So Much for That

For years, we’ve been told by the self-declared experts on fan boards and blogs that if only the Angels would flush their future for a quick-fix “big bat” a World Series championship was guaranteed.

The Angels finally gave in, trading Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek to Atlanta for Mark Teixeira, a three-month rental who becomes a free agent this winter.

And yet here we are standing on the sidelines once again.

As I’ve written many times, one player does not make a team a world champion.

Teixeira was 7 for 15 in the ALDS, but all seven hits were singles.

Torii Hunter was 7 for 18, but all seven hits were singles.

Vlad Guerrero, the bat they were supposed to protect, was 7 for 15. But six of his seven hits were singles, and the seventh was a double.

The only two Angels batters with extra-base hits were Mike Napoli with two homers, and Chone Figgins with a double and triple.

The inevitable knee-jerk reaction among the clueless is to blame Mickey Hatcher — never mind they always fail to credit Hatcher when things are going well.

But people who never advanced beyond Little League don’t understand what a major league hitting coach does. And one thing he never does is signal to his hitters whether to swing at the next pitch.  That’s Little League.  In the majors, a hitting coach helps hitters stay in mechanics and act as a sounding board for hitting philosophy.  Not to “hack.”  Hatcher doesn’t get to bat, and he doesn’t push buttons on an XBox to make the hitters swing.

Time and again, the Angels’ hitters failed to execute in clutch situations. My personal opinion is that they weren’t aggressive enough. It was preached that they had to be patient with the Red Sox pitchers, to work up their pitch counts. All that is fine and dandy, but in a short series you have to take advantage of your opportunities, and for the most part the Angels didn’t play their aggressive style of game.

Until the very end.  And when they did, they overcompensated.

Mike Scioscia is generally regarded as one of the smartest managers in baseball, but quite frankly what he did last night was bone-headed.

With the score tied 2-2, pinch-hitter Kendry Morales led off the top of the 9th with a double. Howie Kendrick bunted him over to third. With one out, Erick Aybar came to the plate, batting left-handed against Justin Masterson. Chone Figgins was on-deck.

Scioscia called for a squeeze. And the Red Sox were looking for it.

It’s an axiom that you don’t squeeze with a left-handed batter, because it’s much easier for the catcher to see the play developing — and Jason Varitek is the smartest catcher on the field today. Masterson pitched inside, Aybar missed the bunt, and Varitek ran down Willits.

Aggressive is fine, but this was stupid.

Sometimes managers feel they have to DO SOMETHING, and this seemed to be that situation. Scioscia overmanaged.

With the speedy Willits on third, all Aybar needed to do was hit a ground ball, hit a single, drive a deep fly ball — or maybe Masterson would throw one to the backstop, which he’d already done once. Aybar was only 2 for 18 in the series, but with only two strikeouts, and as a rule is a pretty good contact hitter.

But Scioscia chose to force the issue.

Plenty other mistakes were made during the series, among them the failure of Kendrick and Hunter to communicate during Game #3 when with the bases loaded Joe Saunders induced a pop fly — yet the two stared at each other.

Vlad Guerrero’s base-running gaffe in Game #1.

Frankie Rodriguez refusing to employ basic pitching mechanics.

Let’s also give credit — plenty of credit — to the Red Sox. Their three starters — Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Josh Beckett — may be the best 1-2-3 rotation in the majors. Lackey, Santana and Saunders are no amateur hour either, but those the Sox’ Three outlasted the Angels’ uncharacteristically patient approach at the plate.

Another missing element, I felt, was that the Red Sox have a certain “grit” the Angels lack. When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, they had personalities like Darin Erstad, Troy Percival, David Eckstein and Scott Spiezio. Those were guys who either rose above their limited ability, or veterans who would bite the head off a rattlesnake if that’s what it took to win.

The 2008 edition is a bunch of great guys — and maybe that’s the problem.

Personalities like Guerrero, Hunter and Teixeira are great to market. But who’s the one to jack up a malcontent against a locker? Who’s the one to say, “I’m going to carry this team on my back”?

John Lackey has that personality, but he pitches once every five days.

The Angels traded for Teixeira, while the Dodgers traded for Manny Ramirez. Manny was just the personality transplant the Dodgers needed. They’re not the same team they were. With “Tex,” the Angels are pretty much still the same team, just with a better-hitting first baseman who can leave in a few weeks.

Manny wouldn’t be the right addition for the Angels clubhouse, but they need an Erstad or a Percival — not those guys literally, but that type of personality.

I’ll write later about what moves I think the Angels need to make this winter. But for now, the personality transplant is at the top of the list.

3 Comments

Stephen,
I think your comments hit it right on the nail. That was a tough series to take when I truly feel like we were the better team. I hope someday they will make all series 7 games instead of 5 in the opening division series. I do think this Angels team lacked that one or two players who could be the leader. I think Tori Hunter can be but I don’t think Vladdy is and from what I’ve heard, I don’t think Texeira will be that player. In fact, I’m worried about building a team around Texeira in the future as I’ve heard he cares more about the money he makes than the team. Stephen, I have a question for you on that tag play of Willits in the 9th inning. I think he was out as I think Varitek had possession of the ball long enough. However, I was wondering if the rule book states any specifics as to if the player needs to keep possession of the ball throughout the entire play. For example, if that was a pop fly and he was running and fell down and the ball popped out, I bet the umpires would call the batter safe. On the flip side, when an infielder catches a ball and then grabs for the ball to make a throw and if the ball falls out as he tries to make the throw, the umpire will usually say that it was a catch. I’m just curious to see what the rule book specifically states. Final comment, I feel for Howie Kendrick and the difficult series he had. I’m a huge fan of Howie but it seemed like it became a mental or psychological thing for him as he seemed stiff or nervous out there. Howie will come back and work hard in the offseason and will someday win a batting title. I look forward to your future blog on what the Angels should do this offseason with their free agents.

Would the fact that the Angels (and the Cubs for that matter) clinched so early that maybe they lost their edge? All of the other six teams in the playoffs were involved in races right up to the last day of the season, and while this didn’t seem to help the Brewers or White Sox, the fact that you rest your everyday players and give call-ups a chance to get into the games may affect the team’s preparation process as they head into the playoffs.

On one hand, a tight playoff race can really stress and tire out a team, but on the other hand, having to play competitve baseball and playing like there’s no tomorrow may also put you in the right frame of mind for the post-season.

Obviously, I’m disappointed for the Angels as expectations were very high heading into the playoffs, but I’m thrilled with the fact that 10 former Cedar Rapids players were a part of the Angels’ post-season roster. I think that speaks volumes for home-grown talent.

Hi Greg —

“I have a question for you on that tag play of Willits in the 9th inning. I think he was out as I think Varitek had possession of the ball long enough. However, I was wondering if the rule book states any specifics as to if the player needs to keep possession of the ball throughout the entire play. For example, if that was a pop fly and he was running and fell down and the ball popped out, I bet the umpires would call the batter safe. On the flip side, when an infielder catches a ball and then grabs for the ball to make a throw and if the ball falls out as he tries to make the throw, the umpire will usually say that it was a catch. I’m just curious to see what the rule book specifically states. ”

The rule book is on MLB.com, so I won’t go into that … but from what I saw, I’ve no doubt Willits was out. Varitek tagged him, then after he tagged him he fell to the ground and the ground knocked loose the ball. Once Willits has been tagged out, it doesn’t matter if it’s knocked loose or Varitek throws the ball in the stands. The play was over once Willits was tagged.

“I’m a huge fan of Howie but it seemed like it became a mental or psychological thing for him as he seemed stiff or nervous out there. Howie will come back and work hard in the offseason and will someday win a batting title.”

I agree, that didn’t seem like the Howie we know. He seemed to be playing without confidence, especially his swinging at two-pitch strikes down and away. He knows better. He knew it was coming and he’d swing at it anyway. That’s just not right.

Hi Andy -

“Would the fact that the Angels (and the Cubs for that matter) clinched so early that maybe they lost their edge?”

I dunno, I think it depends on the team … Back in 1984, the Tigers started out 35-5 and cruised to the AL East title. In the World Series, they beat the Padres four straight.

I think the more levels you add to the playoffs, the more unpredictable they become. In a short series, anything can happen. I’ve never been a fan of unbalanced divisions or playoffs. I grew up in an era where there were two leagues with no divisions. Everyone played everyone else the same amount of games. The team with the best record went to the World Series. Period.

I guess you can argue that the multiple levels of playoffs are a correction to the natural imbalance created by having divisions. The Angels won 100 games, but they played in a weak division. Boston was in the same division as the Rays and the Yankees. Was Boston the better team despite losing five games more? The result would suggest that the ALDS was a self-correcting mechanism.

And yet you can enter the playoffs with a roster that’s entirely different from earlier in the year, due to injuries or recovery from injuries.

If it were up to me, I’d add two more expansion teams to get to 32, create four eight-team leagues, and have the best record in each go into the playoffs. I’d minimalize the number of interleague games, and preferably would eliminate them entirely.

But I also realize this has zero chance of happening, because it’s a business where making money is all that matters. TV revenue is generated by having multiple levels of playoffs, and by interleague play. No one really seems to care about the integrity of the post-season any more. It’s all about entertainment.

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