Purgatory Online

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Purgatory Online has taken hiatuses before, and I've said that I generally feel like there's not much to blog about in the offseason. Playing hot stove GM never really pushed my buttons.

This, however, is not a hiatus.

This, my friends, is The End, as in Jim Morrison's sole and bestest buddy. After three years and just north of 700 posts, I think I'm done doing this. There's no one reason why - I'm certainly going to follow the Angels' progress just as closely as I always have - but several things have made keeping Purgatory Online going either superfluous or impractical. For one thing, my life is about to take a fairly radical turn as I head to law school in the fall, a 36-year-old matriculant. This will necessitate a move, possibly to the East Coast, where I'd need to stay up until 1:00 am to watch a large proportion of games. And that Extra Innings package is going to start to look a little spendy when my income drops to zero.

For another, the Halosphere looks a lot different today than it did when I started this thing. As in, it exists. Part of the reason I started writing was out of sheer sectarian obstinacy - I got tired of looking at the blogrolls on baseball sites and seeing twenty-seven Mariners blogs (remember when the Mariners were good?) and no Angels blogs. These days, though, every one of those guys and gals on the sidebar is doing great work providing news, info, and discussion on the Angels. I'm proud to have been a part of that community, and will continue to be so as a commenter from time to time.

I'll also be maintaining the Brief History of the Halosphere, so those of you with links to it can feel free to leave them unchanged. I'll also check my email at purgatoryonline@yahoo.com from time to time, so if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line.

Over the past three years, I've had a chance to follow and write about a team that, seemingly miraculously, has turned themselves from jinx-plagued doormats to a team that no one would leave out of a discussion of playoff predictions or possible free-agent destinations. I'll never forget it. Here's to lighting up the halo a bunch more times in 2006, and every season after that.

Good night, everybody.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

ESPN is reporting that the Red Sox have traded shortstop Edgar Renteria to the Braves for minor-league 3B prospect Andy Marte, leaving the Bostons in need of a shortstop. Previous rumors have had the Angels in discussion with the Red Sox to trade Orlando Cabrera as part of a package that would net Manny Ramirez; this may be a prelude to a blockbuster.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dunno if any of the rest of the Halosphere has caught this - I don't remember seeing it via Bloglines, and the rest of you without an rss feed need to get one, dammit - but check out this story about Darin Erstad, a Port-A-Potty, and a near-asskicking avoided by beers and burgers.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Well, after six and a half months and 172 games, the doomsayers finally got one right.

My initial reaction is, of course, disappointment. Not disappointment in losing, exactly, but in playing so poorly in a series that was, when you get down to it, winnable. That's not to take anything away from the White Sox - they came through when it counted and proved themselves the better team - but after that first game the Angels just looked terrible, particularly at the plate. Chone Figgins and Vlad Guerrero are in serious danger of being labeled postseason nonentities, and for good reason. A team that never really had much offensive punch during the regular season saw it disappear entirely in the ALCS.

There were, of course, good things about this year - a second straight Western Division championship and sending the Yankees home in the ALDS, to name two. There are a lot of teams out there that would've loved to accomplish those things. I note here in passing that, since two-tiered playoffs began in 1995, the Angels have won four postseason series. The Mariners have won two. The Rangers and A's have won none.

There will be more to say in the next few days, but for now let's just congratulate the White Sox. For all the poor officiating - and honestly, at times it was simply gruesome - there's really no reasonable way to claim the Angels should have won this thing. I wish the Chicago club the best of luck in the World Series, and I hope that whichever team comes out of the NL gives them a better series than the Angels did.

The road to the threepeat starts in four months.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Enough of this bullshit. Let's be clear: if you are seriously thinking of going to tonight's game to throw things at an umpire, or threaten him, or are obsessed enough to vow revenge, then you are functionally retarded and need to quit worrying about a damn game and find the proper pharmaceuticals. Holler and make signs if you want - I mean, I still think that's a waste of time, but whatever floats your boat - but anything beyond that and I hope you go to jail. The Angels have a pennant to win, and the last thing they need is for this nonsense to interfere with how they go about doing it even more than it already has. Let me put it another way: if you were a ballplayer, which would you rather have: 45,000 fans cheering you on in a game that's being played right now, or 45,000 fans booing an umpire for a terrible call in a game that's already over?

Let's look at Jon Garland.

vLHB - .276/.314/.453, 464 BF, 2.02 BB9, 4.04 K9, 9.46 H9
vRHB - .234/.281/.336, 381 BF, 1.68 BB9, 4.95 K9, 7.75 H9

Garland doesn't walk many batters, which is a boon to the Angels since they don't take many. Instead, he relies on a sinker that induces groundball outs, producing a 1.26 G/F ratio versus lefties and a 1.59 ratio versus righties. The Angels may also have something of an advantage in that Garland hasn't pitched since October 1. Sinkerball pitchers are often said to be more effective when they're a little tired; extra energy on the ball tends to keep it up in the zone a little longer. Frankly, I'm not at all convinced this is so, but I'm sure we'll hear it a few times as the game goes on.

With the splits clearly favoring lefties, we can expect to see Steve Finley back in center and Chone Figgins at third. I would also not be at all surprised to see Casey Kotchman DHing tonight, leaving Juan Rivera on the bench for a second straight game. Although I am convinced that Rivera is now an everyday player in Scioscia's eyes, those splits are very tempting. I'd put the odds of a Kotchman sighting at about 40%.

The last time the Angels faced Garland, Guerrero DHed and DaVanon played right field. That's an...unlikely alignment tonight. On that occasion (September 10), both Anderson and Finley went deep off Garland, and the Angels shanked him for seven earned runs in six innings.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mark Buehrle pitched very well last night, and it's entirely possible that the White Sox would have won even without the benefit of Doug Eddings giving A.J. Pierzynski first base on a blown call. Of course, it would've been nice to find out, but that's just not how it went down.

As anyone who's interested knows by now, Eddings incontravertably blew the call in terms of whether Escobar's third strike was caught or not. The replays show it in the webbing of Josh Paul's glove; there's no real way to look at those pictures and see anything different. In real time, of course, it's not an easy call to make, especially from behind the catcher, so if it was simply that Eddings missed the call, that would be unpleasant but understandable. The truly shameful bit is that Eddings clearly made the fist-pump motion he'd been using all night to signal an out, then claimed that he was merely signaling a strike. Chronicles of the Lads has already done the work on this, demonstrating that Eddings had repeatedly made that same motion to indicate an out, while never making it on third strikes in the dirt.

Should Josh Paul have tagged Pierzynski, just to be sure? Obviously, yes. It can't hurt, right? But when you know you've caught the ball, and you see your teammates start trotting off the field because the umpire has signaled the batter out, at some point you're entitled to assume the umpire isn't, you know, kidding.

But here's the thing: it's over. The deed is done, the game is lost, and there's no functional difference whatsoever between being tied at one game apiece because of a blown call and being tied at one game apiece because the Angels got blown out. After watching the last couple of games, I don't think the White Sox have a whole lot to celebrate, but the Angels have every right to be proud of coming in and very nearly winning two games on the road after their intensely grueling travel schedule, losing their ace pitcher, and sending a guy with step throat to the mound during Game 2.

I was also very impressed with Scioscia during the postgame press conference. Moments after losing a game like that, he said exactly the right things in a very measured manner. He made it clear he disagreed with the call, but also made it clear that the Angels simply didn't play well enough to absorb that kind of thing, which is what championship teams do. He took responsibility in a way that is the hallmark of this team. There won't be any excuses or whining in the clubhouse, because guys like Scioscia and Erstad have spent years establishing a culture that says that you don't get too high or too low, and when you take a tough loss you turn the page. That's why a guy like Jose Guillen never fit in with them, and it's why they'll play Game 3 without any carryover from this.

In the end, the White Sox aren't going to win a seven-game series because of one blown call. Both clubs need three more wins, and, from what I've seen during the season and in the last couple of games, the Angels are simply the better team. They'll have every opportunity to prove it starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Angels used good pitching, (mostly) sharp defense, timely hitting, perceptive managing, and a couple of White Sox miscues to steal Game 1 in Chicago last night, a game that was perhaps more important that the usual first game of a best-of-seven series. The Sox needed it to take control and pounce on the Angels' decimated pitching staff, while the Angels needed it as a hedge against what might happen if Kevin Gregg or Jarrod Washburn barfed up Game 2 (possibly literally, in the latter case).

Fortunately, the boys managed to pull it out, leaving them with one more to go before that much-needed off day. The Angels now have "home field advantage," but of course that means next to nothing without a win tonight, since the Sox could get it right back again by winning just one game in Anaheim. Going back to California up 2-0, on the other hand...well, that's a serious advantage, right there, and that should be all the motivation they need tonight. I seriously doubt anyone is thinking, even privately, that a split of the first two games puts them in charge of this series.

Tonight's game, like last night's, will hinge quite a bit on how much the Angels are able to extract from their starting pitcher, the still-wobbly Jarrod Washburn. Although Washburn's been eating solid food again for a couple of days now, anyone who's had strep throat (and that's pretty much everyone, right?) knows that recuperation takes a few days. Both Washburn's command and velocity will be under the microscope, and it shouldn't take too long to see what he's got.

With Scot Shields going two innings last night, Kelvim Escobar would seem to be the logical guy to turn to if Washburn makes it past the fifth and the score is close. I'd also not be surprised by a Brendan Donnelly sighting, even though I'm sure at this point that Scioscia and Black have little confidence in him, simply because there may be no alternative.

The White Sox, meanwhile, send up Mark Buehrle. Buehrle took something of a back seat to Contreras down the stretch, but for much of the season was Chicago's ace. The Angels have seen him three times this year already, with varying success - one earned run in nine innings on May 24, three earned runs in 8.1 innings on May 30, and five earned runs in six innings on September 9. Washburn came within one day of pitching for the Angels on all three of those occasions, facing the White Sox on May 25, May 30, and September 9. On the two occasions they matched up against each other they performed fairly similarly, with a slight advantage to Buehrle.

Buehrle's splits:
vLHB - .271/.290/.396, 215 PA, 0.70 BB9, 6.10 K9, 9.75 H9
vRHB - .260/.296/.375, 756 PA, 1.75 BB9, 5.55 K9, 8.95 H9

At first glance, Buehrle appears to be one of those lefties who actually fare worse against left-handed hitters, albeit only slightly. But, looking at those plate appearance numbers, it's clear something else is going on here. That's too many appearances for the numbers to be a sample size artifact - at least as a first explanation - but the huge difference between left-handed plate appearances and right-handed plate appearances does imply to me that selection bias is playing a big role in the numbers. In other words, managers are sending only their best lefties to the plate against him, so his numbers versus LHB are worse than they would be if he faced average hitters. Thus, there is no potential advantage to be gained by stocking the lineup with lefties tonight; that PA number tells us that the normal lineup versus left-handed pitchers should obtain. To wit:

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

Rivera and Erstad could trade places, but the above is more or less how Scioscia sent them out there when the Angels faced Buehrle a month ago (Sorensen actually started at second in that game). It's also possible, I suppose, that Izturis could play third, since Washburn has evolved into a groundball pitcher and Izturis's defense is perceived as better than Quinlan's, but I doubt it.

As usual, the Angels will need to play excellent defense and execute well on offense to win this game. If they can fight off exhaustion for one more night, they'll have a shot.

So the Angels and White Sox coaching staffs debuted some new outerwear last night, wool and leather jackets that recall my favorite Angels jacket of all time, the blue wool body/gray sleeve number with red lettering they wore in the mid-90's. At $200 it's a little steep, and those buff-colored sleeves take some getting used to, but I suspect one is in my future at some point.

This is the funniest thing The Onion has done in years:

Antonio Alfonseca Once Again Leads Major-League Relievers In Fingers
October 6, 2005 Onion Sports
MIAMI—Florida Marlins pitcher Antonio Alfonseca dominated the MLB in
appendages for the ninth straight year, finishing the 2005 season with a
league-leading 12 fingers. Alfonseca, who made his debut with the Marlins in
1997 and wasted no time making this particular statistical category his own, led
the NL for almost the entire season, only falling into a close second during an
unusual two-week period in mid-August. Alfonseca's performance will trigger a $1
million bonus, as the Marlins signed him to an incentive-laden, oft-criticized,
finger-enumeration-based contract. "Antonio has been through a lot this season,
including some elbow problems and a trip to the DL," manager Jack McKeon said.
"But in the end, he just went out there and had a lot of fingers." There was
once again a tie for second place behind Alfonseca, with 214 pitchers amassing
10 fingers each, followed by Bob Wickman, who finished last with 9.7.

"But in the end, he just went out there and had a lot of fingers." I am slain.

In possibly the most boring prank of all time, a pair of Chicago radio guys attempted to wake up the Angels by knocking on their hotel room doors yesterday afternoon. Not only were they arrested and jailed for their trouble, it looks like they were knocking on the wrong doors, too.

Fortunately, the White Sox executed just about as well as they did.

Kevin Arnovitz chronicles the rise of the Angels as "Southern California's fair-haired franchise."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Angels portion of today's pregame press conference just ended; Scioscia and Washburn took questions.
  • According to Scioscia, the team got into the hotel at about 6:30 this morning.
  • Jarrod Washburn is "likely to start" tomorrow; if he can't, Kevin Gregg will get the call.
  • Colon won't be available for the ALCS. Esteban Yan has been added to the roster.
  • Washburn looked wan and has clearly not fully recovered. He says that he hasn't picked up a baseball since Friday and had to watch Games 4 and 5 in a "quarantine room" by himself. When asked how long he'd be out if this had hit him in May instead of October, his response was "probably longer than I'm taking."

Disposing of the Yankees was nice, but it's over. Thanks to Saturday's rainout and the kiddie-fiddlers at FOX, the Angels will play in Chicago tonight, travel and pitching disarray be damned. Though I have not yet seen an updated ALCS roster for the Angels, the word is that the Angels are skeptical that Bartolo Colon's inflamed shoulder will allow him to pitch against the White Sox, and he may be done for the year. Paul Byrd will pitch tonight, John Lackey goes in Game 3, and Ervin Santana in Game 4 (if Colon and/or Washburn remain unavailable). Game 2?


Well, Washburn has strep throat, and probably won't be ready. Which means either Kevin Gregg or Kelvim Escobar out of the bullpen, or Joe Saunders, who was not on the ALDS roster. Fun times.

The flip side of the disarray is that if the Angels do manage to steal one in Chicago it puts them in a stronger position that it would otherwise, since they would be coming home starting Lackey in Game 3 against Jon Garland. But they have to, you know, win first.

Tonight's White Sox starter is Jose Contreras, who's managed to turn around a pretty mediocre season after the All-Star Break and put together a nice little run. His splits this year:

vLHB - .231/.319/.365, 445 PA, 4.11 BB9, 6.34 K9, 7.63 H9
vRHB - .233/.295/.379, 412 PA, 2.44 BB9, 7.22 K9, 7.95 H9

Not a whole lot to work with there as far as matchups go, so it's likely we'll see some version of the default lineup against righties - Finley in center, Figgins at third. Scioscia has shown a propensity to juggle Guerrero and Anderson a bit lately, so I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this considering GA's recent upswing:

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

Defensively, probably the most important thing for Byrd will be getting the White Sox to hit the ball on the ground. Since the pitching is thin, he'll be looking to throw hittable pitches early in counts, thereby making use of the defense and going deeper into the game. Byrd's not exactly a strikeout pitcher to begin with, so this shouldn't represent much of a departure for him. His average pitches per inning is a relatively low 14.3 this year; if he can maintain that pace and get through seven innings, I'm sure the Angels would have no complaints.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Tomorrow. Chicago.

The chicken littles keep on cheepin'. The Angels keep on not caring.

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.