By Mark W. Bender - AngelsWin.com Columnist
The 2008 LA Angels were a special team during the regular season. They had the contribution of every team member’s efforts when it counted. Early in the season, the hitters kept the team in contention, during the middle part of the season, the pitching staff kept the team in the games, and towards the end of the season, both the offense and the pitching staff kept the team in the games.
The Angels were in many ways fortunate to be able to clinch the American League West Division on September 10th. But sometimes when you do the “best thing”, you end up with results that you don’t expect. Clinching early allowed the Angels to rest their key players, and give Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and others a chance to get ready for the upcoming playoffs.
Sometimes accomplishing the goal of winning your division early can backfire. By not being in that “must win” mode, when it does come time to start the playoffs, you can’t get that “must win mentality” going quick enough, and by the time it kicks in, your team is already out of the playoffs. That’s exactly what happened to the Angels in 2008. Even though a team that clinches early can rest its players, it also loses the momentum you build when the team is trying to earn a playoff spot.
The Chicago Cubs and LA Angels both had the chance to clinch their division early, and we all know the results of that. Last year the Colorado Rockies came into the playoffs with momentum. This year, the Boston Red Sox and LA Dodgers are the teams with momentum still in the playoffs.
Many times during the 2008 season, the Angels were able to execute the game plan and win the close games. Frankie Rodriguez played a vital role in many of those victories. Yet when it came time for the playoffs, the Angels weren’t able to execute their game plan, and they yet again struggled against the Red Sox.
The Angels are known as a team that can execute when called upon. Their entire season rode upon a suicide squeeze play that Erick Aybar couldn’t accomplish. There is a saying in baseball that “You live and die by the squeeze play”. Unfortunately the Angels season died when Aybar didn’t execute when he was called upon to bunt. If Aybar executes, the Angels might have won game 4. This could have completely turned momentum around, and won game 5 in Anaheim, and made Mike Scioscia look like a hero instead of a scapegoat.
For the Angels that one play crushed their entire season. So close, yet so far!
This article was orginally published on BleacherReport.com and can be found at the LA Angels Bleacher Report Community page.