Hello there, it’s AngelsFan. YF and SF have invited me a few times this year to preview the various Angels/Yanks or Angels/Sox series, but the timing has always been off. But now the Sox are coming to Anaheim, followed by the Yanks, so here I am, an Angels Fan in New York. (Apologies.)
The Angels play the Yankees better than anyone, and it’s the opposite with the Sox. With that said, the Sox are obviously reeling, and the Angels are actually playing something like good baseball, though it’s taken them months to get here.
The Halos started off the year in a really bad way, and through the end of June, they spent weeks in the cellar and looked like a lost cause. Their GM, Bill Stoneman, failed to acquire a bat in the offseason, leaving Vlad Guerrero as the only guy in the lineup who could do any actual damage.
Of course, that was true last year too, but the Angels won their division last year on the back of great pitching and great defense. This year, the pitching has still been great, but the defense has been a catastrophe; the Halos have more errors than anyone in the AL, and no one has any particular explanation why. This cost them games against the Royals and the Rays; and that may cost them the division, as Oakland leads by 5 games and is headlong into their annual August winning streak.
The Angels have a highly praised farm system, and have attempted to replace their veterans from within where possible. However, Casey Kotchman, their would-be 1B slugger, has been out for most of the year with — get this — mono. 3B Dallas McPherson is now deep into his third year of “promise,” which Angels fans are now understand to mean “injury.” Rookie catcher Jeff Mathis, called in to replace the departing, bitchy Bengie Molina, was sent back to AAA after spending his major league time comfortably below the Mendoza line.
Their vets who are still playing are looking a bit well done. There is quiet speculation that the more time team captain Darin Erstad spends on the DL, the better management likes it, as he is mostly good for morale and lots of outs (though we Angels fans still miss his truly spectactular, balls-out defense). Much worse, though, is that injury and age have reduced the mighty Garret Anderson to a shadow of his former self, making him no longer able to adequately protect Guerrero in the lineup. Tim Salmon is the team’s Bernie Williams, an aging career Angel hero who we’re all surprised to even see playing this year, much less making valuable contributions. Multiple surgeries have reduced him to part time DH work, but perhaps he’ll get enough at bats for three more jacks, which would make him Mr. 300.
In July Guerrero shook off his slump and the rest of the team responded, going 19-6. Rookie Jered Weaver was brought up to kick his moribund brother Jeff (always a favorite of Yankee fans) off the team, and is now 9-0, tying Whitey Ford for the AL record for longest lossless streak by a rookie pitcher. Bartolo Colón went down once and for all (my feeling is that he’s just about finished, meaning ripe for a Yankee contract), and the Angels replaced him with another rookie, Joe Saunders, who was excellent before getting blown up in Texas last week. The other starters, Ervin Santana, John Lackey, and Kelvim Escobar have all been quietly getting it done, though Lackey has faltered recently. I expect him to recover.
Offensively things have improved as well. With Kotchman down, Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia went and plucked scorching rookie Howie Kendrick from the minors, and have lived with his defensive mistakes (he’s a midseason 2B rookie playing 1B) for his hot bat. He will very likely replace Adam Kennedy at 2B after this year. The Halos had another catching prospect waiting to replace Mathis, Mike Napoli, and he was good enough to keep a spot on the roster, splitting time with yet another catching Molina (José). Chone Figgins has finally turned on his bat, and Red Sock Orlando Cabrera has been having a fine year. OF Juan Rivera (once a Yankee) has really established himself in July and August, as has 3B/SS Maicer Izturis (both of whom were received from the Nats in a trade for malcontent José Guillen — nice work, Stoneman). Still, no one is scared of the bottom third of the order, as opposed to past Angels teams where any given player was on on-base risk.
Even when playing well, the Angels still have liabilities, many of which used to be assets. The team is probably best known for their small-ball aggressiveness — they run constantly, they swing at first pitches. It is a strategy which has served them well and made them distinctive and entertaining. However, there’s a fine line between aggression and stupidity, and the Halos have stepped over it all year, mindlessly hacking away instead of drawing walks or running up pitch counts like the Championship team of 2002, and giving away countless outs on the basepaths. (I realize Vlad Guerrero is an idiot savant type of player, but someone’s got to tell him that stealing 3rd with 2 outs is just idiotic.) With their weakened defense giving away runs, their offense can’t afford to give away outs, and they do.
The Angels have their work cut out for them because they simply can’t afford to lose. Of course, the same is true for the Red Sox, so the Tue-Thu series should be the better one, with the the behind-the-scenes drama of two teams fighting it out just to hang on for dear life in their penant races. If either team sweeps, that is pretty much the nail in the coffin for the other. So, with all respect to SoxFan, Go Halos!