Thursday, October 29, 2009

(Getty Images)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

It was with much sadness that I got out the ladder and took down my Angels flag this week. With that act another Angels baseball season ended. No longer would I hear the sweet sound of a bat hitting a ball or the chatter of a game. The darkest part of the year had begun.

But, unlike Matthew Pouliot who blogged after Sunday’s game that the Angels should be embarrassed about their loss to the Yankees, I’m not. I watched this team from the first game of Spring Training until the last out against the Yankees and I’m proud of everything that this team accomplished in 2009.

If ever there was a season where the Angels had every reason not to contend, 2009 was it. Before the season got underway, the team suffered some serious blows. Both Ervin Santana and John Lackey started the season on the disabled list. Kelvim Escobar, whom many had hoped would recover from shoulder surgery, took a turn for the worse and never threw a pitch for us. Scioscia juggled a rotation around Shane Loux and Matt Palmer—both journeymen minor leaguers, and hoped that it would be enough. The highest priced free agent from the offseason had been replaced by a rookie at first base.

And then tragedy struck.

I’ll never forget the morning when I woke up to radio announcing that Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver. I couldn’t believe it. I had just watched him pitch a great game—the kind of game that showed the promise I saw in him as a minor leaguer—and couldn’t believe that he was dead. I stayed glued to to read more about it and commiserate with my online community. I read every article about the accident to learn how such a tragedy could happen.

I went to the first game after Nick’s death. I saw the poise, dignity, and courage in Weaver as he took on Boston—and won. I saw the Angels take 2 out of 3 that weekend against one of our fiercest foes and saw how the Angels family drew close to deal with such a loss.

I was there as we stumbled to a 29-29 record on June 11th. Vlad was on the disabled list. The bullpen couldn’t hold a lead. Kendrick couldn’t figure things out at the plate. Aybar looked lost in the field. Nothing seemed to be working.

But then, something happened. The team started to click. After Scioscia held a closed-door meeting, the team started to win.

Soon, one win became two wins. Two wins became three. And before I knew it, we were in the midst of a 7-game win streak. By the All-Star Break we had improved our record to 49-37. By the end of the season, we finished with a 97-65 record, our 3rd best record overall. From June 11th on, we posted a 654 win percentage—winning percentage higher than the Yankees posted for the entire year.

Over that span, I saw players mature from “possibles” to definite. Aybar became a rock in our infield and made spectacular plays. Morales became a monster at the plate at a fraction of Teixeira’s cost. Kendrick, who had been demoted for struggling so much came back after 3 weeks and hit the cover off the ball. Bulger and Jepsen who were both so fallible at the start of the season became anchors in the pen.

As the season wore on, I was treated to many highlights. My favorite came on August 18th when the Angels fielded its first “Spartan lineup”—a lineup where all 9 players had a batting 300+ batting average. I saw incredible defense, with possible gold gloves earned at 3rd base and center field. I kept score while this team became the first team in major league history to have 11 players drive in 50 or more runs.

At the same time, I saw this team accomplish all of this while still continuing to deal with injuries. This past summer was no picnic. At various points the Angels lost Hunter, Guerrero, and Saunders to the disabled list and still won. They rushed rookies such as Trevor Bell and Sean O’Sullivan up to cover the gaps and still won. The Angels juggled lineups and still won.

As for the post-season, well, I’m proud of what the Angels accomplished. While we didn’t get to the World Series, we got something that I’ve wanted for 23 years—revenge against Boston. Having been at every home playoff game against them, I ached to see an Angels team get past them to atone for 1986. And this year, I finally got my wish. I got to see Boston walk off the field with their heads hung low. I was treated to one of the best games ever played by the Angels in the post season and rejoiced as we swept them.

Matthew Pouliot, you are wrong. The Angels have nothing to be embarrassed about. Sure, they could have played better against the Yankees. And yes, the Angels might have gotten to the World Series this year. They didn’t. But, realistically, they should have lost to the Yankees.

As Torii Hunter wrote in his blog “If I had to point to one thing as the difference (as to why the Angels lost to the Yankees), I'd say maturity. They have a lot of seasoned, smart players.” Well, that maturity comes at a cost—about $4 million per player extra on their starting 25-man roster.

Neither the Angels nor Mike Scioscia have anything to be embarrassed about this post season. If anyone has anything to be embarrassed about, it’s the Yankees. With an almost $100 million payroll advantage and the home field advantage, the fact that we took 2 games from them and were still in Game 6 until the bottom of the 8th inning is embarrassing. The fact that they were so certain that we could still come back to win it that they brought in Rivera to shut us down for the last 2 innings is embarrassing. The fact that we lost the series is not embarrassing.

Here’s the thing Angels fans. If Torii Hunter is right about the maturity factor, consider the following: In 2007, the Angels went 0-3 in the post season. In 2008, the Angels went 1-3 in the post season. In 2009, the Angels went 5-4 in the post season and advanced to ALCS for the first time since 2005. We are maturing as a club and it’s showing in our post season record.

At the same time, remember how much of our talent is home grown. As Abe Flores told us, 53 of the 66 players who were in the Spring Training camp were home grown. As we saw this season with Bell, O’Sullivan, and Wood, the future is there and ready to step up. While there is no doubt that some changes will be made to the club this offseason, the foundation for a stronger, deeper, and better run next year has been laid.

Relax and enjoy the offseason Angels fans. Spring Training 2010 is just 4 months away. But, as you think back on your 2009 Angels, be proud Angels fans.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First off, Congratulations to the New York Yankees.

The Yankees were clearly the better team when both of the AL's best wrapped up the ALCS on Sunday night with the Yankees winning 5-2.

That being said, the Angels didn't exhibited their A game against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, which is unfortunate.

The Angels played pooly on defense which was a strength coming into the series. They ended up losing Game 2 on a throwing error and what could have come of Game 6 without Kendrick's and Kazmir's errors in the bottom of the 8th?

The Angels also had success against southpaws, but were beaten by CC Sabathia twice and Andy Pettitte in Game 6.

The Angels road record was 48-33 during the regular season but they couldn't win one game in New York.
Be that as it may and while it's never fun to get beat in the playoffs, there's too much good to talk about when discussing the Angels 2009 highlights. The way they played their hearts out after the Nick Adenhart tragedy for a teammate they loved. The evolution of a good hitting .300 club that we saw in Cleveland on August 18th. The Joe Saunders vs. Zach Grienke duel. The Angels capturing their third straight AL West Division after stomping on their division rival Texas Rangers' for an 11-0 home victory and of course, the triumph of beating our postseason nemesis -- the Boston Red Sox in sweeping fashion in the ALDS in front of Boston's fans after management had Dave Henderson throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park.

What's not to like about the way the Angels played this year?

Nick Adenhart must be looking down on his fellow teammates with a smile on his face after witnessing their efforts this year.

A big thank you to the editors at USA Today for choosing to represent the Angels in the playoffs on their website. It truly was an amazing experience that we're grateful for. We're equally as grateful for the Los Angeles based NBC News network for having us on their show to talk about the Angels on two different occasions in the playoffs, the latest having Chuck Richter on to talk about the mood of Angels fans a day after being eliminated from postseason play. You can watch the video of that interview here.

So Angels fans -- be proud, wear red and don't dread, the Halos will be back in 2010 in full force with more exciting Baseball for you and its spectators to enjoy. I for one am exciting for the Hot Stove to begin and of course, Spring Training. Be sure to check out our message board on a daily basis during the offseason for all of the Hot Stove rumors, signings and trades.

Go Phillies.

Friday, October 23, 2009

By Eric Denton - Senior Columnist

It's pretty simple to describe what the Angels have to do this weekend in New York. Have fun, play smart and win. Of course it wont be that easy, nothing worth doing ever is. However this is the Angels time to shine and perhaps they have momentum on their side despite not having home field advantage.

New York had a chance to put away the Angels on Thursday night after their lopsided 10-1 victory and failed. New York ralied from a 4-0 deficit to take a 6-4 lead in the 7th inning of game 5 and lost. This years addition of the Yankees have been all about the big comeback or walk off ending with a pie in the face of that night's hero. It didn't happen on Thursday, how could this be, they're the Yankees?

It happened because the Angels finally played like the Angels. They got out to a lead for the first 6 innings and were able to hold the Yanks in check. They fell behind but didn't panic, answering right back with 3 runs of their own to take a 7-6 lead that held after a gut wrenching bases loaded at bat from Nick Swisher.

Three Keys to Game 6

1. Strike early (and often). The Angels will be facing Andy Pettitte for the second time in the series. The Halos scored 3 runs off him in 6 1/3 innings in game three on a solo shot by Howie Kendrick and a 2 run homer from Vladimir Guerrero. Instead of coming from behind like they did on Pettitte it would behoove the club to attack early like they did against A.J. Burnett in Game 5. Scoring early in Anaheim got the crowd into the game, scoring early in New York will hopefully make their crowd nervous and relatively mute. One thing in the Angels favor is Pettitte has been better on the road than at home in 2009. (6-4, 4.59 ERA)

2. Starter Joe Saunders must repeat his Game 2 or improve on his 7 inning 2 er performance. While the new Yankee Stadium doesn't play like the old park it still has a pretty large outfield. Saunders has to keep the ball down and get the double play when he needs it as well as getting the right handed power bats to hit it to the big part of the outfield into Torii Hunter's golden glove.

3. After the blown save in game 2 and his tight rope act last night Brian Fuentes as well as set up man Kevin Jepsen might not be the one's Mike Scioscia should call upon to shut it down late in the game. Jason Bulger and Darren Oliver have been solid for the Angels but it's been Ervin Santana who has come out of the pen and pitched real well. Perhaps it's "Magic" who should be called upon to get the final 3 outs.

Game 6
@ Yankee Stadium : 4:57PM PDT
RADIO: KLAA 830, KFWB, ESPN Radio, KWKW 1330

Joe Saunders vs. Andy Pettitte

Game 7 (if necessary)
@ Yankee Stadium : 5:20PM PDT
RADIO: KLAA 830, KFWB, ESPN Radio, KWKW 1330

Jered Weaver vs. C.C. Sabathia

Friday, October 16, 2009

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

By Coral Marshall - Columnist

Perhaps the scribes of ESPN’s miniseries “The Bronx is Burning” wrote it best when they had John Turturro as Billy Martin proclaim: “You’re damn right I know about Yankee tradition. We only won six pennants and five World Series while I was there and I was MVP of one of them, so I think I know a little something about Yankee tradition.”

The Yankees do have a storied legacy and 26 World Series championships is hard to argue with. That being said, it is easy to see why one of the best (if not the best) position players in Major League Baseball would want to be a part of that tradition.

But that doesn’t make it any easier when you are the team, or the fans of the team, that offered Mark Teixeira $160 million only to be turned down at watch him instead become a Bronx Bomber.

That is money from which Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson — the original Yankee free agents — would have been hard pressed to walk away.

While there is “Yankee tradition,” this postseason the Angels have “unfinished business,” as has accurately phrased it. Sweeping the Red Sox in the American League Division Series was sweet. Handing Josh Beckett and Jonathon Papelbon their first post-season losses was something that, for years, seemed like only a dream for Angels’ fans and players.

But, as personal as the Red Sox series was, the Angels have an even larger task ahead of them.

The Angels seek to show the East Coast that West Coast baseball (from which so many of the classic Yankees hail — Joe DiMaggio and Billy Martin just to name a couple) can be just as dominant. No matter how many wins the Angels seem to rack up against the Yankees (more than any team in recent memory), those 26 championships get thrown in your face. (It seems that many fans don’t realize the Angels were not an MLB team until 1961; 48 years after the Yankees were established. To put that in perspective, DiMaggio was a rookie in 1936 and retired 10 years before the Angels became an MLB franchise.) But maybe it is time to show the Yankees, their fans, and the rest of the sports world, that this isn’t a new era of free agency like 1977, when they could just buy the league pennant. Instead it is time to work toward it.

Teixeira is, no doubt, a great player, but ultimately his production was not much greater than Kendry Morales’. While Teixeira had 66 more at-bats than K-Mo, he only had five more hits. Morales’ batting average was even 14 points better. And there is no way that the five more home runs Tex hit were worth all that money — even his most avid fan has to admit that.

So, perhaps while the Angels take care of their unfinished business, they can prove that open pocket books do not open doors to the World Series. And even more importantly, it is time for the Angels to show the Yankees, Teixeira and baseball fans alike, that the Angels are creating their own “Angels Tradition” — one of which any player and fan should be proud to be a part.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Start spreading the news....

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finally vanquished their nemesis, the Boston Red Sox in a dramatic three game sweep and will now head to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2005 to face the New York Yankees.

Other than winning the 2002 World Series beating the Boston Red Sox in the fashion the Angels did ranks up there with the greatest moments in franchise history.

So to the so called experts at ESPN who almost unanimously picked Boston (save former Angel Eduardo Perez).

To TBS for hiring Boston's play by play man Don Orsillo.

To Dave Henderson and the Red Sox organization for trying to get in one more dig in at the late Donnie Moore.

For all the drunken Red Sox fans who started fights in the seats at Angel Stadium this season.

To Buster Onley who said the Angels can't hit a fastball.

And to the grounds crew at Fenway Park who made Dustin Pedroia cry.

We here at would like to wish you bon appetit while eating your plate of crow.

To recap. The Angels sweep the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs.

Game 1- Angels win 5-0 behind an outstanding performance from John Lackey and a clutch 3-run Home Run from Torii Hunter.

Game 2 - Angels win 4-1 with Jered Weaver picking up where Lackey left off. Key hits from Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar give the Angels all the offense they needed.

Game 3 - Angels win 7-6 with an ending just as shocking as game 5 in the 1986 ALCS. The Halos rock Boston's closer Jonathan Papelbon by scoring 3 runs in the 9th inning after two outs. Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero deliver huge hits and Brian Fuentes pitches a 1,2,3 ninth inning for the save as the Angels advance to the 2009 ALCS.
Jose Salviati blogs that "The Curse is Lifted" on the LA Times website about just how similar the 1986 and 2009 finished. member Lieutenant Colonel Michael Turner was interviewed by the LA Times Bill Shaikin. Michael is currently serving in Afghanistan and their is "no camouflaging his loyalty to the Angels."

RADIO: KLAA 830, KFWB, ESPN Radio, KWKW 1330

Game 1 - Friday 10/16, 4:57 PM PDT at Yankees
John Lackey vs. C.C. Sabathia

Game 2 - Saturday 10/17, 4:57 PDT at Yankees
Joe Saunders vs. A.J. Burnett

Game 3 - Monday 10/19, 1:13 PDT at Angels
Jered Weaver vs. Andy Pettitte

Game 4 - Tuesday 10/20, 4:57 PDT at Angels
Game 5 - Thursday 10/22, 4:57 at Angels (if necessary)
Game 6 - Saturday 10/24, 1:13 or 5:07 PDT at Yankees (if necessary)
Game 7 - Sunday 10/24, 5:20 PDT at Yankees (if necessary)

By Michael Sword - Contributor

It's time to put the dead and buried Chowds behind us and prepare for the equally hated stinking Wankers. I know this, but I am not ready yet. I'm not done celebrating the extinction of the pigs from Boston. This was my World Series. This was vindication and redemption.

The world championship in '02 was my greatest moment ever as a lifelong diehard Halos fan. It cured '79 and '82, but there was still that hole in my psyche from '86. Add to that '04, '07, '08, and then they had the brass balls to run Dave Henderson out there to do his little act in front of us like that yesterday?? That was actually offensive to me. I didn't know the Chowds would sink that low.

To see us reach in through their nostrils and rip their nuts out in front of their own followers, in the gruesome way we did it, the same way they did to us in '86, cured my soul. It felt different than '02. Watching my beloved Halos dog-pile in the middle of Fenway, I saw Donnie Moore right in the middle, along Gene Autry, Gene Mauch, and those of you who remember. And me. It was like the baseball gods saved up 23 years worth of payback, and force-fed ALL OF IT back to them down their throats in one inning! How did that taste, Chowd pigs? Here, eat more of it.

They are calling this Black Sunday back east. I laughed. They are crying, calling for Papelbon's head, complaining, moaning, and suffering. This makes me happy. Their sense of entitlement is equal to my hatred for them. I take great joy in their pain. So I will celebrate again tomorrow, and the day after that.

Friday, I'll turn my attention to the smug and arrogent Wankers. But for now, I will continue dining on my fillet of Chowd. Yum yum.

Monday, October 12, 2009

(AP Photo - Mike Scioscia)

Chuck Richter chooses Mike Scioscia as AL manager of the year. Joe Mauer was the easy choice for AL MVP, but where would the Angels be without (2) Kendry Morales and (10) Bobby Abreu this season?

Here's my picks for the American League 2009 season awards.

AL Manager of the year:
(1) Mike Scioscia
(2) Don Wakamatsu
(3) Joe Girardi

AL Rookie of the year:
(1) Elvis Andrus
(2) Andrew Bailey
(3) Gordon Beckham

AL Cy Young:
(1) Zach Grienke
(2) Felix Hernandez
(3) CC Sabathia

(1) Joe Mauer
(2) Kendry Morales
(3) Mark Teixeira
(4) Zach Grienke
(5) Derek Jeter
(6) Ichiro Suzuki
(7) CC Sabathia
(8) Jason Bay
(9) Miguel Cabrera
(10) Bobby Abreu

Sunday, October 11, 2009

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By  Chuck Richter - Senior Editor

"Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life."

Inigo Montoya, the swashbuckling Spaniard in Rob Reiner's 1987 Comedy "The Princess Bride," having just slain the six-fingered man who killed his father some 30 years prior, waxes reflectively in pondering the question, "What now?"

I have to say, right now I can relate. The Angels just beat the Boston Red Sox; not in April, June or September ... in October; not one game, but three; not to stave off elimination for a day, but to do the eliminating. The Red Sox are going home, the Angels are going on.

To borrow another line from the film ... inconceivable!

Of course, no one gets into the revenge business by choice. You have to be wronged in such a manner that only revenge itself will ever completely heal the wound.

I was only a teenager when the original wound was inflicted. I'd already tasted tragedy as a fan of the Angels, when Lyman Bostock, my favorite player at the time, was senselessly murdered in 1978. I'd even experienced unprecedented postseason disappointment when the Angels became the first team to ever blow a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five league championship series against the Brewers in 1982. All of this occurred before my 13th birthday.

But coming within one strike of the World Series in 1986, only to have Dave Henderson rip it from our grasp was one bitter pill to swallow. That it would be another 16 years before we even got another chance only meant 16 years of still trying to choke it down. Mix in the 1995 collapse, which didn't even involve the Red Sox, and it's easy to understand why the 2002 World Championship was both pure elation and the prescription for what ailed us. We Angels fans almost forgot about how Boston had wronged us.

But sure enough, the Red Sox themselves reminded us that for all the chicken soup for our souls the 2002 World Series provided, it was ultimately just a band aid on a still unhealed wound. They embarrassed our Angels in 2004 and doubled down on the shaming in 2007. And last year they walked it off again.

The talking heads talked about a psychological edge the Red Sox had gained over the Angels. While I don't know if that was ever the case, I'll readily admit that Boston was in my head. There was a sense of dread entering every postseason series against the Red Sox; a "please not again" prayer that seemingly fell upon deaf ears. How much suffering at the hands of one team does a fan have to endure?

Well, it appears the answer is 23 years —but no more. From the moment the Angels clinched the AL West in September, there was a collective sense of "enough is enough already." Of course there was no way of knowing at the time if it was just false bravado, but the results speak for themselves.

And what results they were. There were the two fantastic pitching performances by John Lackey and Jered Weaver to give the Angels a surprising and commanding 2-0 lead in the series. But the piece de resistance was the eighth and ninth innings of Game 3. Three times coming within one strike of losing and having to again beat Jon Lester or Josh Beckett in order to advance; scoring twice off of Jonathon Papelbon in the eighth and then three more in the ninth; that it was Vladimir Guerrero, whose postseason resume did not match his Hall of Fame legacy, who delivered the final blow; the 1-2-3 inning from much derided closer Brian Fuentes; and, of course, just doing it all at Fenway Park — you could not have scripted it any better.

I didn't get to see any of this on television because I was at a Little League field, coaching my soon-to-be 7-year-old son's baseball game. The boys and I crowded around my radio between innings, exchanging high fives and cheers when the Angels won. For those young fans, it was just another exciting moment from this team that they've never known as anything but a World Series champion, a team that's always been at least as good as the Yankees and Red Sox.

I'm not 7 years old, though. Not only was I alive for Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, I was there. And in some way I've carried that depressing memory with me to Angels games for the 23 years since. Even if I was usually able to suppress it, especially in 2002, there was always a feeling that the Angels would not truly be over the hump, so to speak, until they got past the Red Sox in October.

And now they have; and the more than half of my life as an Angels fan spent in the "revenge business" has reached a sweet and fulfilling conclusion. The six-fingered man of my youth is dead.

At the end of the film, Inigo Montoya considers a new life as a pirate, but I think I'll stick with the Angels — even if revenge is no longer a part of the equation. Besides, Pittsburgh is far too quiet this time of year.

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

With all due respect to Neil Diamond

Where it began
I believe it was in 86
I was there for the 86 curse.
Was in the spring
Then the spring became the summer
The Angels couldn’t have started off much worse.

Games. Winning games.
Scoring runs. Beating Boston. In their yard!

Sweep Caroline
Good times never seemed so good.
I’ve been inclined.
To believe we’re destined for something good.
But now I -

Look at the scoreboard
And it seems too empty
It’s in the 9th and we’re down by two.
With 2 quick outs
Aybar, Figgy, Abreu and Vlad
All come through!

Games. Winning games.
Scoring runs. Beating Boston. In their yard!

Sweep Caroline
Good times never seemed so good.
I’ve been inclined.
To believe we’re destined for something good.
We Are.

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

By Zach Stoloff Columnist

October is vindication season in Los Angeles (of Anaheim).

With one swing of the bat, Vladimir Guerrero made all the Halo faithful forget his postseason struggles.

With one, simple, 1-2-3 inning, Brian Fuentes made all of those still pining for Frankie Rodriguez forget his shaky September.

With one base hit by Bobby Abreu, Jonathan Papelbon’s 27 inning postseason scoreless streak and impenetrable aura became a distant memory.

With one improbable comeback, the Angels showed why they ranked second in MLB in come-from-behind victories, and conjured memories of the magic of 2002.

With one series-sweeping series victory, the Angels dispelled the nation-wide notion that they’re incapable of beating the Red Sox when it really matters, and booked themselves a ticket to their third American League Championship Series this decade.

Sorry, ESPN, you won’t be getting that Sox/Yanks series we all know you really wanted. You’ll have to settle for a West Coast club. Albeit one who won more games than the ‘Sox each of the past two seasons.

While standard logic says you’d rather have your team celebrate in front of the home town fans, seeing the Angels dogpile on the Fenway mound while stunned-silent Chowderheads slowly trickled out in palpable disbelief—could there have been a prettier picture?

In many ways, this series was an exorcism of sorts. Not necessarily for the very real ghosts of Nick Adenhart and Donnie Moore, but for Angels fans and players who bore witness to the soul-crushing defeats of 2004, 2007, and 2008.

It’s safe to say that talk of hexes has been resoundingly put to rest.

Chone Figgins may have gone 0 for 13 entering his final at bat Sunday—recalling images of his spotty play in postseasons past—but ultimately he got on base when it mattered, scoring the tying run in the ninth.

Abreu had done his best work thus far in the series in the pitches he didn’t swing at, but his bat did all the talking it needed to with its ninth inning RBI double.

Guerrero, oft maligned by fans unable to stomach his free-swinging ways in the wake of declined production, thoroughly proved his value in the cleanup role Sunday, vindicating himself as well as Mike Scioscia, who has stuck with him in that spot all season.

However, no player was more clutch when it mattered than rising star Erick Aybar, who hit the go-ahead triple on Friday, then, with the Angels down to their final strike and no one on base Sunday, singled to extend the inning and start the Angels’ incredible rally.

LA’s supposedly shaky bullpen mostly got the job done, keeping the game close enough to give the offense a chance after Scott Kazmir’s worst start in an Angels uniform made matters look bleak.

And then, of course, two runs behind and down to their final strike against perhaps the game’s best closer, the ultimate vindication occurred.

There would be no smug fist-shaking from Papelbon Sunday afternoon.

After all the mentions how the Red Sox were in the Angels’ heads, that was a storyline which never had a chance to play out. Rather, it seems that these ‘head games’ were entirely in the heads of the sportswriters.

The Angels, right from the get-go, seemed completely unfazed by their rivals in the opposite dugout, even as the first two games went scoreless into the middle innings and tension rose.

No, hexes and head games were always just a mythical invention of us sportswriters to attract readers, and ultimately they probably have nothing to do with how these games play out on the field.

So would it be contradictory to start looking ahead to (likely) the Yankees, and the Angels’ impressive record against them over the last decade plus?

Well, if you’re going to claim that the Red Sox supposed mental advantage over the Angels was overblown, it’s probably not good practice to refer to the Angels’ psychological edge over the Yankees.

It was Mike Scioscia’s one-game-at-a-time approach which enabled LA to get the monkey off their back with Boston, and it’s going to be that same approach which prevents them from a letdown against New York, so there’s no need to cite head games.

However, for the rest of Sunday and until the ALCS begins on Friday, Angels fans can take much satisfaction in downing the ‘Sox. There is still much work to be done and eight more wins to be earned, but make no mistake, this was an enormously important moral victory for this team.

Oh, yes indeed… how sweep it is.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

Aybar, I’m sorry.

I’ll admit it: I wasn’t an Aybar fan this year. By the end of April, I was ready to throw in the towel on him. In several threads I wrote that the Angels should either trade him or bench him in favor of playing Brandon Wood.

I wasn’t condemning him for missing the bunt in last year’s playoffs. While failing to make a critical play never makes for popularity, I wasn’t willing to condemn him for an isolated moment. After all, in Game 3 last year, Aybar drove in Mike Napoli in the 12th inning to win the game and force the controversial Game 4.

Instead, by the end of April, I was frustrated with him. While he made spectacular plays, he botched the routine plays. He could go from hero to zero in the same inning. He lacked confidence at the plate and was a space cadet in the field. I couldn’t understand how he could be so erratic in his play.

And yet, Scioscia stuck with him.

Prior to the 2008 season, I had seen Aybar develop in our minor leagues. I was so impressed with Aybar, that I was more than confident in the decision to trade Orlando Cabrera for Jon Garland. At the time, this wasn’t the most popular trade as “OC” was coming off a career year and the Angels paid part of his salary to make the deal happen.

But, by April, all of that promise looked like a distant memory. That canon for an arm that I had seen him display in the minor leagues threw erratically. Those spectacular plays on the field that I had seen him make paled in comparison the botched routine plays that I watched him miss. The steady contact that I had seen him make in the minors led to only a 245/263/340 line.

And yet, Scioscia stuck with him.

Aybar, I have to admit it: I was wrong about you and for that, I’m sorry. Watching you play in the second half of this year has been like watching a completely different player from the one I saw in April. Watching you play in the post season is a night-and day type difference between the one I saw last year. You’ve become the player I hoped you would be and have become an integral part of our offense and defense.

Thank you Scioscia for believing in Aybar and sticking with him in spite of all howls from the arm-chair managers like me. And, thank you Aybar for working hard to refine and improve your game. The Angels would not be this confident against Boston without your spectacular and steady defense or your much improved offense.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

(AP Photo)

By Zach Stoloff - Columnist

Unfortunately for me, this is a family-oriented site which won’t allow me to throw out profanities.

But rest assured that if I were able to freely use such derogatory phrases, I’d be heaving more than a few expletives at ESPN’s Pedro Gomez for the absolutely baffling preview he wrote of the impending Angels / Red Sox series.

Mike Lowell over Chone Figgins?

With all due respect to someone who has accomplished far more in their career as a sportswriter than I likely ever will; are you bleeping kidding me?

Chone Figgins will never be the prototypical third baseman. However, he is (arguably) the best leadoff hitter in baseball, while slugger Lowell barely managed an .800 OPS in the games he was actually able to play—and that’s to note nothing of the fact that all those injuries which have limited his playing time have also severely limited his (formerly) great range at the hot corner.

Figgins, meanwhile, was only second in the league in runs scored, reached base more than anyone else in baseball, and could well end up winning his first Gold Glove this offseason. Leadoff hitters are important, right? Ultimately, Figgins fulfilled his role with his team infinitely better than did Lowell.

So while I agree that Lowell and his health may play a big role in determining the outcome of the series, and that a primed and healthy Lowell vastly improves Boston’s chances; is he really the better player going in to this series?

It’s no secret that the Sox have owned the Angels in the playoffs this decade, but some of Mr. Gomez' individual picks in terms of position-by-position matchups for this series have nonetheless left many Angels fans scratching their heads. Subsequently, there’s a rather large elephant in the room, so I’ll just come out and say it:

East Coast Bias.

If journalism is supposed to be truly objective, then Pedro Gomez ought to know—having covered baseball full-time since being assigned to the Oakland A’s for the San Jose Mercury News in 1992—that what happens one season has little bearing on the next.

These are two teams with different makeups than in 2004, 2007, and 2008, individual players find themselves at different stages in their careers, and what has happened in the past should have no influence on making comparisons entering the 2009 playoffs.

While I may write for a self-described Angels fan site, I am also a journalist. I believe this playoff series deserves a more objective treatment than it has received from the Boston-and-New-York-loving sports media. Let’s take a look:

Position Players
Catcher: Mathis and Napoli vs. Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek
It’s been written about by nearly every sports journalist how the Angels are chomping at the bit to start running against the Red Sox backstops. It ought to be very much a concern for Boston. The hope is that Martinez’ bat makes up for any defensive deficiencies, but the Angels are probably going to run wild. Mathis and Napoli, as always, will split the catching duties. And while it’s hard for some to understand why Mathis gets playing time over Napoli’s vastly superior bat, remember: why do guys like Charlie O’Brien and Brad Ausmus play such long careers? Because handling pitchers is a skill the average fan can’t perceive, but it’s still important. Advantage: draw

First Base: Kendry Morales vs. Kevin Youkilis
In 2008, Youkilis broke out to become one of the better-known hitters in MLB, more than for just his legendary patience at the plate. Morales, on the other hand, came in to this season a virtually unknown quantity, but has become the Angels’ best power threat, putting up the second best slugging percentage in the AL. Though Youkilis is the more patient hitter and better defender, Morales’ carries the (slightly) bigger stick, and first base has never been considered and integral defensive position. In terms of postseason experience, Youkilis may have more of it, but has he ever survived eleven attempts seeking political asylum? Advantage: draw

Second Base: Maicer Izuris and Howie Kendrick vs. Dustin Pedroia
While Maicer Izturis has undoubtedly enjoyed the finest season of his career in 2009, and Howie Kendrick has been one of the best hitters in the second half after suffering disastrously before the All Star break, Dustin Pedroia is the reigning MVP, and this season lead the American League in runs. Moreover, his style of game is very much akin to the gritty play of David Eckstein; except with much more talent. The Angels have a great tandem at second base, but Pedroia is the best in the business there. Advantage: Red Sox

Third Base: Chone Figgins vs. Mike Lowell
I’ve already spent far too long discussing this matchup. Pedro Gomez, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Advantage: Angels

Shortstop: Erik Aybar vs. Álex González
The Red Sox did much to improve this position by acquiring Álex González from the Cincinnati Reds, but his offense has probably surpassed their wildest expectations. Aybar, conversely, came into this season not sure if he would still be sharing the shortstop duties with Izturis, but has thoroughly established himself as one of the best in the game on both ends of the ball, subsequently winning himself an everyday role. Advantage: Angels

Left Field: Juan Rivera vs. Jason Bay
Rivera’s numbers always looked good in limited duty, good enough, in fact, to warrant regular playing time. Now that he’s gotten it, he’s established himself as a key power cog to the Angels lineup. Bay, however, despite alarming streakiness over the course of the season, is still a top-flight hitter who fits well in Fenway, and is far and away the better defender. Advantage: Red Sox

Center Field: Torii Hunter vs. Jacoby Ellsbury
If not for an unfortunate groin injury caused by his own selfless play, we’d probably be calling 2009 Hunter’s finest season, and possibly be interjecting his name into the MVP race. And while Ellsbury has become the ‘Sox everyday centerfielder, his speed is heads and tails his best asset. Otherwise, he’s a so-so leadoff hitter, not reaching base as much as you’d expect, nor as good a defender as the man he replaced—CoCo Crisp. Advantage: Angels

Right Field: Bobby Abreu vs. J.D. Drew
This all comes down to which Drew shows up. While he’s capable of carrying a team at times, and always an unnervingly patient hitter—much like Abreu—he can also look like the most apathetic man in Major League Baseball. Abreu, meanwhile, did in 2009 what he does every year: drive in 100 runs and get on base at a nearly .400 clip. Nonetheless, Drew’s .522 slugging percentage shouldn’t be overlooked—nearly .100 points higher than Abreu. Advantage: draw

Designated Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero vs. David Ortiz
Here is the tale of two hitters resurrecting themselves in the second half. However, while Ortiz’ first half was downright abominable, that only made his second half all the more impressive. Guerrero’s latter half, meanwhile, has gone largely unappreciated, but even his post-All Star number are remarkably similar to Ortiz’. He my not look pretty doing it, but adjusted for 500 at bats, Guerrero would have made a good run at continuing his streak of seasons with at least 25 home runs and a .300 batting average. The sports media pays more attention to Ortiz, but look at the stats. Advantage: draw

Starting Rotation
This comes down to the question of what do you like better; the Red Sox’ front two guys, or the Angels’ depth one through four. Boston has the advantage in games one and two—no team in baseball can match that leadoff punch of Lester and Beckett. However, Lackey and Weaver are fine pitchers, minimizing the advantage. In games three and four, the Angels can throw out two lefties, Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders, who have great histories at Fenway. Matching up against the untested Clay Buchholz and possibly Lester on short rest, the Angels advantage in those latter two games is bigger than the ‘Sox in the first two. If the Angels aren’t playing catch-up in the series, that could be huge. Advantage: draw

The biggest difference makers here are clearly the closers. Simply, Papelbon trumps Fuentes. However, what’s underappreciated right now is how much both team’s setup roles are unsettled. Two lefties—Darren Oliver and Billy Wagner—are the clubs’ only real consistencies in that role. Saito, Okajima, Bard, and Delcarmen all have question marks next to their names for the ‘Sox, as do Jepsen and Bulger for the Angels. Going into this series Boston has the advantage, but here’s guessing that this series will come down to how well the bullpens perform. Advantage: Red Sox

Intangibles? What intangibles? If I were more sentimental perhaps I’d mention something about the Angels playing for Nick Adenhart (which, don’t get me wrong, would make a great story if they advance), or the Red Sox being in the heads of the Angels. Unfortunately, I don’t believe those sorts of things have anything to do with what happens on the field in 2009. We don’t need no stinkin’ intangibles.

So there you have it. By 6:37 P.M. tomorrow all of this guessing and speculating will be meaningless. There’s nothing left to say besides: Go Angels!

And oh yeah, shame on you, Pedro Gomez.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

USA Today went looking for the top sports bloggers to represent their team during the 2009 postseason. They chose Chuck Richter from to represent the Angels during the American League Division Series, a move Chuck hopes will last through October -- hopefully Blogging about a World Series victory.

Look for these daily blogs from both Randy Booth (Boston Red Sox representative) from and Chuck Richter over the next week until the ALDS concludes. Whichever team wins of the two, that blogger will continue on bloggin' with USA Today against the team's new opponent. You can track both of our work on the website here

Photo By Sean Scanlon

By Paul Meyer - Contributor

After a grueling regular season, we finally have an opportunity to sit back and truly evaluate each player's 2009 performance before the playoffs muddy our perspective.


Mike Napoli - B+ : In the entire MLB, only three catchers have a higher OPS than Napoli — Joe Mauer, Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez. He hit his peak with consistent playing time when Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera were out and fell back a bit splitting time with Jeff Mathis. This was his first truly healthy season since being called up in 2006, which hopefully will earn him more playing time in 2010. One drawback has been inconsistent defense, but he has handled the starters well and essentially dispelled the myth that is CERA. Who was behind the plate during Santana's pennant clinching shutout? You guessed it...

Jeff Mathis - D+ : First, the positives — he's cut down on his throws into the OF, umpires rave about his ability to squat and Mike Scioscia thinks he's a hell of a model, America. Negatives — his OPS is under .600 for the second straight year and he strikes out at a rate similar to Adam Dunn, without all those extra base hits to compensate. If the offensive trend continues, you might be seeing a diminished role for Mathis in 2010.

Kendry Morales - A+ : He has exceeded everyone's offensive and defensive expectations this season. With the loss Mark Teixeira, there was concern that Morales wouldn't be up to filling the void and most expected decent offense and questionable defense. Not only has he elevated himself far above role playing status (and out of an early season platoon), but Morales has made himself into an MVP candidate. He is the only Angels regular to finish with an OPS above .900 and may turn the 3-6-3 double play better than any other righthhanded first baseman in the MLB.

Howie Kendrick - B : Struggled early on before being sent down to the minors, but reemerged white hot to legitimize his claim to the starting 2B position. Post All-Star, he produced a .358 average, .391 OBP and .949 OPS and made some spectacular plays on defense to dispell any lingering doubt about his abilities in the field. Still susceptible to the breaking pitch low and outside, Kendrick has work to do reach his full potential, but the fact he remained healthy this season is a step in the right direction toward 2010.

Maicer Izturis - A : Versatile and consistent, Izturis has provided Invaluable depth to the Angels as they struggled through injuries this season. He has everything — speed, defense, the ability to get on base and surprising pop with a .794 OPS. Imagine having a superior defender at 2B, SS and 3B that you could plug in as needed. His play made it difficult to pencil a hot Kendrick into the lineup.

Erick Aybar - B+ : To say Aybar progressed by leaps and bounds from 2008 would be an understatement. The talent was always there, but the concern about Aybar was his maturity and focus — was he smart enough to be an everyday player? After a rough start, the light seemed to click on and he was nothing but solid the rest of the year. Some areas that need work are his plate discipline and his ability to steal bases, which are areas of necessity if the Angels envision him as a leadoff hitter in the future. This is a minor critique, however, as his career-best .353 OBP shows he's developing a better idea about what it takes to get on base.

Chone Figgins - A+: Remember when people thought of him as only a super-sub? Figgins has been an impressive story as he not only has improved on his ability to get on base to near .400 (101 walks, but has also developed himself into a gold glove caliber defender. The unimaginative will point to the fact that you have a table setter at a position (3B) normally reserved for the Alex Rodriguezes of the baseball world, but they would be missing the point. Figgins, with his ability to get on base and take second or third shortly thereafter, creates runs — and that's justification enough for his presence at the hot corner. He is the main table setter for the Angels team record offense, which has made his signing a priority this offseason; even above John Lackey.

Bobby Abreu - A: Part two of the .400 OBP table setters, Abreu has made pitchers fear the No. 2 position in the lineup. At an age when hitters normally show decline, Bobby has maintained his speed (30 SB), plate discipline (94 BB) and extrabase power (47 extrabase hits, .825 OPS). He's been especially good with runners on base (.338/.437 OBP/.902 OPS) and runners in scoring position (.354/.448 OBP/.923 OPS). For the price the Angels paid, they got a significant bargain. The one drawback is his defense, which has ranged from questionable to downright scary at times, and I'd imagine, if re-signed, he'll see a lot more time at DH.

Juan Rivera - B+ : After two lost seasons due to injury, Rivera reasserted himself a solid offensive contributor. When Guerrero and Hunter went down he helped pick up some of the offensive slack before going down to injury himself. Rivera does still have a "swing-first" mentality, which can kill a rally at times, and his speed and defensive range are below average. He possesses, however, a strong, accurate throwing arm, is a solid run producer at the back of the lineup, and is, with an .810 OPS, a bargain at $3.25 million.

Torii Hunter - A : Despite the injuries this season, Hunter has outperformed his expectations — he's literally given his body for the team. Off the top of your head, how many momentum changing defensive plays can you think of for which Hunter has been responsible this season? They kind of blend together for a man who has become a centerfield superhero for the team, especially the pitchers. He had his highest career OPS this season at .874 to go along with his superior defensive play and is an effective contrast to Abreu's more patient approach to hitting. As team leader and an ambassador in the community, he's delivered the complete package for the Angels' $18 million.

Vlad Guerrero - C+ : Is his decline in performance this season due to injuries, age, or both? His OPS has declined significantly for the third straight season (.950 to .886 to .794), he can no longer defend or run the bases with any effectiveness and his bat has been noticeably slower against a good fastball. One thing to note, his post All-Star performance showed a big jump from the beginning of the year (+.111 OPS improvement) and despite a slow September (.253/.297 OBP/.655 OPS), he looked a lot closer to his former self. Time will tell if he can rejuvenate himself next season as a full time DH.

Gary Matthews Jr. - C : He is what he is — very average to below average in every aspect of the game, but he provides much needed depth in the field and off the bench. His 2009 line (.250/.336 OBP/.697 OPS) and $10 million price tag make you cringe, but he can take a walk when needed, drive in a run occasionally and flash the leather in all the OF positions. Looking into the numbers deeper, he had a strange season, which saw him disappear with no one on base (.501 OPS leading off an inning, .512 no one on) and get locked in with runners on (.915 OPS with runners on, 1.032 OPS with runners in scoring position).

Robb Quinlan - D : As much as you've got to like the guy personally, he offers very little in the actual playing of the game of baseball. He's the 25th player, so you can't expect too much from him, but he has no range in either the infield or the OF, he doesn't get on base, has no speed and OPS'd .651 against lefties. One positive is he will make the play if it is hit at him in the field.

Starting Pitching:

John Lackey - B : It's been an up and down year for Lackey, who started his second consecutive year on the DL. With his abilities, he's capable of shutting down any lineup in the game, but you have to wonder if he can get back to his 2007 numbers and reestablish himself as the ace of the staff. His postseason performance may very well determine if he's back with the Angels next season — and for what dollar figure.

Jered Weaver - A- : He's been the rock of an injury riddled staff this season and set career bests in innings, complete games, strikeouts, ERA (for a full season) and WHIP. His one drawback is he's less effective on the road and will give up the long ball, but that's what you get with a flyball pitcher.

Scott Kazmir - A* : His overall numbers hide the fact that he has been dominant with the Angels since he was acquired in a waiver deal. His presence gives the Angels enough depth to send an improving Ervin Santana to the bullpen for the playoffs and someone you can pitch in Fenway with confidence.

(*Time with the Angels only.)

Joe Saunders - B- : Injuries made Saunders hittable this season, but he has rebounded nicely since he got some time off. When healthy, Saunders is a No. 2 or 3 on most staffs, but a luxury as a No. 4 starter on the Angels. His main enemy during his struggles was the long ball, but he's seemed to have reduced that figure recently (21HR pre-All-Star, eight post-All-Star).

Ervin Santana - C : A sprained elbow ligament robbed him early on of his lighting stuff, but he's learned to pitch through it to make something of a previously presumed lost season. After a horrendous start, he rebounded with a 3.27 ERA in August and a 3.10 ERA in September, including a shutout in the clinching game against Texas. If healthy, he could be the ace next season.


Matt Palmer - B : He was average as a fill-in starter that benefited from terrific run support, but he accomplished what they asked of him by eating innings and bridging the gap until the Angel starters could get healthy. Once in the bullpen, he hit his stride as a long reliever and has been a stabilizing force in an erratic bullpen.

Brian Fuentes - C+ : Despite his save numbers, he isn't exactly "game over" when he comes in to close. He was getting knocked around to the point where Scioscia had Kevin Jepsen face tough righties leading off the ninth. Even with all of this, he's still tough on lefties and will succeed often in tough situations.

Kevin Jepsen - B- : After struggling early, including a trip to the DL and some time in Salt Lake City, he's become consistent enough to be Scioscia's choice as set-up man and co-closer. His stuff is nasty and he has a closer mentality, but he needs to improve his location and command. 2010 might see his emerge as the closer before everything is said and done.

Darren Oliver - A : The best pitcher in the bullpen this season, he was the one ray of hope on the Angels early relief struggles. He can be counted on to pitch effectively in tough situations and give you two innings if necessary. At 38, he had his best season with the Angels with a 2.71 ERA, 20 holds, and a solid 1.14 WHIP.

Jason Bulger - B+ : At 30, he finally figured it out and became a go-to guy from innings 6-8. Wildness and the long ball can plague him, but he can also strike out the side to mitigate any damage. Hindered by shoulder stiffness recently, hopefully he'll be available for the Angels playoff push because he will be needed.

Jose Arredondo - D- : A huge disappointment after a solid 2008. He regressed, got injured and got demoted, so there are very few positives here other than to say that toward the end of the season you began to see a little of the 2008 Arredondo come back.


Tony Reagins - A : He earns his grade from two trades — one he made and one he didn't. Regarding the latter, there was a significant number rumors eluding to how close Reagins and Co. were to pulling the trigger on a deal for Roy Halladay that would have eaten into the Angels' depth and potentially weakened a lineup that had already survived injury and inconsistency. Halladay certainly would have been a welcome addition to a pitching staff rotating Palmer, Shane Loux, Sean O'Sullivan and Trevor Bell through the No. 5 spot while waiting for Saunders to recover and Santana to regain his form. However, the price was deemed too high and the patient Reagins waited for a better opportunity to present itself later during the season. Opportunity knocked with the left arm of Kazmir and the asking price, while not cheap, did not alter the current roster. Reagins not only found a talented starter, but one who was familiar with the Angels' foes from the AL East, unafraid and, more importantly, successful against them.

Mike Scioscia - A : I think we all understand that the manager can't hit, pitch or field for the players, but can only position them in the best possible way to succeed and Scioscia seems to always have a plan regardless of the situation. That innate ability to prepare and plan was stretched to the limit this season with Lackey, Escobar and Santana beginning the season on the DL, Adenhart's tragic death, Shields' season ending injury, Arredondo's demotion, Speier's release, Jepsen's and Bulger's early season struggles, Kendrick's lost May, Santana's second DL trip, Saunders' shoulder knot, and mid-season injuries to Guerrero, Hunter and Rivera — all at the same time. With so much injury, tragedy and change, the team had a built-in excuse to lay down and let the league run over them. If they finished at .500, people could read the story of the season and understand how a team might buckle under that much upheaval; they could justify failure in the face of unrelenting circumstance. However, something happened on the way toward teetering over the precipice — they excelled. This might be Scioscia's finest season, including 2002, and playoff results, win or loss, might still be dwarfed by what he accomplished through 162 games.


Nick Adenhart - Incomplete

Incomplete life, incomplete career, what might have been....

He only pitched six innings, but this was Nick's season and the players made sure he was with them every inning of every game. On Sept. 28, the team finally got to celebrate with their friend and invited the entire world to see how much he meant to them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Today and had joint Q&A's regarding the 2009 ALDS.

For the answers from the Angels perspective visit

AW - What do you see as the Red Sox' biggest strengths and weakness coming into this series?

Matt O'Donnell : Strengths- the biggest strength they have is experience. Most of the players on the team have played plenty of games in the postseason and will not be bothered by the pressure. This is especially true of the Red Sox starters for games 1 & 2: Lester and Beckett. They also have a lineup that will work the count and can score runs in bunches. The team can still score runs with one or two of their big hitters in a slump Weaknesses: Stopping the running game is a huge problem for the Red Sox. Jason Varitek simply cannot throw out a runner anymore and Victor Martinez does not do much better. The bullpen is not as good as it was earlier in the season; Manny Delcarmen has really struggled and Ramon Ramirez and Saito have not been consistent. The Red Sox are fine once they get to the 8th but the 6-7th innings are a nerve racking.

AW - In your opinion, how do the Red Sox fans view the Angels. Do you feel they look past them feeling it's going to be another easy series or do they feel that they just one bad pitch away from losing a game. A lot of Angels fans feel very confident against NY and jinxed against Boston?

Matt O'Donnell : Red Sox fans are always most concerned about the Yankees, that is not to say they think the Angels will be a cakewalk, but most are pretty confident the team can win the ALDS. That being said, if the Sox lose Game 1 there will be plenty in Red Sox Nation that will write off the season as a disaster before game 2 even starts.

AW - In the past Boston has been able to relay on David Ortiz to come through with the big hit. With him having an off year what player do you see stepping up?

Matt O'Donnell : Victor Martinez is the most dangerous hitter on the Red Sox right now. Since he came over from the Tribe he has been Mr. Clutch. I expect him to have a great postseason.

AW - While Boston did win 95 games, they didn't seem as consistent or dominant as they have in prior seasons. What do you feel were the main reasons for this?

Matt O'Donnell : Injuries to Dice-K and Wakefield really hurt the Red Sox starting rotation this year. Theo took a gamble on Penny and Smoltz and while Penny had some good outings, neither one worked out. There was also time after the All-Star break where nearly every player on the team was slumping at the plate. Luckily for the Red Sox the slumps are now over and the rotation looks solid.

AW - Game 5 - Lester or Beckett?

Matt O'Donnell : If the Red Sox have to use Dice-K out of the pen in Games 1 or 2 then Lester will pitch game 4 on short rest and Beckett will pitch Game 5. Tito might choose to go with Lester in Game 4 even if Dice-K is not used early, so most case scenarios have Beckett going game 5.


Pitchers (10): John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, Brian Fuentes, Kevin Jepsen, Darren Oliver, Matt Palmer, Jason Bulger.

Catchers (3): Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli, Bobby Wilson.

Infielders (6): Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Chone Figgins, Robb Quinlan.

Outfielders (6): Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr., Reggie Willits.

Friday, October 2, 2009

(AP Photo)

By Brent Hubbard - Columnist

I want the Red Sox.

I’ve been saying it to myself for months now, but as the reality of a third straight division series against the AL Wild Card Boston Red Sox draws ever closer, I wonder if it is still true. Do I want the Red Sox?

Yep, still true — no hesitation here, despite the inevitable gushing over the Sox that’s bound to happen over the next week, including Vegas putting them as the favorite, though the Angels will likely win more games and start the series in Anaheim. All this and columnist after columnist will say things like: “The Angels aren’t built for the postseason” and “The Angels won’t win a game,” etc.

I’m writing this article to take aim at the Angels fans who hoped we (yes I said “we,” as in the context of fandom — I’m not a member of the team or anything) wouldn’t have to sit through another agonizing series against the perennial losers who have become the annoying winners and our postseason nemesis. Wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t have to face the Sox? Is there a way they can get around them?

I thought it would be different in 2008, after the gut-wrenching losses to the Sox in 2004 ALDS and the 2007 ALDS ….and 1986, as well, though that was in the ALCS.

It wasn’t. Next week, however, I believe it will.

There are those who blame the Angels 2008 postseason disappointment on the fact that they clinched too early, that they weren’t ready for the playoffs. They’d had an easy season, leading the league pretty much wire to wire, having the best record in baseball at the All-Star Break; winning the division with 20 games remaining.

They had made a great trade for power-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira. They watched Boston fail to clinch its division, watched the upstart Tampa Bay Rays instead crowned champions of the AL East. The Angels must have taken Boston lightly, especially after nearly sweeping the season series against them; at least to some degree.

John Lackey came out firing, but unfortunately so did Jon Lester. A two-run home run in the sixth by Jason Bay was the difference as the Sox took a one-run lead into the ninth, then tacked on a couple of insurance runs. The game was winnable for the Angels, but to no avail.

Bay played their nemesis in Game Two, as well; his three-run first-inning home run off Ervin Santana shocked the Angels into submission. Though not complete submission, because the Angels battled back, tying the game in the eighth before record setting closer Francisco Rodriguez lost the game in the ninth..

Back to Boston and facing an 0-2 deficit, the Angels won Game Three in Fenway Park in extra innings, but lost Game Four in the bottom of the ninth, when Scot Shields surrendered the walk-off run to give the Red Sox yet another series victory over the Angels.

Two gut wrenching losses, the other a game that the Angels could have come back to win, but didn’t after insurance runs in the ninth put the game out of reach. Each of the four games of this series were decided in the final inning.

And the Sox went on to the ALCS, leaving the 100 game winning Angels to wonder, “What happened?”

The year before, in 2007, the Angels got out to a great start and had a really successful season overall, clinching the division with more than a week to play, just as they did this year. And they got their collective butts kicked by Boston in a three game sweep, featuring a loss by Rodriguez in a tie game, and two dominating performances by Boston starting pitchers Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. The Angels were banged up, injured and sick, and didn’t play well overall, looking completely overmatched. Clinching with a week or so left or with twenty games to go — it didn’t seem to matter.

What about if they clinched in the very last series of the season, snatching the division title and then hopefully going on a spectacular run through the playoffs? Shouldn’t clinching late keep you in premium form to play in the postseason? Well, the Angels did clinch in the final weekend in 2004, and the result was the same as in 2007, a three game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. Ultimately, it would appear that when the Angels clinch doesn’t seem to have any effect on the result in the postseason; at least not when they play the Red Sox anyway.

The Angels have had success when they haven’t played the Red Sox, including the 2002 World Series Championship as the Wild Card and the 2005 run that would have likely ended in the same, had Josh Paul not dropped a third strike. What’s that? You say he didn’t drop the ball? It was in his mitt the entire time? So, the Angels could’ve left Chicago with a 2-0 lead, going back to Anaheim for three games, needing only two wins?

I digress.

This year the Angels take on the Red Sox again, for the fourth postseason out of six for which the team has qualified since division series play began in 1995.

Boston is a bit banged up and doesn’t look to field the same type of club that it did in 2007 or 2008. Beckett is hurt (back spasms) and Lester was nearly knocked out for the season, if not his career, with a line shot to his knee against the Yankees last weekend. But both will probably be fine for the playoffs. Clay Bucholtz rounds out their likely three-man starting rotation for the ALDS. And their offense is fine.

Challenging? Yes. Unbeatable? Far from it. The Red Sox backed into the Wild Card after a successful August and early September, losing six consecutive games and winning just four of their last 12. They were facing the Royals and the Blue Jays in this streak, as well as the Yankees, true, but a 4-12 stretch is pretty bad.

I still want the Red Sox. I want the Angels to face them in this series and absolutely dominate them. But if the Rangers or Rays had surged in September and knocked the Wild Card from the Red Sox collective grip, surely the Angels would’ve been better off, surely they would have a better chance at the 2009 World Series title, right?

That argument has some merit, especially since the Angels recent postseason history has shown they win the ALDS when they don’t play the Sox, but lose it when they do. But it’s a new year and all of that history doesn’t mean a thing — except for satisfaction for all of us Angels fans when they clobber the Red Sox, then the Yankees, and then maybe the Dodgers, too, if they ever clinch their division: The perfect run to the perfect championship.

Let’s go.

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

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