Monday, October 1, 2007

The Angels need to play their 'A' game

By Coral Rae – Angelswin.com Columnist
Coral Rae
October 1st, 2007

The Angels finally clinched the American League West at home, a feat that they haven’t accomplished since the American League’s ill-fated 1986 season, you all remember the Donnie Moore drama vs. the Red Sox, only to watch Bill Buckner & the Red Sox hopes dribble right between his legs, handing the Mets the championship.

This season, the West was won by 6 games this season. Despite the fact that the Angels were the early favorites to take the division, surprising to many that the Mariners were more than competitive for the majority of the season and the A’s tanked, ending the season 18 games behind the Halos when some picked them to finish 1st in the AL West.

Be that as it may, the American League West was nowhere near as difficult a division as the American League Central and specifically the AL East were two of the strongest teams playing in October will stand in the Angels way of another visit to the promise land.

Since the Angels are bound to play the best of the AL East first in the five game division series, there are a few keys to success that should the Angels (complete) them, will almost certainly guarantee a ticket into the highly competitive seven game American League Championship Series.

1.) The Angels have two aces in Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey. These two men will most certainly be able to keep the Red Sox high octane (especially now that Manny Ramirez is back) offense to a minimal number of runs. The key here is that if the Red Sox start getting men on base, these aces need to keep their cool and maintain the passion that makes them the superstars that they are under control in an effort to keep the Angels in the game.

Perhaps the best example of this is John Lackey’s last start at Fenway (where he admittedly hates pitching). Lackey gave up seven runs in the first few innings (awful for someone who finished the season with a league leading 3.01 ERA). Despite this he pitched for five innings, allowing the relievers to get a few innings of reset, and therein keeping his team in the game. These guys are going to face one of the AL’s best in Josh Beckett. Every run not given up is going to count, which means that Escobar and Lackey, especially the latter, cannot get overly frustrated with men on base.

2.) Vladimir Guerrero is arguably the best ‘bad ball’ hitter of all time, meaning he will swing at just about anything, on any count. The rest of the offense however, has a tendency to watch first pitch strikes. It is stupid to let pitchers like Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Schilling to get ahead in the count. This is not to imply that patient hitters that draw walks consistently such as Reggie Willits, Mike Napoli or Casey Kotchman should completely change their approach at the plate, but rather the “power hitters” that the Angels do have need to look for their pitch and swing. The Red Sox staff will not be expecting them to swing away, and as mentioned above, every run, and therein every hit, is going to matter in this series.

3.) Chone Figgins, Reggie Willits and Orlando Cabrera need to continue to get on base, cause havoc for the Boston hurlers and create run scoring situations for the middle of the order bats. The Red Sox all but embody what it means to be clutch, if a man gets on base, they will most likely, be batted in as the team had a collective 829 RBIs. Therein our table setters (some of the best in the business) must get on base so that the Angels (not so stereotypical) three, four, and five guys can get them in.

The Angels led the league in runners going from first to third on base hits, and they must continue to execute these little things (especially at the top of the order) so that the “big bats” can get them in (was 4th in the AL in runs scored).

4.) Defense is going to be KEY! The Red Sox are a hard-hitting team, and any man in their line up can change the game with the swing of the bat. That means that if the (should be) gold glove winner Orlando Cabrera or any of his infield counterparts can make the routine plays they Angels will then avoid any potential big innings. Orlando has been superb this season and has proven to be clutch in the postseason, but we need Gary Matthews Jr. healthy for his defense in centerfield to strengthen our D up the middle.

All of the Halos are solid defensively and it will be of the utmost importance for them to continue what they began in the regular season. Perhaps the most important position in this case is our 2 young catchers. With our hurlers who can get wild such as Lackey’s curve in the dirt & K-Rod’s slider off the plate, if Napoli and Mathis (more specifically Mathis) do not continue to block the plate as well as they have all season, the Angels demise will be what should have be their greatest asset all along with their solid pitching and defense. A wild pitch, especially in the latter innings, could provide just the momentum shift the Red Sox would need.

5.) Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez CAN NOT allow the number of runs they did over this past season. Frankie and Shields have given up a combined 54 runs. That is simply not acceptable for two men who are supposed to be baseball’s best eighth and ninth inning combo. A closer of Frankie’s caliber should not have wins; Frankie has five, the most since he became the full time closer. His ERA is also the highest since then, at 2.81.

If Frankie and Shields begin giving up runs late in the game, it could be the kiss of death for the Halos, especially in facing Papelbon and Okajima who have been the best 1-2 punch in Baseball this season late in the game.

Should the Angels complete these five simple tasks, there should be no question which team moves on to the American League Championship Series. When you think of the Halos you think of good pitching, defense, frenzy hitting & burning rubber on the base paths. If these Halos show up, good night Boston, the Angels will take the ALDS with ease.

Gm 1 LAA @ BOS Wed Oct. 3 - 6:30 pm TBS
Gm 2 LAA @ BOS Fri Oct. 5 - 8:30 pm TBS
Gm 3 BOS @ LAA Sun Oct. 7 - 3 pm TBS
Gm 4* BOS @ LAA Mon Oct. 8 - 9:30 pm TBS
Gm 5* LAA @ BOS Wed Oct. 10 - 8:30 pm TBS

Love to hear what you think!

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