Tuesday, October 7, 2008

By Bruce Nye - Angelswin.com Columnist

With all Angels fans suffering the pain and agony of being eliminated by the Boston Red Sox again in the 1st round of the post season it’s important to not forget what was a terrific regular season replete with new personal records and outstanding team performances.

Myth Buster
It’s been said that the Angels 100 win 2008 record (a season best for the team) was accomplished, in part due to the weak AL West in which the 2nd place team, the Texas Rangers finishing 21 games behind. A look inside the numbers tells a different story. To win 100 games in a 162 game season, a team must have an average win percentage of .617. The Angels record against the AL East was 30-16, a .652 average and against the AL Central, the Angels record was 24-17 for a .585 average. So against the non-AL West opponents in the American League, the Angels win percentage was .621.

New Kids On The Block
The 2008 season was not made excellent with just veteran players with multiple years experience in the Major Leagues. The bullpen was bolstered by newcomer Jose Arredondo, who could find himself in the closer role in 2009. Arredondo finished the year as a set-up man and registered 10 wins and a 1.62 ERA. Two other newcomers, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepson contributed down the stretch, with Jepson making the post season roster.

Due to nagging injuries, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez and Kendry Morales had meaningful playing time. And 2007 part-timers Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis made critical contributions. The 2009 season will no doubt include significant playing time for this talented group of youngsters.

Behind The Dish
The 2008 season saw Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli sharing time, but down the stretch, Napoli emerged as the go-to guy. Napoli had 20 home runs for the year finishing only behind Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter.

On The Bump
The Angels ace, was nagged by injuries until early summer and had 12 wins and was once again a dominate pitcher. But the biggest surprise was the emergence of Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana. Both were fighting for a spot on the roster in spring training and ended up as the No. 2 and 3 starters. Saunders racked up 17 wins and Santana won 16, pitching 211 innings and had more than 200 strike outs. Rounding out the starting staff were Jeff Weaver and Jon Garland who also had double-digits in wins resulting the starting staff each winning more than 12 games in 2008.

And of course, much has been written about Frankie Rodriguez garnering 62 saves (a new major league record). It is hard to imagine any closer besting this record. To achieve these kinds of numbers, a closer must be on a team that wins a lot of games, has a lot of close games and be a dominant closer. Frankie may be gone after this year, but his record will be remembered.

The Offensive Angels
After getting off to a slow start from a hitting standpoint, the Angels offense gathered momentum in July and soon the numbers starting improving dramatically. Torii Hunter was terrific – precisely what the Angels hoped they were getting when they signed him to a new five-year free agent contract last winter. Vlad had 27 home runs and joined Lou Gehrig as the only major league player with 11 consecutive years of hitting .300 and more than 25 home runs. The mid-season trade for Mark Teixeira paid dividends from the first game he played. Teixeira brought a style of patience and the much-needed big bat to the middle of the line up. Garret Anderson, as he usually does caught fire down the stretch and ended the year hitting .293 and had some fine moments including playing in his 2,300th game and scoring 1,000 runs in his long career.

Health concerns continued to be a nagging issue for the Angels. The infielders, Chone Figgins, Aybar, Izturis and Howie Kendrick seemed to be haunted by pulled hamstrings and in the case of Izturis, a broken thumb. The hope for 2009 is to keep these valuable players healthy.

No i In Team
Without a doubt, the story behind the 2008 Angels was consistency. Late in the season they racked up an impressive stat: they had not lost a series to an American League dating back to June 2008. It wasn’t until losing 2 of 3 games against the Rays in mid-August that this impressive streak ended.

Along the way, the 2008 the Angels swept the Red Sox twice winning 8 of the 9 games they played. They also had a sweep over the Yankees.

Another measure of consistency was their road record. The 2008 Angels won 50 games at home and 50 games on the road. They finished with the best record in baseball and were often rated the No.1 team in baseball by the various sports rating agencies.

To be sure, the season ended on a sour note, but the six-month ride prior to the post season brought many smiles to faces of Angels’ fans. For a team that was once described as mediocre, the climb to excellence during the past several years has been a steady one. But with excellence, comes higher expectations. Even though those expectations were not realized, this 2008 Angels team has plenty to be proud about during the regular season.
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