Angels in the Playoffs – Part 2

I wrote on September 30 that I thought the Red Sox were the team most likely to go to the World Series. After the Angels lost Game #1, I wrote on October 3 that the Angels had to win Game #2 to earn a split if they were to have any shot at winning this playoff.

Well, say hello to a Boston-Arizona World Series.

The Angels were a good team this year. But Boston is a great team.

In almost every aspect of the game, the Red Sox did better than the Angels this year.

Yeah, we all know the Sox can hit, they have more power, yadda yadda, snore.

But if you look at the entire season, the Sox scored only 45 runs more than the Angels — or about one run more every 3.6 games.

Seasonal numbers can be deceptive, though, because in the post-season the game is different.

Even stathead deity Billy Beane admitted this. When asked why his A’s never advanced to the World Series, Beane said, “My s— don’t work in the playoffs.”

For the Angels to have won this series, they needed to be aggressive, smart, and error-free.

So far, though, the Red Sox look more like the Angels.

Manny Ramirez’ dinger isn’t the issue. That’s just one pitch. Vlad Guerrero just as easily could have hit a homer — if he were still in the game. But he wasn’t, due to an injury.

The issue is that the Angels kept giving the Sox opportunities to score, while missing opportunities of their own.

Nobody could have beaten Josh Beckett on Wednesday. That was a performance for the ages.

Kelvim Escobar had a pretty good chance to beat Daisuke Matsuzaka, and for a while it looked like the Angels had figured him out. But they let him off the hook in the top of the 3rd when Garret Anderson made a rookie mistake. After hitting a double to lead off the frame, Izturis hit a grounder to short, in front of Garret. Players are taught in rookie ball that if the grounder is in front of you, freeze at second. But inexplicably Garret took off for third, and was thrown out.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, utilized speed and a deep bullpen to tie the game and keep quiet the Angels’ bats. That’s Angels baseball.

The Angels’ pitching staff gave up nine walks, so it’s surprising we even played the bottom of the 9th. Our pitching is better than that.

And then we get to the bottom of the 9th, when Francisco Rodriguez gave up the homer to Ramirez.

The inning began with a single off Justin Speier by Julio Lugo. He advanced to second on a ground out. Rodriguez replaced Speier and got Kevin Youkilis swinging. Two outs.

Up comes David Ortiz. His run doesn’t matter, so he’s walked intentionally.

Ramirez comes to bat. Whether he homered or singled really doesn’t matter either, because Lugo’s run beats the Angels.

The issue here is that yet again Rodriguez had a meltdown in a pressure situation.

In my September 30 entry, I wrote that Frankie’s record this year was abysmal with runners in scoring position. With the bases empty, his ERA was 0.57. With RISP, it was 9.31. His WHIP (Walks + Hits Divided by Innings Pitched) leapt from 1.15 to 1.66, and his OPS (OBP + SLG) increased from .617 to .707.

Here’s what Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the Rodriguez-Ramirez confrontation.

Rodriguez threw a first-pitch ball. His next pitch, catcher Mike Napoli said, was supposed to be a fastball "down and away, and it went up and in." Ramirez pulverized it. Game over.

"I can’t really say what it was, but obviously it wasn’t a good pitch," Rodriguez said. "But that’s baseball. You have to go out and challenge them. I had no plan. I was just going to go after him. If you make a mistake, those guys are going to hurt you. Now we just have to turn the page."

"I had no plan."

That, I believe.

Swear to God, just before Frankie threw that pitch, I said to my wife, "So how far do you think the home run will go?"

I’ve been intending to write a separate column on this subject, which I will, but for now I’m going to posit the notion that the Angels should trade Rodriguez this winter. He’ll be a free agent after 2008, so rather than investing long-term in his combustible ego he should be moved for what we can get. More on that in the separate column.

Sure, it’s still possible for the Angels to win this playoff. To do so, they have to win Games #3 and #4 in Anaheim. But then they still have to go back to Boston. Most likely, the Angels will throw John Lackey in #4 and Kelvim Escobar in #5, if we get that far. Escobar held his own last night, but he’ll need to be better. Josh Beckett still lurks out there, though, and the Red Sox have the luxury of saving him for #5.

They can play a nine-game series, but they won’t have Gary Matthews, Jr. who’s ineligible due to a knee injury. And we’ll have to see about Vlad. So a crippled Angels team really won’t have much of a chance against Curt Schilling on Sunday, even with the Rally Monkey and the fan mojo and the rest of the mythological karma.

Stranger things have happened, though, such as Boston’s miraculous comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS to upset the Yankees.

I want to see the Angels win the playoff.

But my brain tells me it won’t happen.


UPDATE October 6, 2007 2:00 PM PDT — Mychael Urban of MLB.com offers a more comprehensive report on Frankie’s post-game comments:

Asked about his plan of attack against Ramirez, K-Rod struck a fairly defiant tone.

"No plan," he said. "I was just trying to go at him, trying to challenge him. You either get him out, or you give up a hit. It’s 50-50."

So basically Frankie chose a critical moment in the playoffs to test his manhood. Swell.

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