donnelly for one more to open up a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. Then the Angels started playing small ball with three singles before Orlando Cabrera singled again to cash in two of the baserunners and cut the Texas lead to 5-4. Buck Showalter elected to walk Guerrero with runners at first at second to load the bases again. Then pinch-hitter Jose Molina singled up the middle to bring in two more runs and give the Halos the lead, 6-5. Frankie Rodriguez made it stand-up in the 9th, notching his 40th save of the season, and the Angels opened up a 2 1/2 game lead over Oakland.

Showalter made three pitching changes in the seventh inning and each time the incoming pitcher gave up a key hit (or two). While Showalter looked like an ineffective general, Sciocsia came off as a genius, countering the Texas pitchers with pinch-hitters Robb Quinlan and Jose Molina who both came through with clutch hits.

A's Lose -- Magic Number Now at 10

The Minnesota Twins knocked off the Oakland A's this afternoon 10-3, pushing the A's a full two games behind the Angels in the AL West division race. That presents the Halos with a chance to extend that lead to 2 1/2 games with a win tonight against the Texas Rangers. The game is on ESPN at 7:05 pm and features John Lackey on the mound for LA while Kameron Loe takes the hill for the Rangers. Loe is 4-1 since being promoted from the bullpen to the starting rotation by Texas Dictator Buck Showalter.

Loe faced the Angels back on June 28th and gave up three runs without getting an out. But Loe bounced back the next night and pitched a scoreless inning, surrendering just one hit. In his recent streak as a starter Loe has beaten Minnesota twice, Seattle and the White Sox while losing to Oakland. Not exactly the toughest competition this past month. The kid will get a better test tonight despite the inconstency of the Angel hitting attack.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Random Thoughts

When linking up the movie Major League to my post earlier today I found out on IMDB that Pedro Cerrano was played by none other than Dennis Haysbert from the FOX show 24 (he played President Palmer). I'm not sure why I find that funny but I do.

As I continue to brood about the Angels bullpen and the 'opportunity cost' of not keeping Derrick Turnbow and Bobby Jenks, I wonder how many other Angel prospects are toiling in the minors but would be major leaguers if given the chance in Anaheim or elsewhere. After reading this post over at Chronicles of the Lads I have to summize the answer is 'many'. Can't wait to read about the minor league pitchers next week.

Richard at Pearly Gates continues to make me laugh. Unfortunately I missed the controversial Larry Young call on Thursday as I had a Cub Scout meeting with my son. That along with the fact that Angel highlights sucked on ESPN and Fox (see Josh's post here) so I had to catch-up with this one at PG.

Halos Finish Off Sox 10-5

The Angels won their second game in a row over the White Sox 10-5 on Saturday. Building on the momentum of Friday's dramatic 12th inning victory, the Angels have put together a little three game road win streak after dropping their last six away from Anaheim.

The move ensures that the Angels will leave Chicago with at least a piece of first place. The Angels hold a 1 1/2 game lead over Oakland with the A's taking on Texas in Arlington tonight. Tomorrow it will be John Lackey against the White Sox's Orlando Hernandez. It will be tough for the Angels to sweep the Sox but if they can do it then it sends a strong message should the Angels see Chicago in the post-season.

The Angels will now enter the final 21 games of the season where the schedule clearly favors them over Oakland. After finishing the current road trip with three games against Seattle, the Halos open their final homestand of the season with four games against the stumbling Tigers and three against the Rangers. The Angels finish the home set with a three game series against the Devil Rays where the Angels will no doubt look to repay them for the sweep the D-Rays dropped on the Angels in St. Pete.

Then the real fun begins, four games on the road in Oakland that could very likely decide the season followed by a three-game series in Texas to close out the 2005 campaign.

But what about the Athletics schedule you ask? Well the A's will finish their series with the Rangers tomorrow and then head straight to Cleveland for four games starting Monday night against the red-hot Tribe. Cleveland leads the wild-card and no doubt both teams will look at this as a 'playoff atmosphere' match-up. After finishing with the Indians on Wednesday the A's go to Boston to open up another four game series against the AL East leading Red Sox. They fly cross-country back to Oakland on Sunday the 18th to host the Twins on Monday who still have an outside chance at the AL wildcard. Once the Twins series is over the A's will finally get a day off after enduring 13 straight games. After that they get to warm-up against Texas for three before the Angels come to town for the all-important four games Sept. 26 - 29 before closing out their season with three games in Seattle. That means the Athletics have 14 of their next 18 games against teams fighting for the playoffs. The Angels in contrast have just 5 of their next 18 games against teams with legitimate playoff hopes.

The Angel Bullpen That Coulda Been

Judging from Friday's game, the Angels clearly gave up on pitcher Bobby Jenks ( 3.0 IP, 1 H 0 R 1 BB 5 K) a tad early. I was shocked when they released him last year (ostensibly to make room for Kendry Morales -- surely there was other dead weight that the Angels could have ditched -- like Jarrod Washburn for instance). Of course we have to remember that Jenks was a complete lunatic reminiscent of David Wells in his partying prime. But sometimes a clubhouse needs a crazy guy to act as either comic relief or a lightening rod. Some lunatics are bad (see: Guillen, Jose or Bradley, Milton). Other times they serve an important role (see: Lima, Jose 2004). The Angels thought they were releasing a guy with problems and a stress fracture. Now they know they let a guy go who can throw over a 100 mph with terrific stuff (and also can put away liquor in Mantlesque fashion). Of course, it could all blow-up for Jenks any day but given his low salary the risk is minimal for the White Sox.

So instead of Esteban Yan and Kevin Gregg, the Angels could have a bullpen bolstered by Jenks and Derrick Turnbow (now the Brewers closer with a 6-1 record, 1.70 ERA and 30 saves). It is always easy to Monday-Morning-Quarterback personnel decisions but how Bill Stoneman elected to keep Tim Bittner (released Sept 1) and Wil Nieves (later traded for Bret Prinz -- also released Sept 1). Bottom line is that if the Angels had Jenks and Turnbow in the bullpen they would probably have a 5 game lead over Oakland right now. It's not like the Angels let go of a couple of guys who took another 2 or 3 years to develop. These are guys who were in the majors the very next year and based on their statistics would be the TOP TWO guys in the Angels bullpen right now. Better than K-Rod, better than Shields, and a lot better than Donnelly (sans pine tar) or the other stiffs currently making-up the lower echelon of Halo relievers. Now let me backtrack a bit by saying that both Rodriguez and Shields have been better in prior years than either Jenks or Turnbow. Further, they are having fairly nice years and I do not think the Angels should have sacrificed either of those two to retain Jenks & Turnbow (is it just me or does that sound like a morning radio show? Welcome back to Zoo 100 FM with Hi-Jenks & Turnbow in the Morning!). But it is painfully obvious that the Angels made a couple of sizable mistakes in letting them go. And they made a defacto confession by releasing Bittner and Prinz last week. For that Bill Stoneman will have to be held accountable. Along with the miserable failure of the Steve Finley signing (though Fin has shown signs of life the past couple of games including two hits and an HR today) Stoneman will be taking his lumps if the Angels either fail to make the playoffs or are ousted in the first round again.

Of course, an optimist could look at the situation and say isn't it great how the Halo's are so stocked with talent they can let those two guys walk and still have the most loaded minor league system in baseball? Sorry, I don't buy it. Yes Ervin Santana has been great. Yes, Joe Saunders is giving Angel fans a preview with his impressive outings this season. But the only prospects who really get graded are the ones who come to the majors and if they show up in a uniform other than the Angels, it is a big fat blemish on your resume. Still, it does make me wonder how many players toiling in the Angels farm system could make the jump and be the next Santana, Turnbow or Jenks.

Angels Go 'Major League' to Top ChiSox and Build Momentum

In a play not seen since the movie "Major League", Vlad Guerrero scored in the 12th inning of Friday night's game on a sacrifice bunt in one of the ugliest game-winning-scores in history. The Halos edge the White Sox 6-5 and maintain a full game lead over Oakland. After the game Guerrero found a sign on his locker that said "Willie Mayes Hayes" played. That was the name of the character in Major League played by Wesley Snipes (back when he got sixth billing behind Corbin Bernson and James "Lou Brown" Gammon). In the final scene of that movie a broken-down catcher played by Tom Berenger (back when he got top billing in a flick) was trying to hit Snipe's Willie Mayes Hayes in from second with the game-winning score with two outs. After pointing to centerfield with his bat (ala Babe Ruth), Berenger's character layes down a bunt and beats it out as Hayes rounds third and scores ahead of the throw.

Guerrero's at-bat was nothing out of Hollywood. He hit a towering fly ball to left-center that he (along with just about everyone else) thought was a homerun. Guerrero flipped his bat and watched his fly ball until he realized it was dying in the swirling winds of Chicago and bounced off the face of Minnie Minosa on the left-center field wall. The Halo slugger should have been standing at second by the time the ball was picked up but instead was taking long, furious strides between first and second, trying desperately to make up for lost time. Guerrero slid safely in to second, a split-second ahead of the strong throw from Aaron Rowand. With no outs Scioscia elected to have Bengie Molina bunt Guerrero to third and give Darin Erstad a chance to knock him in. Maybe it was Guerrero trying to atone for his lack of hustle on his almost-homerun. Maybe he was just sick and tired of losing extra inning games (the Angels lead the majors with 10 extra-inning losses). Most likely it was simply his hyper-competitive nature coming out. But whatever it was the sparked Guerrero, I like it. Molina's bunt was picture perfect. The ball died about 10 feet down the third base line and just about any Angel player except B. Molina could have beaten it out. But the sloth-footed Bengie was, not surprisingly thrown out. Guerrero's jump from second was excellent and by the time the bunt was fielded he was already hitting third and not slowing down despite the pleas from third base coach Ron Roenicke. A good throw to home and Guerrero would be toast. But Tadahito Iguchi, who was covering first, threw the ball a bit up the line and forced Sox catcher AJ Pierzynski to lunge towards third and lose his balance. At the same time Guerrero was running on the outside of the baseline and flailing himself at the plate. His fingers touched home and Pierzynski's tag missed sending Guerrero and the Angels into celebration. Frankie Rodriguez closed out the bottom of the 9th with surprisingly little drama and the Angels opened up the series in Chicago with a big win.

Say what you will about statistics and on-base percentage. But when you are down to the final three weeks of the season with a slim one-game lead, you need something extra. Guerrero almost quashed any hope of building on the win in Boston by dogging it on his double. Had he been cut down at second and the Angels lost that game, they would be tied for first with seriously negative vibes. But instead, Guerrero seizes his opportunity and the Angels grab the elusive magic elixer of pennant races: momentum. Speaking of momentum, the Angels lead the White Sox today 10 - 4 in the top of the 8th inning. Tonight the A's can do some scoreboard watching down at the Ballpark in Arlington and know the pressure is on them to just keep pace.

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