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Angels Do What They Do — Pull It Together

August 2nd, 2009 · 1 Comment · Angels, Baseball

I am so impressed by this franchise.

I am not an Angels fan. Wasn’t as a kid, wasn’t as a young adult. Didn’t really like the franchise when I covered it as a reporter, back in the late 1970s. But for a decade now, coinciding with the managerial career of Mike Scioscia, the Angels have been an eminently skillful, intelligent, admirable and likable ballclub.

Consider the 2009 season:

The Angels were merely a .500 team (29-29) as late as June 11, and actually not unhappy to have won as many as they had lost, considering all the missing pieces, early, in the starting rotation (John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar). As well as the shock of dealing with the death of rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was looked at a potential replacement for one of the missing veterans.

There were issues on the everyday-player front, too.

Vladimir Guerrero missed 35 games in April and May. Howie Kendrick had a disastrous start and was sent down. And, later, Guerrero went down again (after contributing all of four homers and 21 RBI in 46 games) … Torii Hunter, the club’s best player in April and May, has been on the disabled list since June 11. … Ace set-up man Scot Shields was awful, then broke down for the season before May was over; second-year reliever Jose Arredondo, expected to be a bullpen stalwart, stunk it up and was sent to Triple-A; and Justin Speier, the club’s other $13 million set-up man (along with Shields), almost pitched himself off the roster.

That certainly would be enough to sink most teams.

But not the Angels.

There is a gritty sort of “can-do” spirit to this organization, unmatched in baseball. There is no complaining, no whining, no writing of hands. A guy goes down, the previously identified Next Guy in Line jumps into the lineup, and on they go.

They also have a clearly definable style of play not common in the mix-and-match universe that is the rest of baseball.

To wit: Work the count, drive up the opposition starter’s pitch count and get into the bullpen early; run the bases with daring (but not recklessness); be sound defensively; get competent starting pitching; identify¬† dependable relievers and clarify their roles.

And play with the confidence of a franchise that knows — just knows — it is going to win.

Since the Angels were 29-29, on June 11, they have been the best team in baseball. They are 34-11 since then and now are 63-40, just one game behind the Dodgers for the honor of “best record in ball.”

How have they done it? With the organizational and institutional methods they have employed for a decade.

But if we want specifics, consider …

–Chone Figgins. Having his best season, and the American League’s best leadoff man. Leads the league in runs, is third in steals, has a career-best on-base percentage of .396 and is playing a very solid third base after years of playing lots of positions not very well.

–Bobby Abreu. A brilliant signing by general manager Tony Reagins — an elite outfielder for $5 million for one season. Abreu’s homer stroke didn’t follow him from New York to Anaheim, but he is a run-producing machine, with 73 RBI, and an OBP monster (.417). A valuable clubhouse presence and a decent right fielder, as well. A $15 million-type player the Angels got for 67 percent off.

–Kendry Morales. I thought he was another over-hyped Cuban bust, and so did you, but the Angels kept him around and waited. They traded away Casey Kotchman, and pretty much gave the 1B job to Morales, who has grabbed it with both hands. He has 23 homers, 28 doubles, 63 RBI … and is a legitimately scary presence in the middle of the lineup. And at $1.1 million, he provides about 80 percent of the offense the Angels might have gotten from Mark Teixeira — at about 8 percent of the cost.

Factor in great sub work by Maicer Izturis, while Kendrick was off finding his stroke in Salt Lake, and Juan Rivera providing power, and Gary Matthews Jr. available to full the hole left in center field by Hunter’s injury, and Erick Aybar’s emergence at shortstop … and inventing a bullpen on the fly out of organizational scraps such as Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen and Shane Loux… and, well, here they are again.

Can they win it all?

They don’t have that 1-2 punch on the starting pitching side they you would like to see, in the playoffs, unless Lackey sharpens up a bit and Jered Weaver keeps up the good work, and they still have head-to-head issues with the Boston Red Sox/Fenway Park …

But otherwise, what team do you like better?

The Dodgers? The Angels have beaten them 4-of-6, and they did it before they really got rolling.

The Yankees? The Angels are 4-2 against them, and have pretty much owned the Yankees for a decade.

The Angels just played three in Minnesota, against a club that had been playing fairly well and still might win the Central Division, and the Angels just nuked them, outscoring them 35-15.

The club still has issues to settle with the Texas Rangers, who led the division early, are still only four back and have taken 7-of-9 from Scioscia’s club. But the Angels can address that beginning Friday, when Texas comes into Anaheim for three. I fully expect the Angels to take at least 2-of-3, and get the Rangers thinking “wild card” rather than AL West champion.

Anyway, yes, I love this franchise. It is so intelligently run, so adaptable, so versatile, so crisp and smart and well-oiled and malleable. I believe these guys are underappreciated, even with that 2002 World Series championship on the books and the soon-to-be-six playoffs appearances in eight seasons and the fifth divisional title in six years.

This is a model professional sports franchise, and we don’t recognize that often enough.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Ian // Aug 3, 2009 at 6:21 AM

    As you know, I am a most-of-my-life Angels fan from the days of Bobby Grich. I still flinch with someone mentions Dave Henderson or 1986. But I have to tell you, it’s good to be an Angels fan.

    I’ve been watching all season on the MLB package from Kansas, and as I have talked with fans, there was never a doubt. “All we have to do is get it going” was the refrain. Just survive the early injuries and we’ll find a way.

    That’s not the attitude we had in the 80s and 90s. The Langston, Finley, etc. era was always filled with promise, but there was never the adaptability. I still remember Paulo calling me on the desk from the one-game playoff in 1995. I knew we were going to lose because we had stopped finding answers. We had no way to build momentum.

    Under Arte Moreno, this team is all about building momentum. They aren’t a cheap team. But they have been a smart team. They don’t overpay, and they make decisions that are best for this year and beyond. Letting Kotchman and Garrett Anderson go was a great example of that. They don’t hesitate to send Kendrick down, even if he is the Next Big Thing. Because it’s the right thing in the long run.

    And as much as it pains me to like a Dodgers guy (or two), Sciosia (still can’t spell it) and Mickey Hatcher deserve even more plaudits than they get now. The team takes what it can get. They play the “right way” with aggressiveness and a never-say-die attitude. And it works year in and year out. Now, the franchise believes it SHOULD win, not just that it can win.

    I went to my first game at the Big A in 5 years when the Twins were in town last week. I had a great time. Parking cost less than in Kansas City. Beer was cheaper. Ushers were friendly and fun. People had a great time. And when the Angels went down 4-1, there was no doubt that they would come back. So they did, winning in the 10th. In the old days, we would have stayed and heckled because we weren’t going to win. These days, we just do what the team does: Ride it out until it all comes together. And magically, it does.

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