Monday, October 8, 2007

By Sean Scanlon - Columnist

It’s hard to imagine that a season that had so much potential, great memories, can end with such a resounding thud, as if the Angels and their fans were given a collective gut punch after eating a heavy meal and downing a 6 pack of beer. I imagine this is how it feels to get home early from work, walk in, and find your significant other diddling Frank Caliendo on your bed while screaming out…never better. And just a side note...I will never...ever watch Frank Caliendo or whatever the hell is name is...the upshot to the early exit (and the fact I won't watch much of the NL playoffs) more Frank TV commercials. Seriously TBS...we get it...some fat guy who does impressions has a new tv show coming up.

Well, I imagine this is how some feel, because to be honest I’m not shell shocked, this wasn’t a series the Angels deserved to win. They were outplayed by a better team. There was no Fenway mystique, no boneheaded fielding error, or late inning dinger to grasp victory away from the Halos (see Bill Simmons re: Levels of Losing). And in part I think that makes it a little easier for me to swallow.

Without going in to did the Angels have the right roster, or how the team is constructed (there’s plenty of time for that to analyze over the off-season), I’d like to take a moment to review why the Angels lost and all the various message board geniuses who suddenly crawl back out of the woodwork proclaiming…"I hate to say I told you so…but see…I told you so." And the reality is most of those “I told you so” moments are little more than ignoring the reality of the situation…the better team at this stage in the season won. Boston didn’t win because they had two power bats to the Halos one. They didn’t win because of a deadline deal. They didn’t win because of a curse, or HFA. They won because at this stage, this moment in time, they were a better team and the Angels failed to produce when it mattered most.

So, without further ado…let’s dissect the prevailing wisdom on the Boston beatdown.

The Angels Didn’t Care and Are Losers

The less time spent on this incredibly ignorant theory the better. A team doesn’t win 94 games, play through significant injuries and juggled lineups, and suddenly not care come October. If anything the Angels put too much pressure on themselves as their complete inability to hit with RISP showed. This is lame and really doesn’t deserve more time; but I wanted to give a special shout out to the stupidity that is this theory and the tough guys sitting on their couches who can call other people losers while reaching for another bag of Doritos.

Scoscia Is An Idiot For Not Fighting For HFA

Would HFA been nice? Absolutely, though I think the reality is it didn’t make much difference. To win in the postseason the Angels were going to have to play well on the road, and at home. They were most likely going to have to beat Boston, if not in the first round, then the second round. Hell, the biggest beat down of the series came during their only home game. Some fans like to talk about the Fenway curse…as if somehow a team in 2007 had nightmares about a series in 1986 (when most of these guys weren’t even teenagers and probably knew less about the 86 series than the casual Angel’s fan).

The Angels had been hit with injuries all year, and key guys going in to the final week were obviously dinged up. I believe you had to rest up guys like Vlad, GA, and OC to try and get them healthy. And while I don’t believe the Angels lost this series due to injury, the fact is having so many folks dinged up as it was didn’t help. Maybe opening at home against the Yankees is a completely different postseason, but you have to win the games that are scheduled and I find it hard to fault Scioscia for trying to rest up his guys. If they Angels pushed for HFA and Vlad went down, everyone would be crying what an idiot Scioscia was for trying for HFA when Vlad needed rest.

The Angels Lost Due to Injuries

A favorite of the botox laden Steve Stone, though I don’t think this had a huge impact either. After a 162 game season every team is dinged up. Did it help having Vlad injured, GMJ out, GA looking like the villain in a bad Stephan King made for TV movie, Escobar coming off late season shoulder problems? Of course not, but this isn’t like 2004 where Alfredo Amazega and Adam Riggs were on the playoff roster. The Angels did a marvelous job playing through injuries throughout the year, but the reality is they had most of their horses, if not at 100%, when it mattered.

Angel Pitching Didn’t Show Up

I actually haven’t read many people bring this up, and I think that’s appropriate. The Angel pitching wasn’t stellar, but against a very tough Boston lineup they kept the team in every ballgame (sans late yesterday after the game was pretty much over). This doesn’t go for Frankie who the Angels need to think long and hard about come extension discussions.

The Angels Aren’t Built For The Playoffs

And by that I mean the “chicks dig the long ball mentality”, Angels need more power bats mentality. I’ll spend more time on this in another posting later, but the long and short of it is…the Angels were 4th in the league in runs scored this year. This team knew how to score runs and did it on a regular basis throughout the year. Could the Angels have used another power bat in the playoffs? Probably. Is that the reason they lost? No. The Angels had a very productive offense this year based on an aggressive approach at the plate, putting the ball in play, speed on the bases, and most importantly…hitting with runners on base. They never relied on the home run to win this year and showed they could do it on a regular basis (94 times to be exact). It’s easy to point to the lack of home run power, but the reality is the Angels did not lose because they couldn’t out mash Boston…but rather….

The Angels Choked the Sawdust Out of the Bats

This year the Angels hit .284 for the season, they had an OBP of .345…and they hit .284 with RISP, .301 with an OPS of .803 with runners on base.

During the postseason debacle they hit a collective .192, they had an OBP of .250…and they went 2 for 9,234 with runners on base. Ok, the reality is they hit .116 with runners on base and .091 with runners in scoring position, going a collective 2 for 22.

Why did the Angels lose? Look no further. The Angels had their opportunities and didn’t come through when it mattered, bats turning to sawdust as they expanded the strike zone and failed to produce in situations they had produced all year. Sac Flys became pop-ups, grounds balls through the hole became double plays. Line drives down the line landed softly in OF’ers gloves.

Let’s look at some specific scenarios.

In Game #1…well, Beckett was simply masterful and no team was going to hit Josh. But even then the Angels set the tone for the series in the first inning with Figgins leading off with a hit and then being left on both second and third by Vlad and GA. Would pushing across a run have made a difference at that point? I tend to doubt it, but who knows; maybe it sets a different tone for the game.

But more importantly let’s look at crucial game #2. The Angels had Dice-K on the ropes numerous times, including the first inning, and continuously failed to produce. Sure, Manny hit the dramatic game winning home run, but the Angels never should have been in that situation.

1st inning - Maicier failed to deliver with first and third and 2 outs

2nd inning – Angels score 3, but Vlad leaves OC on second with 2 outs

3rd inning – GA leads off with a double, commits a cardinal running sin trying to advance to 3rd on a ball hit in front of him and both Kotch and Morales fail to drive in Itzuris from second

4th inning – OC leaves Howie at second with 2 outs

5th inning – Morales leaves Itzuris on 3rd with 2 outs

8th inning – Figgins leaves runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs

6 innings where the Angels had the chance to push runs across and failed.

That’s where the Angels lost game #2, and it had nothing to do with lack of power. The opportunities the Angels created all year were there, and they didn’t deliver.

Now, let’s move on to Game #3, where the Angels were knocking Schilling around early and yet had nothing to show for it.

The third inning was key to this game. The Angels are able to load the bases and are poised to take an early important lead. The crowd was in to this game, Weaver was mowing people down. Scoring two here potentially redefines the whole series…and Reggie meekly pops out to the catcher.

The seventh inning is just another expose in failure to produce. With the game still 2-0 and the Halos in striking distance Itzuris gets to 3rd with 1 out…and a pop up to first and strikeout later the Angels are pretty much done.

So, Sum It Up Already Red

A lot went wrong in this series, and there is plenty of blame to go around. But sometimes it simply comes down to the players producing when they need to produce. All these theories about HFA, not being built for the postseason, the players have no heart…nothing more than chaff. Boston did what they needed to do, they got timely hits (of the long and short variety), their ace stepped up when he needed to, and they played solid baseball. The Angels didn’t. They had plenty of opportunities to win this series, regardless of not having HFA, players being dinged up, no power, etc…and simply failed to produce when it matters. 1-2 key hits and game #2 is a different story. If they strike versus Schilling early, game #3 plays out differently, and hell…if they push across an early run vs. Beckett who knows what happens (though I think he still shuts down the Halos).

So, what does that mean for moving forward? Does this mean the Angels need to take a look at how the club is built? Does this mean an overhaul is required? Go big in the offseason? Are they suddenly the Braves? Stoneman fired? Well…it’s a long offseason and there’s plenty of time to get to that.

And finally, it ended with a thud, but thanks to the Angels for a thrilling season. The fact that people can get so upset about an early playoff bounce shows just how far this organization has come, where simply competing is no longer enough and expectations are much higher. And maybe that, more than anything, tells you that even after this trouncing it’s a great time to be a Halo fan.

Love to hear what you think!


Bryan said...

That was one of the most well written articles I've ever read and I agree with every word.

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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