Purgatory Online

Friday, July 11, 2003

Aw, crap. There I was, contentedly fading into oblivion, knowing that I was, at maximum, disappointing maybe 15 people a day, most of them finding this site by accident (although, given my recent mention of John Lackey, I might be expected to pick up a few Montgomery Burns types looking for top-quality lickspittles). But then Doug over at Pipeline had to mention my site, and I bet I get twenty hits today.

So, new material! And welcome to all you Pipeline readers.

All right, first off, I suppose one of the reasons I haven't been writing lately is that, like every baseball fan, player, coach, manager, and mascot on the planet, I'm a deeply superstitious guy when it comes to my favorite team. Normally, this takes the form of minor obsessive-compulsive behaviour during games. If I can just hold off scratching that mosquito bite, Weber will pitch his way out of this two-on, nobody-out sixth inning! If I can clean my glasses before Zito comes to his belt, Glaus will put one in the alley! If I finish this beer before the commercial ends, I can get another one!

And so on. I'm sure you recognize a little bit of yourselves in that. If you don't, well, what the hell kind of fan are you?. Plus, it works. Last year, I didn't look once at the Angels' schedule, so I never knew who they were going to play beyond the next series or two. And just look what happened.

Meanwhile, over the Fourth of July holiday, I didn't do much writing. Like most bloggers, I generally do this to pass the time at work, and not as an excuse to avoid, say, fireworks and potato salad. And lo! The Angels took two out of three from Oakland. I kept my trap shut while the AL Central leading Kansas City Royals came to Anaheim, and again it was two-for-three. Now I get all wordy, and if Minnesota sweeps Anaheim this weekend, it's all Doug's fault, for which he'll be happy to take credit.

Okay, onward: despite what I've just written, the Angels have actually been on an upswing for a little longer than the past two series. They're 9-4 in their last 13, during which the starting pitching has really come around, posting a 3.20 ERA over that stretch. The offense is still going in fits and starts, despite a really tremendous season by Garret Anderson. And the bullpen is still the best in baseball, bar none. Troy Glaus, Brendan Donnelly, and Garret Anderson are all headed to the All-Star Game, Glaus making it in as the first Angel to be named to the starting lineup in 17 years.

Still, while there's been a fair bit of good news of late, the Halos are still just three games over .500, a high-water mark they've yet to exceed this season despite making it there several times. That seems to be this season's leitmotif: neither too high nor too low shall ye travel; seek the middle way. Well, nuts to that. It's true that the Angels have played poorly at some points during the season, but they've also had precious little help from the schedule makers. Quick, what's the weakest division in the American League? Anyone? Anyone?

That's a joke, of course. Little old ladies in Bhutan know that the Central is the AL's punching bag this year. But the real punch line - at least for Angels fans - is that prior to this just-concluded series with Kansas City, the Angels had played a Central Division opponent a grand total of five times, all of them against Cleveland, and all of them wins. Factoring in these last three games, the Angels are 7-1 against the Central. The Mariners? Oh, they're 24-6. And the A's? 18-12.

Now, of course I'm not saying that the Angels' mediocre record so far is entirely due to the fact that they haven't had Detroit to push around (in fact, the Angels don't play the Tigers at all until August 15). And the Mariners, for one, have been playing terrific baseball against just about everybody. But would the Angels be 4.5 games behind Oakland if the two clubs had played the same opponents? Unlikely.

Fortunately, it'll all come out in the wash. From August 8 through September 7, the Angels play nothing but Central Division opponents. While they're not going to win 7 out of every 8, it should give them a fighting chance to catch up with Oakland and Boston in the wild-card chase, provided they can stay just a handful of games back during the next month. They have an opportunity to pass Toronto, the third team ahead of them on that road, this weekend; while the Angels host a Twins team that's looking more and more vulnerable as the year passes, the Blue Jays - who lead the Angels but just half a game - host the Yankees. It's especially important for the Angels to do well this weekend given that it's the last series before the All-Star Game, and their position in the standings once the second half of the season starts will have an impact on whether General Manager Bill Stoneman - whose contract was recently renewed for four years - will look to add a player or two for the stretch run or deal guys from the current roster for prospects. These days, it seems that at the end of July everyone's either a buyer or a seller. Which of the two the Angels end up being in 2003 hangs on the next three or four series, but if things work out they've got a good shot at being in the mix well past Labor Day.