Sunday, July 20, 2008

By Victor Varadi - Columnist

This Week in Angels Baseball

Overall Record: 60-38
Games Ahead: 9
Week Record: 3-0

Week in Review: The week began by finishing off the first half of the season. The Angels sent Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Francisco Rodriguez to the All Star Game. The Red Sox sent half their squad to an All Star Game that has long since been nothing more than a popularity contest. The Angels got some of their best players off their feet and it showed as the break ended and John Lackey took the mound for the start of the 2nd half. Lackey wobbled early against the Red Sox, giving up 2 quick runs after the Angels staked him to a 1st inning 3-run lead. Then Manny Ramirez catapulted a home run over the big wall in right-center field. But big John bounced back and struck out the next 2 batters, getting his 1,000th career strikeout in the process, and cruised through 3 more innings. John’s final line: 7 innings, 6 k’s, 3 earned runs.

Joe Saunders came into the 2nd half after what must have been one of the craziest weeks of his life. First, Saunders became a father for the first time. Then he went to New York and was the 2nd pitcher called on for the American League All Star team. A few days later Slo-Joe showed why he was an All-star, stymieing the Red Sox through 6 and 2/3 innings. He didn’t get the win, but the team eventually did. Saunders allowed 2 runs on 6 hits in the no-decision. Jon Garland was not an All-Star but he sure pitched like one in game 3 against the Red Sox. He didn’t get the win either, but Jon Garland almost went 7 innings, allowing just 2 earned runs while striking out 6.

Honorable Mention: Francisco Rodriguez. As the fastest pitcher to 40 saves in baseball history, and likely the new record holder for most saves in a season, it is going to be a shame to watch this guy pitching for another team next year; but that is likely the case. Franky had 2 saves in the 3 game sweep. With each save that he notches the price tag on his new contract rises, and the likelihood of the Angels being a strong suitor becomes even more remote.

All the press talked about this weekend was how good the Angels would be if they could just hit. Well, how about 20 runs in 3 games? The best part about the Angels offense this weekend was how opportunistic it was. In Saturday’s game with the bases loaded and down a run in the 7th inning, Erick Aybar pinch hit for Jeff Mathis with one out and hit a bases clearing triple off of Josh Beckett to give the Angels a lead they would not relinquish. In Sunday’s game, Casey Kotchman came to the plate in the 8th inning of a tie game and runners on 1st and 2nd. With the prospect of hitting into a double play weighing heavily on his mind, Kotch went up there with the sole intent of not hitting “the top half of the baseball.” Kotchman instead cleared the bases with a double down the right field line.

The Bottom Line: The Angels might publicly say that beating the Red Sox in July doesn’t meant anything, but it is clear that there was a meaningfulness to the way the team played this past weekend. It was similar to the swagger the team carried into an early season series at Fenway where they took 2 of 3. Say what they want, but it was important to show the Sox they could be beaten by this team. And they weren’t just beaten this time, they were trashed.

The Week Ahead: The Angels ride a 5 game winning streak while welcoming the struggling, but still dangerous. Cleveland Indians. Then the team takes its major league best road record to Baltimore for 3 games. The tam will try not to look ahead to the following week where a 3 game series in Boston, with David Ortiz back in the lineup, will take on some serious meaning. The Sox will want to show that their early season struggles against the Angels were nothing more than an aberration.
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