Purgatory Online

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

That's it. No more off days, just baseball now: thirteen games to make it or blow it. A two-game lead in the loss column to defend, all the pieces they're going to have, gut-check time.

It starts with Texas, a team that's played the Angels tough over the last couple of years. Though the Angels seem to usually come out on top, the games have been incredibly tense. Tonight's should be no exception, as the Rangers would like nothing better than to play the spoiler role here. In addition to derailing the Angels' season, they've also got to be gunning for a couple of individual streaks: Bartolo Colon's 9-0 record versus the Rangers, and Vladimir Guerrero's 31-game hitting streak against them.

Texas starts Juan Dominguez tonight, who's never started against the Angels but did pitch effectively against them in relief earlier this year. Dominguez is kind of a mirror image of Jason Johnson, in that he's substantially worse against righties:

vLHB - .230/.322/.410, 1.29 G/F, 115 PA, 4.39 BB/9, 6.08 K/9, 7.76 H/9
vRHB - .297/.344/.432, 1.03 G/F, 129 PA, 2.51 BB/9, 6.59 K/9, 10.99 H/9

The interesting bit is that Dominguez is himself a right-hander, so his splits are the reverse of normal. Looking at the numbers, we see that a fairly substantial number of the walks he issues to lefties are being transmuted to hits by righties. Dominguez is a fastball-changeup guy who mixes in the occasional curve, so I'm not really sure what's going on there, but if I had to guess I'd say that right-handers have been hitting that changeup, which they see just a tiny bit later than lefties do (making the functional difference between the change and the fastball that much less).

This makes things interesting in terms of the lineup. Obviously, the usual righties will need to step up and drive the ball - Guerrero, Cabrera, and Bengie Molina, front and center, please. I would hope, as well, that Juan Rivera will be in the starting lineup; Rivera actually hits righties better than he hits lefties (.293/.335/.494 this year), so things are really set up for him to perform. The real questions, as always, will be at third base and center field. Figgins is a given to play one of those spots. If he's in center, Robb Quinlan (a righty) could play third - but I think Quinlan's .152/.204/.196 line against righties makes him suspect, even against Dominguez. If Figgins plays third, Finley or DaVanon could play center, but both of them have been terrible against righties as well.

Instead, I think the best of a set of bad options is probably to start Figgins in center and Maicer Izturis at third. Izturis is a switch-hitter currently batting .269/.310/.381 against righties, and he's about as good a third-baseman as either Quinlan or Figgins.

My preference would be to see something like this:

Figgins - CF
Cabrera - SS
Anderson - LF/DH
Guerrero - RF/DH
Molina, B. - C
Erstad - 1B
Rivera - LF/RF/DH
Izturis - 3B
Kennedy - 2B

Why Molina fifth instead of Rivera? Simply put, protection for Vlad. Rivera may be hitting well, may even be expected to hit better than Molina if you're just going by the splits. But protection isn't just about being a better hitter on a given day, it's about having a reputation. True, Rivera might have as good or better a shot at making the Rangers pay for walking Guerrero, but the Rangers don't really know him well enough to respect him. They know Molina, though - and they damn sure know he's hit .393/.486/.643 off Texas pitching this year. With Molina hitting fifth, Guerrero will see more pitches. Erstad, meanwhile, hits ahead of Rivera solely to break up the righty-lefty matchups in the late innings.

Of course, it's also possible that Jose Molina will catch tonight; Colon often throws to Jose, in which case I'd bump Rivera, Erstad, and Izturis up and bat him eighth (ideally, you'd want Izturis to get on base, Molina to bunt him over, and Kennedy to drive him in). Considering the Angels are coming off an off-day, though, I suspect Scioscia will opt for Bengie.