Friday, May 16, 2008

Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, left, talks with Los Angeles Dodgers
manger Joe Torre before a spring baseball game in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Angels Look to Continue Dominance over Dodgers
By Adam Dodge - Senior Writer

As the Angels and Dodgers get set to do battle this weekend in interleague play the local radio stations, sports broadcasters and writers will try and sell the series as a “cross-town battle” or a “bitter rivalry.”

What rivalry?

A battle between rivals has traditionally included a level of competitiveness, something that has been missing between the Angels and Dodgers since interleague play began in 1997.

The Angels hold a 35-27 edge in the all-time series and have lost the season series to the Dodgers just once in the eight years that Mike Scioscia has managed the club.

In 2007 the Angels outscored the Dodgers 34-10, taking five of the six games.

Head to head the Angels have reigned supreme. They also hold the edge in overall success. The Angels won the World Series in 2002, Division championships in 2004, 2005 and 2007, and lead the AL West heading into tonight’s game. Conversely, the Dodgers have won just one playoff game since beating the Oakland Athletics in their last World Series twenty years ago, and are currently 4.5 games behind the NL West leading Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Dodgers may still be the more recognizable franchise nationally, and even in Los Angeles, but Arte Moreno has been successful in closing the gap. That the Angels are the “red-headed stepchild” of the Dodgers is an afterthought. Prolonged success on the field, the expansion of television and radio coverage, and Moreno’s ability to enhance the fan experience at Angel Stadium into one of the very best in all of sports have allowed the Angel franchise to amplify its identity geographically and in the world of baseball.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers seem to be headed in the opposite direction. Sure, they are a second place team and definitely in the “hunt” but there is reason for concern – primarily, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who look to be much better equipped to the win the National League West, especially in the starting rotation. And one can only scratch his head when trying to figure out the thought process behind the Dodgers’ recent free agent acquisitions executed by General Manager Ned Colletti.

After signing the slap hitting, impatient at the plate, poor defensive outfielder Juan Pierre and often injured Jason Schmidt to high dollar, multi-year contracts a season ago, Colletti trumped himself when he gave former Braves outfielder Andruw Jones $36 million for two years this past off-season. Jones hit just .222 in 2007 and showed a great decline athletically.

Consider that both LA franchises signed free agent centerfielders in the off-season, and you’ll see a metaphor for the direction of the two teams. The Dodgers inked Jones, who has continued his regression, hitting under .200 with just 1 homerun in 2008, while the Angels added former Twins’ All-Star Torii Hunter, a player in his prime and without any of the athletic or attitude concerns of Jones. Hunter is on pace to hit over .290 with 20 homeruns, 40 doubles and 90 RBI and has already shown a flare for the dramatic by hitting a walk-off grand slam against Cleveland a few weeks ago.

It doesn’t take a genius to see which team made the better move. Sadly for the Dodgers, it didn’t take a genius to see it then either.

But Jones and Hunter are each just one man on their respective teams, which will play the first on two three game series’ this weekend.

It seems pointless to make series predictions in May. The Angels, without lead-off man Chone Figgins and hot hitting second baseman Howie Kendrick should still have enough to take two of three.

While the freeway series may be new to Torre, facing the Angels isn’t. The Angels went 61-55 against Torre’s Yankees from 1996-2007 - making them the only AL team with a winning record against him in that span - and also eliminated New York from the first round of the playoffs in 2002 and 2005.

But regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that the Angels are as relevant now as they have ever been, both nationally and in Los Angeles. And the Dodgers? If they’re not careful “blue-headed stepchild” may just make its way into the local sports nomenclature.

Love to hear what you think!


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