Angels in the Playoffs – Part 3

Once upon a time, fans believed in the Angels Curse.

The Curse can be traced back to the very origins of the Angels franchise. It was so pervasive, so tangible, that when Los Angeles Times sports columnist Ross Newhan wrote his book The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History the first chapter was titled, "The Parade of Agony."

After the Angels won the World Series in 2002, most folks figured The Curse had been lifted. Although valuable players continued to suffer improbable injuries — ask Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson — the Angels were competitive for the most part, and went to the post-season in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

The Curse served notice this week that it is alive and well.

The Angels entered the playoffs minus two key players. Pitcher Bartolo Colon, who won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 2005 with the Angels, rehabbed himself to the point where he made the post-season roster — only to feel a tweak in his elbow and so he was dropped from the roster. Center fielder Gary Matthews, Jr., whose power and defense were a significant upgrade from 2006, suffered a knee injury and was also dropped from the roster.

But The Curse was just getting started.

Left fielder Garret Anderson, given up for dead by lame fans and sportswriters, was his old self when finally healthy and was the mythical "big bat" the Angels supposedly needed down the stretch. But then he got an infection in his right eye. Looking like he was on the losing end of a bar fight, Garret tried to play through it but finally benched himself in the second inning of today’s Game #3.

Trainer Rick Smith was minding his own business in the visitor’s dugout at Boston when he took a line drive foul off the bat of Casey Kotchman. Smith suffered only bruised ribs, but his injury added new meaning to the adage, "Physician, heal thyself."

Pitching coach Mike Butcher fell ill as the Angels’ plane was taxiing at Logan Airport. The plane had to return to the gate so Butcher could go to the hospital.

And before game time today, it was announced that Kotchman was scratched for an undisclosed "non-baseball" medical condition.

As I’ve written several times in the last week, I didn’t think the Angels had a very good shot at defeating Boston in this series. But c’mon already. At least make it a fair fight.

It would be stupid to make sweeping conclusions about the talent on this roster based on one three-game set against the team I think will win the World Series. Yet we’re already seeing this on the fan boards where they’re calling for Stoneman to be fired, Scioscia to be fired, everyone to be fired, everyone to be traded, Arte Moreno lied to us, etc., ad nauseam.

This is a team that clawed its way to a 94-68 record this year despite the usual wave of injuries. They began the year with two key members of their starting rotation, Colon and Jered Weaver, yet thanks to the organizational depth built by Stoneman the Angels got by with Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley. Chone Figgins broke the tips of his fingers near the end of spring training, so the Angels got by with Maicer Izturis. And when Maicer got hurt, they got by with an amalgam of Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, and Matt Brown. Howie Kendrick got hurt, but Izturis and Erick Aybar stepped in. When Anderson got hurt, Reggie Willits came up and overachieved.  All the while, key bullpen setup man Justin Speier was out with a mysterious stomach ailment.

The Red Sox had their share of injuries too, but the difference was they entered the playoffs healthy and exited healthy. Take away Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, and Manny Ramirez, and let’s see how far they get.

Despite the knee-jerk reaction that the Angels’ lack of offense was the reason for the loss, the truth is there were many reasons.

The first reason, as detailed above, were the key injuries.

The second season is why the offense went cold. The injuries were part of it, but I think the big difference was Boston’s superior starting rotation. Schilling is a sure future Hall-of-Famer, and Beckett (who’s just entering his prime) could be headed there too. Colon would have played the role of veteran gunslinger, but injuries caught up to him. And Beckett pitched a game for the ages, outdueling John Lackey, who was capable of better.

The third reason was the bullpen. Boston’s bullpen proved itself to be far and away the best. Jonathan Papalbon kept his head while Francisco Rodriguez lost his, but it went deeper than that, as Scot Shields and Justin Speier were inconsistent at times. Compare Shields’ (3.86 ERA) and Speier’s (2.88 ERA) season numbers to Hideki Okajima (2.22 ERA) and Manny Delcarmen (2.05 ERA). Advantage: Boston.

The Angels could have had Alex Rodriguez in the lineup and it wouldn’t have made enough difference.

I’ll do another article in a few days in which I’ll suggest what I think the Angels need to do to improve for 2008. The above is a hint.

But we need to figure out a way to beat that **** Curse.

4 Comments

Since last year, I’ve been suggesting to anyone who will listen that Frankie Rodriguez is not a true closer. His numbers are inflated and deceiving. He lacks the mental makeup. His leg kick is more suited to a windup delivery than from the stretch. He lacks command of his curveball, and is often forced to pitch from behind…thus allowing batters to sit on his 94-95 mph straight fastball. He has developed a serviceable change, but he can’t or won’t use it in clutch situations.

Rather than change his delivery, I think they should test his marketability or let him start games in the winter and spring training.

If the organization is indeed committed to building a team around the “Angel Way” of playing baseball, then it’s also time to test the marketability of Vladimir Guerrero. He is the antithesis of the “Angel Way”.

Despite his numbers, he can be more destructive to Angel offensive rallies than constructive. And defensively he is a liability.

The Angels are one number 1 starter (e.g., Johan Santana, Andy Pettit, Beckett, Sabathia, Peavy, etc.)and one 98 mph closer away from being a dominant team. The offense can be built around Kendrick, Kotchman, Morales, Figgins, Cabrera, Matthews and Rivera. Willits will work himself into a better hitter and I think both catchers will improve their hitting. I also strongly believe that, given an opportunity, Nathan Haynes can be a very good hitter and outfielder.

The nucleus is definitely there. It may be time to make the bold move that will take the organization to the next level.

I’m an Angels Fan since ’69 and I was at the Stadium to witness today’s meltdown in Game 3 against Boston.

I happen to also have been there to watch the 2002 ALCS-clinching game, when Adam Kennedy of all people produced 3 home runs to help overcome a significant deficit and send the Angels to the World Series for the first time.

I couldn’t get World Series tickets but watched just about every minute on the tube and saw Spezio produce the momentum-shifting home run in Game 6, after watching Dusty Baker hand the game ball to the Giant’s starting pitcher as if to say it was all over.

Back then, the Angels could pull off those “Rally Monkey” comebacks because they knew how to say “It’s not over till we say it’s over!”

This postseason I waited for someone, anyone on the Angels team to say that, to no avail. Talent is an issue, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t play with heart. That’s why David Eckstein has two World Series rings and Barry Bonds has none.

And of course, talent and heart need some brains to back them up as well. The Angels were obviously banged up as you pointed out, but it seemed that the resources they had could have been used more effectively. Scoscia 2002 seemed to be more facile in making those calls than Scoscia 2007. I’m not calling for a management change but rather a review of “how they did it” in 2002 with a team that conventional wisdom said was inferior.

THAT’s how we have a chance to advance in future playoffs. We can get all the big players we want but they’ve got to work together, put their hearts and their minds into it.

To aamares@aol.com

If you look in the old film Photo Gallery on my site, there are photos I shot of Frankie Rodriguez in March 2000 at minor league spring training camp. This was at the old facility, Gene Autry Park in Mesa. I was able to stand right behind the catcher and watch Frankie pitch, because the plate and catcher were in front of a chain-link fence.

What impressed me at that time was his slider. If you’re a right-handed batter, it came in at your knees as if it was going to be on the inside part of the plate — but ten feet from the plate, it made a 90-degree lateral break and crossed the OUTSIDE part of the plate.

It was unhittable.

That pitch is now gone. Why? Because Frankie just wants to be a thrower, not a pitcher. His mechanics are a mess because he wants to throw hard. I was a bit optimistic when he developed a changeup for this year, because he stubbornly refused over the years to work on his secondary stuff, one reason why he was moved to the bullpen in 2002. But it’s evident from his comments after Game #2 that he’s more interested in testing his manhood than throwing what the catcher calls.

To mss67@ix.netcom.com

I did notice watching on the TV that our guys didn’t seem to have the usual “bounce” in their step, or whatever you want to call it. The Sox players were laughing, joking, confident. Our guys didn’t seem that way, other than Cabrera of course (who you can’t shut up ).

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the way Scioscia managed. During the regular season, no way he’d pinch-hit for Mathis in the middle of an at-bat like he did in Game #2. That shows he was being more aggressive in his managing. You can have the best manager in the history of the game, but if the players don’t execute it doesn’t matter.

Besides, it was only three games. A 162-game season can’t be judged by a three-game sample, especially when two of those three were facing the best pitchers in the big leagues.

I know YOU know this, but…

There is no such thing as a Curse. Just like there is no such thing as pixies or goblins or witches or dragons. When fans refer to it, it insults every nook and cranny of baseball intelligence.

Just like in life, things happen. It is nowhere more pervasive than here in Chicago, where some fans referred to the potential rainout against the Marlins in late September as ‘Mr. Wrigley weeping’, not to mention the ubiquitous Billy Goat and Bartman ball.

Let us not perpetuate such silliness. A good team scores more runs than the other team more often than the other team. The fairy queen has nothing to do with it.

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