Purgatory Online

Monday, August 02, 2004

Just got back from Birmingham, where the wife and I went to her cousin's wedding. So I missed all four Seattle games, though I was able to keep up pretty well thanks to cellular Web access (and yes, I did manage to keep from checking the score of Saturday's game during the ceremony itself).

While I sympathize with the view that one-run victories over a team like the Mariners aren't inspiring, precisely, let us note that these were preferable to losses, okay? Let us further note that, having played seven of their last ten against Seattle, the Angels went 5-2, winning those five by margins of 6, 4, 1, 1, and 1. Oakland, meanwhile, took on Seattle from July 21-22 and July 26-28, and compiled a 3-2 record, with margins of victory of 9, 2, and 1. Which of those two experiences would you prefer?

There seems little question that each of the teams currently in the hunt for the A.L. West and/or the wild card have their flaws. But the Angels seem to be in a decent position compared to at least Texas, which isn't going to play better than they have to this point (and in fact is in the middle of a starting pitching implosion), or Chicago, which has lost both Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez for the season. I think the principal competition down the stretch will come from the A's and the Red Sox, neither of which is a dominant team this year.

And the Seattle series was encouraging anyway. Four straight comebacks? Before the All-Star break, this team almost never came back; if they didn't score early they were pretty routinely out of it. Another good outing for Colon? A walk-off dinger in extra innings? Hey, you can tell how little that's happened; the Angels went out for one o' them pogo-bounce group hugs at home plate and most of them looked like they were trying to follow printed instructions.

And now comes August, that blistering anvil on which so many seasons have been hammered thin. Except for Boston, all of the contenders for a playoff spot that the Angels might grab have the day off (sorry, Indians fans - maybe next year); herewith a look at their next opponents:

Oakland (59-45, 1st in A.L. West) is at the New York Yankees for three games beginning tomorrow night. Mark Mulder will start the first game, opposed by Jon Leiber. These should be three tight games - the A's with an advantage in game 1, the Yankees with an advantage in game three (Zito vs. Brown), and a scrum in game 2 (Harden vs. Loaiza).

Texas (57-46, 1.5 games out in A.L. West, 1st in wildcard) is at Detroit for three games beginning tomorrow night. The Rangers picked up Scott Erickson at the trading deadline, a move that should help them approximately not at all. Kenny Rogers has regressed nicely over his last few starts, posting a 7.52 ERA in July even after holding the Angels to one run over seven innings in his last start. Ryan Drese is pitching well, but that's about it for the Texas rotation. Rogers and Drese will start against Detroit on Tuesday and Thursday; the Rangers haven't announced a Wednesday starter.

Anaheim (57-48, 2.5 games out in A.L. West, 1 game out in wildcard) visits Minnesota for three games beginning tomorrow night. John Lackey takes on Carlos Silva in game 1 - these two are virtual twins, statistically, but Lackey's been stronger recently. It's Aaron Sele vs. Kyle Lohse in game 2, in which Sele may be pitching for his spot in the rotation, and Ramon Ortiz vs. Brad Radke in game 3.

Boston (56-47, 1 game out of the wildcard) is in Tampa Bay for three games beginning tonight. The Red Sox were 29-17 after the games of May 26. Since then, the Sox have actually played sub-.500 baseball, going from wildcard front-runner to pack-thickener. They'll need to lunch on Tampa to get some momentum going for the stretch run, or risk the same late-season fade that happened to them the last time the Angels were in contention, in 2002. Tonight it's Wakefield vs. Hendrickson.

Chicago (53-49, 3.5 games out of the wildcard) is at Kansas City for three games beginning tomorrow night, meaning that all of the contenders here are on the road. Odd. Anyway, the wheels have more or less fallen off the White Sox; with Thomas and Ordonez gone, the Sox just don't have the punch to make up for their pitching, which ranks 21st in the majors in ERA - behind every other contender except Texas. Swapping Loaiza for Jose Contreras, whose ERA is close to 6.00, won't help. Contreras pitches tomorrow, followed by former Angel Scott Shoeneweis on Wednesday and Jon Garland on Thursday.

From here on in, it's series-to-series, game-to-game, inning-to-inning fun.