Monday, October 31, 2005

Emerging From My Post-Season of Discontent

As everyone knows, baseball season is over. I could not muster the strength to comment on the Angels exodus at the hands of the newly crowned World Champion White Sox. The blown calls, the offensive slumber of the Halos (or if you prefer, the dominant pitching of the Sox). Without going into anymore detail, suffice it to say the Angels finished right where they should have: second-place in the AL and likely, as the second-best team in the Majors.

But now comes the fun part, the giddy anticipation of fans as they play pseudo-GM and prognosticate on what they think should be done to push their team over the hump. For some teams like Kansas City it usually begins with something like "first you blow-up the current team..." Fortunately for Halo fans they are tantalizingly close. What would have happened had Bartolo Colon and Dallas McPherson both stayed healthy and been able to play to their awesome potential through October? What if the Steve Finley acquisition had not been a colossal failure? These little set-backs are part-and-parcel with the game of baseball and it is the deep teams, that can draw on a prospect or grizzled veteran to fill the shoes of an injured teammate, that makes all the difference in the world. It is also why keeping Troy Glaus would have been an awfully shrewd move. So now we look ahead because one thing is certain, there will be new names on the roster next spring and Angel fans will likely bid adieu to others.

Jarrod Washburn, Paul Byrd, Bengie Molina and Tim Salmon are all free-agents. The Angels have stated a desire to re-sign Molina but with two high-level pitching prospects they are reluctant to overspend (no matter if Molina is well worth it or not) or commit themselves to anything longer than a three year deal. It would be prudent for the Angels to ink Bengie to a three-year contract (or two year with an option if they can manage it). The leverage on their side has been Molina's lack of power and his frequent visits to the disabled list. Plus there is a comfort-level for Molina to play with his brother and within the friendly confines of Angel Stadium. As for the Angels, if they opt to go elsewhere for their primary catching duties they could simply promote their other Molina, Jose, and/or hope that either Jeff Mathis or Mike Napoli can make a run for the job in Spring Training. Had Molina been clubbing 25 - 30 HR's a year with limited time on the DL he could command a hefty wage in 2006 but this might be a case where both Molina and the Angels enter into a contract-of-convenience to their mutual benefit. Molina can prove himself durable and likely increase his offensive abilities (which continue to steadily improve) while the Angels can bridge the time between the Molina era and the next-in-line-to-catch era.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Champions Are Made of This

The Angels got hosed in game 2. Terrible call that the Chicago White Sox (and you have to give them all the credit in the world for this) took advantage of. Tip of the halo to the South Siders. As much as the Angels and their fans may want to lay the blame for the game 2 loss on the umpire, you have to keep in mind a couple of things. (1) WWMHD -- What Would Molina Have Done? Had Mike Scioscia had either Molina brother behind the plate instead of Paul during game 2 they would have, in all likelihood, slapped Pierzynski with their glove just for good measure at the end of the inning. Paul made a rookie mistake that I guarantee you he will never make again (at least for the Angels though I doubt, barring injury, we will see much of Mr. Paul the rest of this post-season). So blame Paul or blame Scioscia for not having another catcher in there. (2) This was a 1-1 game in the 9th, the Angels should have been able to generate another run earlier in the game. The only thing that is keeping Angel fans from cringing at the Halo offense is that Chicago looks worse. At least Scioscia seems to be making all the right calls in terms of stolen bases, pitch-outs, etc. Guillen is just getting shown-up to this point.

But this is where the Champs are separated from the chumps. Losers cry about how unfair the game is, winners quietly and decisively go about their business. In my estimation a Mike Scioscia led team has already put game 2 behind them (at least as much as the media will allow them to) and have their energies focused on game 3 in Anaheim Friday night. The stage is set for the Angels to have a "statement" game. They are facing a pitcher they dominated in the regular season (2-0 vs. Jon Garland while hitting a robust .358 against him with 2 HR and 10 ER in 13 innings pitched) and should have a little more grit to their game after getting held to just one run by Mark Buehrle. The crowd will be loud at Angel Stadium, thunder sticks ablazing and beach balls flying. A 2-0 lead coming home would have been great, but the Angels have now taken over home field advantage and could close things out at home with a three-game sweep. I would settle for 2 out of three with a Garland/Lackey re-match in the works for a potential game 7 in Chicago. The last time Lackey pitched a game 7 the Angels became World Champions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wood Hits 4 HR's in Fall League Game

The Arizona Republic reported today that Angels shortstop prospect Brandon Wood clubbed four dingers in a single game yesterday, leading Surprise to a 20-1 victory over Grand Canyon. Wood now has 7 HR's in just 5 fall games.

From Baseball America
, Wood was also named to the 2005 Minor League All-Star Team after posting 101 exra-base hits this year. Also named to the team was Halo second-base prospect Howie Kendrick who hit .367 at Rancho Cucamonga while also posting an impressive .617 slugging percentage. That is an amazing middle infield combination for Angel fans to look forward to. If these two prospects were to continue to develop and perform at that high of a level the Angels could become a serious power-hitting team by 2007 or 2008.

It is good to be an Angel fan...

ESPN: Colon off ALCS Roster

According to ESPN, the Angels have left pitcher Bartolo Colon off the ALCS roster meaning the team can not play their ace at any time in the series. Colon left the game yesterday with what the Angels described as an "inflamed shoulder".

Given that Colon was 0-1 and they still ousted the Yankees, this should not be a devastating blow. While I would certainly prefer a healthy Bartolo Colon, young Ervin Santana has proven he can pitch in the post-season. Another option is to move Kelvim Escobar back to the starting rotation and shift Santana to the bullpen but this is unlikely given the Angels finished the season with Santana as the starter and Escobar in the pen to great effect.

Probable Pitchers

Tonight: Paul Byrd vs. Jose Contreras
Game 2: Jarrod Washburn vs. Mark Buehrle
Game 3: John Lackey vs. Jon Garland
Game 4: Ervin Santana vs. Freddy Garcia
Game 5: Byrd vs. Contreras
Game 6: Washburn vs. Buehrle
Game 7: Lackey vs. Garland

Obviously, this is speculation at this point though Chicago's rotation is rested and appears to be fairly set.

Looks like ESPN.com readers are rooting for and picking the White Sox to win this series (42.6% are currently saying the Sox will win the series 4-2). Not surprisingly they give the starting pitching advantage to the healthy Sox but they say the Angels have a better bullpen, closer, line-up and manager but will still lose the series. The voters give a slight edge (54.1% to 45.9% to the Sox as the better defense which I would argue). I know good pitching beats good hitting but this poll defies logic.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Angels Will Need to Juggle Rotation for ALCS

The Angels starting rotation is in tatters with Colon leaving his start tonight with a shoulder injury and Jarrod Washburn suffering from menstrual cramps. That leaves the Angels with, essentially, a three-man rotation of Paul Byrd, John Lackey and Ervin Santana. If needed, Kelvim Escobar could be available to start a game as well. The Angels will likely rely on Byrd to open the series against Jose Contreras tomorrow night. In two previous starts against the Halos Contreras is 0-1 with a 3.46 ERA. Byrd faced the Chi Sox once this year and was victorious despite giving up 5 runs in 6 innings for a 7.50 ERA. While Contreras has been red-hot to end the regular season and against the Bo Sox in the Divisional Series, Byrd has struggled giving up 4, 4, 5 and 5 runs in his past four starts respectively. Byrd's last 'quality' start was on September 18th when he pitched 6.2 innings, giving up 7 hits but just 1 run.

On paper the White Sox, who are rested and ready to face a jet-lagged Angels squad, appear to have a clear advantage in game one. The Angels will rely on guile, adrenaline and probably a case of Red Bull to pull themselves together for tomorrow night's game. I am not optimistic for the Halos to win game one but if they can pull out a victory in game two they will be well positioned. The Angels game two starter is a big mystery at this point. It could be the aforementioned Washburn but do not be surprised to see Escobar or even Scot Shields make a spot start if needed. The Angels will get a day off after game two and will then host the Sox in Anaheim for the next two games and a third if necessary. Lackey will start game 3 and if the Angels can get Colon back for game 4 and Santana for game 5 they will have a good chance to put the Sox on their heels. If the series goes back to Chicago Scioscia will likely try to have Lackey and either Colon or Santana available for those last two games.

Halos Advance to ALCS

The Angels dispatched the New York Yankees 5-3 on Monday night to win the Divisional Series 3 games to 2 and advance to the American League Championship Series. It was a strange game that saw Angel starter Bartolo Colon leave in the 2nd inning with a shoulder injury and rookie Ervin Santana step-up to pitch 5 1/3 innings of 2-run ball to earn his first post-season victory.

Colon did not look that bad, despite what Fox announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver thought. He was definitely trying to 'pitch' rather than overpower hitters but was not getting the called strikes he would have needed to be successful. So the Angels did the prudent thing and pulled Colon in favor of the rookie who beared a strong resemblence to a 2002 rookie by the name of Frankie Rodriguez who went a long way towards eliminating the Yankees that year. By now the Yankees and their obnoxious fan base have got to really be sick of Angel rookies.

The New Yorkers have a pretty good rookie themselves in second baseman Robinson Cano but he made a critical baserunning mistake in the fifth inning to snuff a Yankee rally. After beaning A-Rod, Santana walked Giambi and faced runners at first and second with no-one out. The moronic duo of Buck & McCarver were both "stunned" that the Angels were not getting someone warmed up in the bullpen. Surely had Rodriguez and Giambi advanced to third and second the bullpen would have swung into action but credit Scioscia for knowing that constantly warming-up pitchers can put as much stress on them as actually entering a game. The Angels now have both Scot Shields and Brendan Donnelly rested and ready for game one of the ALCS and with Paul Byrd likely to start, I can guarantee you they will both likley see action on Tuesday night. But back to tonight's game....Santana bounced back in the fifth by getting Sheffield and Matsui to pop-up which brought the rookie Cano up with two on and two out. Santana struck him out but the final strike was in the dirt and Molina appeared to throw the ball away down the first base line. That would have brought up Bernie Williams with the bases loaded but Cano was called out for not running within the first-base lines and therefore interfering with Molina's throw down to Erstad. At first glance this looked like a generous call for the Angels but upon further review Cano was clearly outside the lines while scampering down to first. Erstad had set-up on the inside of the first base bag while Molina threw to the opposite side. Had Cano run within the base lines then Erstad likely can make the play therefore the call by the umpire was spot-on.

Randy Johnson rebounded from his lousy game 3 performance with 4.1 innings of scoreless relief but by then the damage had already been done. The Halo hitters got to Yankee starter Mike Mussina for three runs in the second and two more in the third. Trailing 2-0, the Angels got on the board with a Garrett Anderson solo home-run to right field. After Bengie Molina and Darin Erstad reached base, Adam Kennedy skied a fly ball to deep right-center where Bubba Crosby and Sheffield collided on the warning track. The ball seemed to bounce off of Sheffield's glove and both Erstad and Molina scored with Kennedy winding-up on third with a triple.

Game Notes

* The Yankees out-hit the Angels 11-9 but were outscored 5-3.
* Four Yankee hitters accounted for all eleven of their hits (Jeter - 3, Giambi - 3, Sheffield - 3, Crosby - 2).
* It has been 10 years since the Angels infamous 1995 collapse which was culminated with a loss in a one-game playoff to Seattle. The starting pitcher for the Mariners in that game was Randy Johnson. Tonight we finally got some revenge on Johnson. One more name to scratch off our list.

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