With their leading hitter, Erick Aybar, batting in the No. 9 slot for Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the Angels either have an incredibly deep lineup or manager Mike Scioscia has something up his proverbial sleeves.
In this case, it’s probably both.
With Bobby Abreu batting second, between Chone Figgins and Torii Hunter, Scioscia likes to have a pair of table-setters in front of the versatile Abreu – a classic “swing man” in the manager’s mind, meaning he can set or clear the table.
Figgins and Aybar are the club’s fastest two players, and when they get moving, they’re a sight to behold. Abreu has the ability to do a lot of things behind, in effect, a pair of swift leadoff men.
Abreu drove in 103 runs and scored 96 this season, batting third 95 times and second 50 times. The Angels had a better record (60-35) with Abreu batting third than second (26-24), but Scioscia likes the way this lineup sets up.
Aybar, who made tremendous strides offensively in his selectivity in large part because of Abreu’s influence, excelled in the No. 2 spot. The Angels were 26-9 when the shortstop batted second, compared to a pedestrian 28-29 when Aybar batted ninth.
With Maicer Izturis batting second, the Angels were 34-21. Izturis is expected back at second base in Game 2 against Josh Beckett after Howard Kendrick – a .358 hitter in the second half – got the start at second against lefty Jon Lester.
Scioscia studies numbers to a degree, but he’s also an intuitive manager who relies on feel. He’d say the Abreu and Abyar lineup numbers are skewed by the times of the season when Abreu batted third vs. second and when Aybar hit ninth vs. second.
And when you’ve won six division titles in your first 10 seasons – something no manger has done before you – you certainly deserve a lot of benefit of any doubt
With Jeff Mathis catching John Lackey, the Angels had a .211 hitter batting eighth, right in front of Aybar and his .312 average. But Mathis made much better contact late in the season and hit .234 in the second half, compared to .192 before the All-Star break.
Chone Figgins has had a career year by any and all measures, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense while racking up some historic numbers of his own, like good buddy Bobby Abreu.
Combining at least 100 runs scored, 100 walks, 180 hits and 40 steals, Figgins said he was informed he has done something only Ty Cobb accomplished. Figgins came into Saturday’s game against the Athletics with 114 runs, 182 hits, 101 walks and 42 steals.
Cobb did it in 1915, the only season he accepted at least 100 walks. It was one of the dominant seasons in history: .369 batting average, then-record 96 steals, 144 runs, 208 hits, 115 bases on balls.
Rickey Henderson, the greatest of all leadoff men, never made it to 180 hits in a season. He fell one hit shy in his epic 1980 season when he combined 111 runs scored with 100 steals, 117 walks and 179 hits.
Barry Bonds had 181 hits, 126 walks and 129 runs in 1993 but fell 11 steals shy of 40 – not because he wasn’t trying. He was caught stealing 12 times.
Abreu fell 10 hits shy of achieving the feat in 2001 with the Phillies when he had 118 runs, 106 walks, 36 steals and 170 hits. In 2000, he had 182 hits and 100 walks along with 103 runs, falling short with 28 steals.
The remarkable seasons of the Angels’ twin catalysts come into sharper focus every day. This is a tandem at the top of the order matched by few in history in terms of getting on base and moving around those bases.
Abreu on Friday night became the fifth player in history with at least 30 steals and at least 100 RBIs in a season, joining Cobb, Honus Wagner, Hugh Duffy and Barry Bonds.
ANAHEIM – Bobby Abreu sat at his locker before Sunday’s game at Angel Stadium against the Athletics, engrossed in a showdown between the Yankees, his old team, and the Red Sox on a flat screen TV.
Abreu reached another personal milestone in a season loaded with them on Saturday night: 100 RBIs for the seventh year in a row. Only Albert Pujols has done that, but Abreu was reasonably certain a former teammate – Alex Rodriguez – would be joining them shortly.
“Alex has 94,” Abreu said, nodding toward the wide-screen TV. “He should get there without much trouble.”
Abreu clearly was pleased – and relieved – to have reached 100 with a two-run homer, his 14th, in the fourth inning of what was to be a 15-10 loss to the sizzling Athletics on Saturday night.
“That’s a good one,” Abreu said, “Albert and me . . . and Alex coming.”
Abreu has been made aware of another milestone in his reach. He’s one steal away from 30, which would bring him in the company of Barry Bonds as the only players to combine at least 30 steals and at least 100 RBIs in five seasons.
Abreu last did it in 2006, the season he split with the Phillies and Yankees. In the Bronx, A-Rod coming up behind him, Abreu wasn’t encouraged to steal. With the born-to-run Angels, he has the green light to go when he sees the opportunity, and he has succeeded on 29 of 37 sprints.
“Bobby’s a very smart baserunner,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He knows what he’s doing out there.”
In terms of career numbers, what impresses Chone Figgins — who lockers next door and is usually immersed in baseball conversation with Abreu – is the fact that the right fielder has scored more career runs (1,265) than he has driven home (1,184).
“You can only score them one at a time,” Figgins said. “You can drive them in two, three, four at a time. That shows you how much Bobby’s been on base – and how well he has run the bases.”
Abreu was back in the No. 2 spot in the order on Sunday against Edgar Gonzalez, with Erick Aybar batting ninth in front of Figgins, giving him, in effect, two leadoff men to set the table.
As promised, Angels manager Mike Scioscia shuffled his lineup for Saturday night’s game, trying to find some missing chemistry – and runs – after going 0-for-19 the previous two games with runners in scoring position and striking out a total of 28 times.
Bobby Abreu was bumped up to No. 2 from No. 3, with Torii Hunter assuming the spot between Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero. Giving Erick Aybar a day off and taking over at shortstop, Maicer Izturis was placed in the No. 9 spot, giving the Angels a pair of table-setters in front of Abreu.
Two RBIs shy of 100 for the seventh straight year, Abreu has not been himself lately. He is in a 2-for-27 slide with 14 strikeouts, an uncommonly high number for a guy known not only for his ability to work counts but to put the bat on the ball and move it around the field.
By hitting Abreu second, Scioscia might free him up from thinking about driving in runs in favor of putting the ball in play behind leadoff catalyst Chone Figgins.
Abreu, 35, has 640 plate appearances in 145 games, trailing only Figgins among teammates. It could be a case of mental fatigue setting in for Abreu, who has made 119 starts in right field, 10 in left and 12 as a DH.
“I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue,” Scioscia said. “We talk to him every day to make sure he’s moving in the right direction. He feels fine physically. Mentally, he’s as strong as anybody I’ve been around.
“I don’t think that’s an issue. He’s been through pennant races. For a while he started squaring it up, but lately, obviously, he’s trying to find some things.”
Catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis have been spending most of the time in the No. 9 spot with Abreu batting third. The start in that spot is the fourth for Izturis, and the Angels are unbeaten with him in the No. 9 hole.
“In theory, there are more options [with Izturis in front of Figgins],” Scioscia said. “We’re going to try to connect our hitters with this lineup, and the situational look is going to have to come from the bottom.”
Despite their recent struggles, eight of the nine hitters in the lineup were at .288 (Juan Rivera) or higher, but only three – Figgins and Kendry Morales (both at .301) and Hunter (.300) — were at .300 or better. Mathis is batting .209.
Guerrero, in quest of a 13th consecutive season batting at least .300, comes in at .296.
Even with their 0-for-19 the past two games, the Angels still lead the Majors in hitting with runners in scoring position at .295 and lead in overall batting average as well at .284.
ANAHEIM – Angels third baseman Chone Figgins has done several things this season better than anybody in the American League.
He has reached base 274 times heading into a three-game weekend series against the Athletics, and he has 98 walks. Leading the AL in both categories, he also is tied for the lead in runs scored (109) with Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.
Back-to-back three-hit games against the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday brought Figgins back over the .300 mark, to .301. His .399 on-base percentage has him tied for fifth in the AL with the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, the only leadoff man to get on base that frequently.
With a .471 stretch through his past 17 at-bats, Figgins has put a .188 stretch in 32 at-bats in his rear-view mirror.
“You’re not always going to get hits to fall,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Even thought hits weren’t falling, he was still getting on base, walking. That’s what makes him a dynamic offensive player. He can get on base even when he’s not swinging the bat well. He’s done that.”
It was Bobby Abreu, arguably the most disciplined hitter in the sport, who pointed something out to Figgins early in the season that his next-locker neighbor has not forgotten.
“Bobby said, `You’re a good hitter. Be more selective. Because you’re a leadoff hitter, that’s what’s going to set you apart.’ He said, `You may not get two hits in a game, but going 0-for-2 with two walks and scoring two runs, you’ve had a great game.
“He said I could do that without taking away my aggressiveness. You get a pitch to hit, go after it. It’s interesting what has happened this year. I’m getting a lot of first-pitch changeups, curveballs. They’re showing me respect. They know if I get a pitch I can handle, I can drive it.”
Figgins has five homers for the season, but two have come in the past four games. He is four runs away from matching his career high of 113 from 2005.
With 42 steals, third in the AL, he’s 20 away from his career high set in that same 2005 season when he played a career-best 158 games and batted .290.
Having played a team-high 149 games, Figgins could finish with 159. But it’s not likely he’ll continue to play every game in the aftermath of a third consecutive American League West title.
On top of his endurance and offensive productivity, Figgins is clearly a strong candidate for the AL Rawlings Gold Glove for his brilliant play at third base.
Vladimir Guerrero, like fellow cleanup man Alex Rodriguez from the other side, was given a day off on Wednesday as the Angels and Yankees got together in the bright sunlight of Angels Stadium for their final regular-season date.
They could meet again in October, and if that happens, neither Guerrero nor A-Rod will be skipping any at-bats or innings. With a scheduled day off on Thursday, Guerrero gets two days off his feet, which ought to restore some life in his legs.
“Just a day [off],” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of his designated hitter, who is batting .299 (with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 91 games) in his quest to reach .300 for a 13th consecutive season. “He’ll be ready on Friday [against Oakland].
“He’s played a long time with a lot of swings. You can talk about DHing, and obviously it’s not as demanding as playing in the field. But there’s still a lot that goes into what a guy has to do. Especially since he’s been dealing with leg issues, which put him on the DL the second time.”
Bobby Abreu was in the DH spot against A.J. Burnett, with Gary Matthews Jr. getting a start in right field.
Guerrero, who had right knee surgery last October, opened the season with a torn pectoral muscle that cost him 35 games when it was diagnosed on April 18. He returned on May 25 and sustained a strained lower right hamstring, in the upper calf area, making a play in right field, putting him back on the DL from July 8 to Aug. 4.
A total of 56 lost games cost him a realistic shot at his 12th consecutive season with at least 25 homers and a .300-plus batting average. He’s with Lou Gehrig as the only players ever to do that 11 years in succession.
In the past 50 years, only Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew, spray hitters with speed, managed to bat at least .300 for at least 12 seasons in a row, a streak Guerrero started in 1997 on Montreal’s carpet.
One more historical reference point underscores how truly unique this man has been in his amazing career. With a .322 career average and 407 home runs, Guerrero is in a club of six with Jimmie Foxx, Gehrig, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams at .320-plus and 400-plus.
Someday, Vlad will join the legends in Cooperstown, N.Y., home of immortals.
There are very few catchers Mike Sciosica puts in Jeff Mathis’ class defensively. Offensively, Mathis has “underachieved” in his manager’s evaluation.
“He’s got more offense in him, for sure,” Scioscia said. “There are probably a lot of things contributing to it. He hasn’t come to the park knowing he’s going to get four at-bats. That’s obviously important to a young player. He has more than he has brought to the offensive end.”
After enduring nightmarish months of June (.158) and July (.147), Mathis has come alive in August. He was hitting .300 in 30 at-bats this month coming into his start on Saturday against Scott Richmond, with a .467 slugging percentage. Those numbers would be even higher if not for several recent shots and long drives that found gloves.
Overall, Mathis has brought his average to .211 with five homers and 26 RBIs in 175 at-bats. He’s batting .267 with runners in scoring position, continuing a career trend of doing his best work when it matters most.
Last season, for example, he batted only .194 – five points below his current career average – but he produced nine homers and 42 RBIs in 283 at-bats, a half-season.
“The power production we get from our two catchers [Mathis and Mike Napoli] is about as good as there is in the game,” Scioscia said.
Mathis came to Spring Training in a hitting groove, having spent the winter hitting in a home-made cage in the barn he calls home in Florida, and went through an intensive session with hitting coach Mickey Hatcher upon his arrival in Tempe, Ariz.
This translated into a brilliant spring, inspiring confidence that Mathis – a superlative athlete recruited to play football at Florida State – was on his way to a breakout season.
“I’ve gotten away from things I was doing in Spring Training,” Mathis said. “I feel like I’ve gotten back in a better place to hit. I’m shorter to the ball, letting the ball get deeper. The big thing is laying off pitchers’ pitches.”
Like all the Angels’ hitters, Mathis has been a study of Bobby Abreu, a textbook example of how to approach at-bats with his remarkable discipline.
“Watching him helps,” Mathis said. “He recognizes the pitch so quick, and you don’t see him getting fooled and taking bad swings very often. He gets in good counts, and even when he has two strikes, he’s confident he can find something to hit. He never panics.
“To appreciate what he does, you have to see him every day. Playing against him, you don’t realize everything he does. You know he’s a good player – just not this good. He doesn’t just do it in one game, one series. He does it every day. It’s 162 games with Bobby.”
Torii Hunter, gradually regaining strength in the area of his right adductor muscle, was not in the Angels’ lineup for Thursday night’s series finale against the Indians at Progressive Field, with Gary Matthews Jr. in center field.
Hunter also will take a day off in Toronto, where the Angels engage the Blue Jays in a three-game weekend series on the artificial surface at the Rogers Centre. Look for Hunter to be back in the No. 3 spot in the order in Toronto, between Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.
“I’m good,” Hunter said, on his way to take batting practice in the inside cages. “They’re being careful with me, and even though I never want to come out, I understand.”
While the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner rested, manager Mike Scioscia was joining the campaign for Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar, promoting the Gold Glove candidacies of his left-side infielders. Figgins at third and Aybar at shortstop have been brilliant and steady all season.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Scioscia said of Figgins’ worthiness of Gold Glove consideration. “There’s not a third baseman in our league playing at a higher level.”
Asked if the same view applied to Aybar, Scioscia nodded.
“Erick makes very tough plays look manageable, routine, with his arm strength,” Scioscia said. “There’s no shortstop who makes the 4-6 double play turn better than Erick, nobody.”
Scioscia had to reach deep in his memory bank to find names when he was asked if anybody else could have made the play Aybar delivered in Baltimore, robbing fleet Brian Roberts of a hit from deep in the hole with a leaping bullet to first.
Ozzie Smith, Garry Templeton and Shawon Dunston were shortstops of the past who crossed Scioscia’s mind as having the arm strength and athleticism to make a play like that . . . but “nobody” in today’s game.
Figgins, drafted as a shortstop by Colorado, has started at six positions in the Majors, finally settling in at third base in 2007 on a full-time basis.
“It feels good to get some recognition for what I’m doing defensively,” Figgins said. “It took a while before I really thought of myself as a third baseman, but that’s what I am now. I’d be flattered to be considered for that [Gold Glove]. Growing up, my man was Ozzie [Smith], and I’d love to get one.”
The Wizard of Oz won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves for the Cardinals. The two-time reigning Gold Glove third baseman in the American League, Seattle’s Adrian Beltre, has missed 39 games this season.
Aybar’s model at shortstop as a kid was the Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal, the player he most resembles. Michael Young, last year’s Gold Glove shortstop in the AL, was moved to third base this year by Texas to accommodate the arrival of Elvis Andrus.
Young succeeded Orlando Cabrera, who claimed the 2007 Gold Glove in an Angels uniform, with Aybar as his understudy.
Vladimir Guerrero will make his return to the Angels lineup tonight against the White Sox as the designated hitter, batting in his customary cleanup spot between AL Player of the Month Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera.
Catcher Bobby Wilson is being returned to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Guerrero on the 25-man roster.
Guerrero and Torii Hunter have been on the 15-day disabled list since July 10. The Angels were 17-3 with their customary 3-4 hitters out of the lineup.
Guerrero, sidelined with a strained muscle behind his left knee, is batting .290 with four homers and 21 RBIs.
Hunter, out with an adductor muscle strain on his right side, will need a little more time, manager Mike Scioscia said, because he’ll be in center field when he rejoins the lineup. Hunter could play a few Minor League rehab games this weekend to get ready.
Vladimir Guerrero “ran great today,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Sunday’s game against the Twins. Torii Hunter, also eager to get off the disabled list and get his Rawlings Gold Glove back in center field, “ran very well,” Scioscia added.
“We’ll wait and see how they come out of it. Vlad’s probably a couple of days ahead of Torii now.”
Guerrero, if all goes well, could be back in the designated hitter role by the time the Angels leave Chicago on Thursday night. Because he won’t be playing in right field for a while, if at all, the big bopper won’t need any Minor League rehab games, Scioscia said.
Hunter, on the other hand, figures to play a few games next weekend with one of the Angels’ Minor League affiliates – perhaps in his native Arkansas with the Double-A Travelers. Triple-A Salt Lake and high Class A Rancho Cucamonga are also possibilities.
“I’m dying to get off the DL,” Hunter said, frustrated by his inability to play this weekend in what would have been his farewell to the Metrodome, where his career started with the Twins.
“In Torii’s case, he’s going to most likely go down and play a few games to work his way out of stiffness connected to playing the outfield again,” Scioscia said. “With Vlad, the earlier he starts seeing Major League pitching, there’s a better chance of being productive early.”
The Angels, in a tribute to their remarkable depth and the tremendous offense generated by the likes of Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli in the heart of the order, are 16-3 since their 3-4 hitters went on the DL together on July 10 – Guerrero with a muscle strain behind his left knee, Hunter with an adductor muscle strain on his right side.
Scioscia said Guerrero will be “somewhere in the middle” of the order when he returns but is unsure exactly how he’ll fit him in. There are a variety of lineup options.
So deep are the Angels, Napoli couldn’t find his way into the lineup on Sunday after collecting a total of seven hits in the first two games of the series. Abreu assumed the DH spot with Rivera going to right field.
With 19 hits on Friday night and 18 on Saturday night, scoring 11 runs each time, the Angels accomplished something unprecedented in franchise history, spanning 7,751 games. It’s the first time they’ve ever put together back-to-back games with 18 or more hits.