Purgatory Online

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The FOX drones - in between gnashing their teeth and rending their garments thinking about an ALCS devoid of Red Sox or Yankees - report that Bengie Molina looks likely to play tomorrow. Apparently he "could have played today, but would have been in a lot of pain." Yeah - same here.

Today's game has been postponed by rain until tomorrow at 6:30 Eastern time, which gives me a little bit of a breather. I'm not sure I would've been able to concentrate enough to write an update today otherwise.

I'll take credit for calling last night's game "epic" before it occurred, but I had no idea. Just...no idea. I'm fairly sure I was more wrung out after Game 2 of the 2002 World Series, that amazing 11-10 battle that became Tim Salmon's apotheosis, but nothing else comes close. For a while, I thought I might actually be in purgatory; that the expiation of my sins would take the form of a never-ending playoff game in Yankee Stadium. Surely that game lasted as long as three ordinary games. Surely it should be worth at least two wins?

No such luck.

Still. A stunner. With everyone and their dead grandmother (outside the Halosphere) just assuming that Randy Johnson would make mincemeat out of them, the Angels announced that they just might have something to say about how this all goes down - and in the best way possible. Garret Anderson? Yeah, he showed up. Four for five. A home and a triple. Five RBI. And Figgins, who was starting to look like a postseason nonentity? Two clutch hits, and that unbelievable catch. That's twice Figgins has turned the tide against the Yankees with a great defensive play in as many days. It's the kind of play that's all or nothing; with runners on the corners going on contact, if that ball gets by Figgins at least two score, and who knows how many more after that.

I have to admit that last night also saw my darkest moment this year as an Angels fan. The fourth and fifth innings, in which the Yankees roared back to take the lead, had me literally throwing the remote, turning the television off in disgust, and going off to another room to calm down. It wasn't even the blown lead that got to me - it was the feeling of inevitability about it. The feeling, a few batters into the fourth, that the Yankees were going to come back no matter what. I suppose that's "mystique and aura" for you. But the Angels have always had the right answer for that - sure, they might come back. But then it's your turn to punch. Never stop fighting until the fighting is done.

And so the Angels will get two shots at closing this thing out - Game 4 against Chacon, then Game 5 back in Anaheim (if necessary, two words that should loosen the bowels of any Yankees fan). Jarrod Washburn remains the probable starter for tomorrow's game, though it's always possible that Colon will take the ball now that he's at normal rest.

There's no question in my mind that the postponement of today's game benefits the Angels. Both Shields and Escobar threw a lot of pitches last night, and probably would've been kept out of a game today. Though I've got a fair bit of confidence in Santana throwing long relief, it's always better to have your best weapons at the ready, and a day off should put them in shape to pitch Games 4 and 5. It also gives Bengie Molina an extra day to recover from the pitch he took to his elbow, which might have been a crucial blow to the Angels if it had broken something. Despite the contributions from everyone else at various times, Bengie has been the guy consistently carrying this team forward over the last three games. He'll be a free agent after this year, and this may well be his valedictory as an Angel. They need him, and hopefully his wing is mended enough to play by tomorrow.

There's also the fact that a day off gives the Angels a chance to recharge mentally, making themless less likely to suffer from a letdown effect. The Yankees know their backs are to the wall; there's no chance they're going to ease off for Game 4. But the Angels, playing less than 24 hours after an emotional win and not in danger of elimination, might have suffered a bit. An extra day's perspective allows them to remember that there are necks yet to be stepped upon, work yet to be done.

Just like yesterday, the baseball universe believes that the Angels won't win Game 4. But maybe the baseball universe didn't see last night's game. I did. And I believe.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Tonight's game has something of a momentous feel to it. October in Yankee Stadium, in the rain and the cold. Randy Johnson bringing his 98 mph heat against Paul Byrd, whose crafty-veteran status is solid. The Yankees know that a loss puts them up against elimination with a final game in Anaheim. The Angels know that Johnson is a guy who ends playoff hopes for a living. New Yorkers want vengeance for '02. Angels fans want vengeance for '95.

The most important question for the Angels, though, is how to get Chone Figgins going. Figgins had a lousy post-season last year, hitting and fielding poorly. While he's made some spectacular plays at third so far this year, that's simply not going to be enough. The Angels can make do without contributions from Anderson or Guerrero in any given game; we all know that they run hot and cold, and the atmosphere has nothing to do with it. At this point, though, we're starting to creep into the territory with Figgins where he's going to start provoking mutters about his ability to produce in the playoffs. Fair or not, that's the kind of thing that perpetuates itself.

Tonight would not seem particularly auspicious for Figgins; in addition to Johnson being just plain good, Figgins is significantly worse as a right-handed hitter. Nevertheless, despite the confluence of factors arrayed against him, he's going to have to find a way to block out the distractions and treat this game - and the rest of the playoff run - as if it were any other part of the season.

Suspected lineup:
Figgins - CF
Cabrera - SS
Anderson - LF
Guerrero - RF
Molina - C
Rivera - DH
Erstad - 1B
Quinlan - 3B
Kennedy - 2B

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Last night's game was...oh, let's go with "frustrating."

Frustrating, because Colon couldn't close out the first or second innings with two out and nobody on. Frustrating, because the Angels never seemed to get anything going offensively. And frustrating, because, despite it all, this was a game lost by lousy luck.

Don't get me wrong - the Yankees had some quality at-bats in those first two innings; certainly they put together more than the Angels would see. But if Gary Sheffield doesn't luck into a dying quail, Colon gets out of it unscathed. And if Finley's ground-rule double hugs the round a little closer, Rivera easily scores from first instead of being forced to remain at third. Last night's game, in other words, could easily have been a 3-1 victory instead of a 4-2 defeat.

None of which matters in terms of last night's game - it's lost, forget it. But the fact that Colon and Shields were able to manhandle the Yankee lineup for most of the game should give Lackey some confidence headed into tonight's matchup, which becomes a must-win. As for the bats...well, there's nothing that can really be said about them other than that they'll have to do better. Erstad is going to have to put his big-game face on in particular.

This is a club that has flirted with disaster all year, only to pull things out when it mattered most. As a fan, having seen them do it time after time, how do you give up on them now?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

As is my custom, the champagne is bought, and cooling in the fridge. The club hasn't let me down yet, and I don't expect them to start with the ALDS.

Nothing left but to do it, guys. Go get 'em.

Although home-field advantage in a five-game series isn't all that big a deal, one of the dominoes that fell over when the Angels swept the Rangers was the ability to hit against Mike Mussina with Mussina on the road. You'll see what I mean in a minute.

But first, Mussina's left-right splits, which are actually pretty boring:

vLHB - .282/.334/.436, 394 PA, 2.60 BB9, 8.40 K9, 10.20 H9
v RHB - .286/.332/.437, 372 PA, 2.11 BB9, 5.82 K9, 9.74 H9

Those are remarkable only for their similarity; other than a slightly elevated strikeout rate against lefties, they're virtually identical. Mussina's a slight groundball pitcher against both lefties and righties as well.

However, consider those splits - which are season-long - when looking at these numbers:

Away - .308/.370/.458, 394 PA, 3.18 BB9, 7.90 K9, 11.19 H9
Night - .291/.336/.469, 577 PA, 2.22 BB9, 7.46 K9, 10.34 H9
After All-Star Break - .298/.353/.447, 288 PA, 2.71 BB9, 8.41 K9, 10.58 H9

Hmmmm...so Mussina seems to have been a fair bit worse on the road, a little bit worse at night, and a fair bit worse after the break (his August and September numbers are particularly suspect). All of which leads me to believe that the key to offensive production against him won't necessarily be the matchups, but rather individual hitters taking advantage of his mistakes.

Predicted lineup:

Figgins - 3B
Cabrera - SS
Anderson - DH
Guerrero - RF
Erstad - 1B
Molina - C
Finley - CF
Rivera - LF
Kennedy - 2B

Monday, October 03, 2005

ESPN predictions:

Gammons - Angels in five.
Miller - Angels in four.
Crasnick - Angels in five.
Neel - Angels in five.
Neyer - Yankees in five.

The Yankees - Alex Rodriguez and Joe Torre, specifically - are reportedly miffed that Buck Showalter pulled Michael Young, Hank Blalock, and Mark Teixeira after two at-bats apiece in Sunday's game against the Angels, thus weakening the Rangers' chances of winning and handing the Angels home-field advantage of the ALDS.

These, of course, are the same Yankees who had a perfectly legitimate chance to get home-field by beating the Red Sox on Sunday, but nevertheless chose to start Jaret Wright and his 5.97 ERA over Mike Mussina so they'd have a rested starter available for Game 1. It's also the same Joe Torre who, immediately after clinching the AL East the day before, told the media he'd be resting his own starters on Sunday (Torre ended up starting them, but pulling them after two or three at-bats each).

Man, I thought Noo Yawkuhs were supposed to be all tough and shit. Apparently not.