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.