Mike Scioscia’s 2002 Angels won the franchise’s only World Series as a Wild Card, but that was not really such an exception.
Since 2000, teams with the best record in their league have been eliminated in the first round of postseason play more often (10 times) than Wild Cards (six times).
In that nine-year time frame, Wild Cards have reached the World Series eight times, winning it all on three occasions.
There’s more: Wild Card teams since 2000 have a combined 102-82 record compared to 78-78 by clubs that fashioned the best records in their leagues.
Going back to 1995 and the advent of the current system, Wild Cards have reached nine World Series and won four.
Clearly, going into the postseason as a second-place club is not such a bad deal at all.
Scioscia thinks Wild Card entries should enter the tournament with a more decided handicap rather than having the same path to travel as one of the three division champions.
“I’d like to see a 1-4 setup in the first round for the Wild Card teams,” Scioscia said. “Let them play the first game at home and then finish the series on the road. Or go to a 2-1-2 format.
“The way it is now, not enough weight is being given to division winners. Wild Cards should not be on the same ground.”
Scioscia always has attached more value to winning divisions across six months and 162 games – “the toughest challenge,” he calls it — than getting hot at the right time and winning 11 postseason contests.
Scioscia pointed out that this has nothing to do with the Angels facing a Wild Card in Boston next week for the second season in a row.
The Red Sox last year won the first two games in Anaheim, losing Game 3 at Fenway Park before claiming the series in Game 4.
Scioscia’s idea has merit. It should be more difficult for Wild Cards to make it through the opening round. You can win 100 games across six months and find your season over before you know what hit you.
The way it is now, all the Wild Card team needs to do is split the first two games on the road, and suddenly it is in the driver’s seat. Going home 1-1, two wins by the Wild Card eliminate a division champion.
This is the route Scioscia’s Angels took in ’02 when they won Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium and carried the momentum home to finish the job.
Giving the Wild Card the opener at home and then finishing the series in the house of the division winner also makes economic and environmental sense.
If the Angels and Red Sox split the first four games, they’ll return to Anaheim for Game 5 – two cross-country flights for a whole lot of people in the space of four days.
There’s no denying the success of Wild Cards in postseason play. But Scioscia, an independent thinker, will argue that it should have been even more difficult for his ’02 Angels to eliminate the Bronx Bombers en route to the Promised Land.
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.
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.
If you want to get Mike Scioscia’s undivided attention, ask him what he thinks of the schedule. The Angels’ manager goes straight to the point without a hint of slowing down to find the right politically correct words.
“The schedule’s a joke,” Scioscia said before Tuesday night’s showdown with the Bronx Bombers at Angel Stadium. “You should be [playing] in your own division early in the season, the middle of the season and in September.
“For the sake of division rivalry, that should be the way it goes. The fact we’re swinging back East [for four games in New York and Boston [Sept. 14-17] and [the Yankees] are coming out West [for six games against the Mariners and Angels, Sept. 18-23] makes no sense.”
The Angels had a 10-day, 10-game trip through Baltimore, Cleveland and Toronto from Aug. 14-23.
Sept. 14 was an off-day on the schedule, but a rainout in New York in early May forced a postponement to that date. After a night game at Yankee Stadium, the troupe flew to Boston for three night games, with a game waiting in Texas on Friday.
Their day off on Thursday will the Angels’ second free day since Aug. 13 when they embarked on that East Coast junket.
Scioscia is careful not to give his players any openings to make excuses for unfocused performances. But he played the game long enough to know how draining 49 games in 51 days can be, which is why he is careful to give regulars occasional days “off their feet,” as he puts it.
Since Aug. 3, the Angels have had two days off: Aug. 13, when they traveled to Baltimore, and Sept. 3, when they traveled from Seattle to Kansas City.
There are members of the Yankees traveling party who would nod heartily in agreement with Scioscia’s assessment of the schedule.
The Bombers have made two trips to the West Coast since the All-Star break, starting with a seven-game journey through Seattle and Oakland Aug. 13-19.
The New York continent couldn’t help noticing that their big rivals, the Red Sox, were done with the Pacific Time Zone on May 17 when they wrapped up a three-game series in Seattle following three games in Anaheim against the Angels.
The Red Sox journeyed to Oakland and Anaheim April 10-15.
Boston traveled to Texas in July and August, one time zone away. The Sox have a three-game set in Kansas City, again one time zone away.
This might seem like a relatively minor issue, but anybody who has made the change from playing for an East Coast or Midwest team to a West Coast outfit can detail how draining coast-to-coast travel can be over the long course of a season.
“I had no idea how rough travel was out here,” Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. “In Minnesota, everything was two, three hours away. With this team, we’re flying six hours to the East Coast and always trying to adjust to time changes. It’s a big adjustment, believe me. Travel out here is much more difficult.”
Yankees diehards might be excused for arguing that Boston, staying in the East and Central time zones throughout the second half, was handed a scheduling advantage. They might use it to explain why the Sox appear fresh and are finishing strong – eight wins in the past 10 games – while the Yankees have endured a sluggish period, winning four of the past 10 since Sept. 11.
The Yankees have a day off on Thursday to get rested and revved for three big weekend games at home against the Red Sox.
As for the Angels, they finish with 10 games inside the division – including six, three home and three away, against an Oakland team that is loose and playing well, with wins in eight of the past 10.
At least, Scioscia would concede, the schedule-makers got that right.
Torii Hunter always knows when he’s in Boston’s glorious old ballpark. His left ankle lets him know.
“Every time I come here,” Hunter said before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, “my ankle hurts. It remembers this place.”
What his ankle recalls is a terrible accident in the triangle in right center on July 29, 2005. Pursuing a long drive by his former Twins teammate and good buddy David Ortiz, Hunter got his ankle caught in the wall. The ankle was fractured, causing him immense pain and costing him the final two months of the season.
“It was nasty, man, really bad,” Hunter said.
The ugly incident came to his mind on Monday night when the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove center fielder lost his left shoe trying to stab a drive by the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira – it’s something about former teammates and friends – at Yankee Stadium.
After the game, Hunter jokingly referred to himself as “Shoeless Torii.” But he understood how fortunate he’d been to shed the cleat on impact.
“It’s a good thing the shoe stuck in the padding and came off,” Hunter said. “If it had stayed on, the way my foot hit the wall . . . I don’t even want to think about what might have happened.”
That painful incident remains clear in his head, but it hasn’t all been bad for Hunter in Beantown. He actually has hit extremely well in Fenway Park: .327 for his career with eight homers in 220 at-bats, .361 last season with three homers in 36 at-bats.
Hunter also delivered handsomely in his biggest at-bat of his first season with the Angels. It was his dramatic two-out, two-run single against Justin Masterson in the eighth inning that brought the Angels even in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero scored on Hunter’s bullet, his third hit in 10 at-bats at Fenway in the series.
The Red Sox rocked the Angels with a run in the bottom of the ninth, claiming a 3-2 triumph that arranged an AL Championship Series showdown with the Rays.
The season over, Hunter found no solace in his own performance, batting .389 for the series to lift his career postseason average to .316 (along with a .510 slugging percentage) in 25 playoff games.
“I really thought we were going all the way,” he said that night, despair everywhere in the ancient clubhouse.
With renewed hope in the air, the Angels are back at Fenway. There’s a strong chance they’ll revisit the yard next month, once again as AL West champions facing the Wild Card Sox in Games 3 and 4, if necessary, of the ALDS.
Hunter, who has arrived as a rare six-tool player this season with his immensely popular blog on MLB.com, can’t wait for the big date, if it’s in the stars.
Here’s a guy who can hit for average, for power, run, field, throw – and write.
“Read all about it,” Hunter said, beaming.
Kendry Morales, MVP candidate.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out firmly in support of his first baseman in the American League’s Most Valuable Player derby,
“Absolutely no doubt,” Scioscia said when asked about Morales’ candidacy. “Look at his individual stats, what he’s meant to his team. [If you] look at what Kendry has meant to his club opposed to what other players have meant to their club, the only guy [in that category] is Joe Mauer in Minnesota.”
Scioscia alluded to Mark Teixeira, the man Morales has replaced at first base for the Angels, as a strong candidate as well. But Teixeira will likely get stiff competition from venerable Derek Jeter for MVP sentiment (and votes) on the East Coast.
As for Morales, batting .314 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs in his first full season as a regular, the campaign is getting a late start.
“It seems word travels from West to East a little slower in the game of baseball,” Scioscia said. “But I think the world of baseball knows what he’s meant to our club.”
With 274 total bases, Morales has 58 more than the next highest Angels hitter, Juan Rivera. Morales’ .598 slugging percentage trails only Mauer’s .615 in the AL, and the Cuban-born switch-hitter also is second in extra-base hits with 68.
While he’s not yet at Teixeira’s level defensively, Morales has improved by leaps and bounds with the glove, playing with visibly higher confidence as the season progresses.
Morales is coming off the best month of his career, making himself a strong candidate for AL Player of the Month for August. He batted .385, leading the league with his .734 slugging percentage and 33 RBIs while trailing only the Rays’ Tony Pena in homers with 10. Pena had 12.
By now, it would seem, pitchers would have found any serious flaws in Morales’ offensive game.
“It’s one thing figuring out what a hitter’s hole is and matching it with the pitcher’s ability to go out and [exploit] it,” Scioscia said. “Kendry’s at the stage where he’s had enough at-bats [502 plate appearances] that pitchers have an idea of his strengths, the things he can do.
“I don’t think there are a lot of secrets with what pitchers are trying to do with Kendry. Good hitters are going to have holes that are very small.”
Scioscia lifted Morales into the No. 5 hole in the order, dropping Rivera one spot, on Tuesday night against right-hander Doug Fister. This prevents righties from seeing three right-handed bats in succession: Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Rivera.
“Kendry is in a good spot to hit behind Vlad and also to break up some of the righties,” Scioscia said. “We’ll tinker with some things. The way Kendry’s swinging, it’s nice to get him behind Vlad against right-handed pitchers.
“If you take Kendry out of our lineup, I think you’re looking at a different offense,” Scioscia said.
Brad Penny clearly would have value to the Angels if he clears waivers on Saturday when the 72-hour window for released players closes. The veteran right-hander was handed his release by the Red Sox on Thursday to open roster space for reliever Billy Wagner, acquired from the Mets in a waiver deal.
Penny, 31, signed a $5 million free-agent deal with the Red Sox, but he will not reach any of the bonus incentives for innings pitched. He was 7-8 in 24 starts and 131 2/3 innings for Boston with a 5.61 ERA. His bonuses in $500,000 increments were to kick in with 160 innings pitched.
Penny’s performance this season was a far cry from the back-to-back 16-win seasons he delivered for the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007. He started the ’06 All-Star Game for the National League in Pittsburgh – yielding a mammoth homer to Vladimir Guerrero – and was third in the ’07 NL Cy Young Award balloting after going 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA.
Eleven American League clubs would have a shot at claiming Penny before the Angels, whose record is surpassed only by the Yankees. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, he’d amount to a bargain-basement pickup at less than $100,000 with the Major League minimum at $400,000.
With the Angels going with young Trevor Bell in the fifth spot in the rotation, Penny would be a natural fit for the estimated six starts remaining. He’d have to sign by Monday to be eligible for a postseason roster spot, unless an injury opens space.
Penny certainly showed in 2003 with the Marlins that he didn’t mind postseason pressure, twice beating the Yankees in the World Series with a 2.13 ERA in his two outings.
Penny requested his release on Wednesday night.
“Because we ended up letting him go, our feelings don’t change about him personally,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “We really appreciated the way Brad went about his business. He was a good teammate, and he worked hard. We’re always pretty honest about the fact that we do what’s in the best interest of the organization and the team, and we try to tell the players that.”
The Angels overrate their prospects. If that’s what you’re hearing or reading in the wake of their inability to swing a non-waiver Trade Deadline deal for a four-star pitcher, you don’t necessarily have to buy it.
I mean, seriously, how do you overrate prospects who have helped you win more games over the past 4 ½ seasons than any other team in Major League Baseball? That doesn’t make much sense.
You’d think lesser clubs would want to latch onto some of those kids who have helped drive manager Mike Scioscia’s troupe to 438 wins, heading into this six-game road trip, against 309 losses since the start of the 2005 season. Next best: Yankees, at 436-313, then the Red Sox, at 429-318.
Not bad, as company goes.
You’d think clubs languishing on the fringes of contention would welcome the opportunity to import some of this talent from an organization that plays aggressive, exciting, winning baseball from rookie ball on up.
Without full knowledge of what was offered and what was rejected, my sense is the Angels put together some very fair proposals – particularly for Roy Halladay and Heath Bell – and, for whatever reason, were simply rejected.
Maybe Toronto didn’t really want to part with Halladay. Maybe San Diego couldn’t live without Bell, when it was all said and done. I don’t know. But I have been around Angels players now long enough, organization-wide, to appreciate their skill, intelligence and will.
If Erick Aybar was a deal-breaker with Toronto, I’m good with that. He’s on his way to greatness, and Angels fans will be dazzled by his many gifts for years to come.
This whole business of desperately needing No. 1 starters to win in the postseason is an urban myth. If you’re looking for something that’s overrated, here it is. I don’t recall the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati needing a hand full of aces.
The Angels didn’t have a No. 1 in the classic mold in 2002. The Athletics had three legit No. 1s – Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson – that season and couldn’t win a postseason series. The Braves had three certified No. 1s – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — for a full decade. They claimed one Fall Classic.
Dominant starting pitching is great, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a be-all, cure-all, end-all. It guarantees nothing.
Here’s what matters in October: momentum. Positive, upbeat, driving momentum generated by quality play, good pitching and a dash of good fortune here and there.
It looks wide open this season, from this laptop. The Angels have a shot at going all the way if things fall into place. They’re due for a break or two in October.
Halladay absolutely would have been a terrific addition. But not at the cost of the heart of your club.
As for Bell, he’s a shiny Cadillac parked in a dark garage. Would he have helped the Angels? Sure. But they might end up getting more production out of the players the Padres didn’t seem to want.
Who knows? Crazy stuff happens all the time. It’s baseball. Nobody is nearly as smart as he or she claims to be.
Brandon Wood, with all of five professional games of experience at the position, found himself on the lineup card at first base and batting seven against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia on Sunday at Angel Stadium.
“It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to,” Wood said. “I’ve played enough there now at [Triple-A] Salt Lake to get a feel for it. It’s definitely a different look and feel, but I’m getting more comfortable every time I play there. By the third or fourth game, I was checking things off: I can do that, I can do that.
“One thing I didn’t realize is how much is involved at first in terms of physical activity – all the squatting, moving around. I find that my legs are more tired after playing first than at short or third.”
A shortstop all his life, taken in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., Wood has been the gem of the farm system since ’04. He has been brought along slowly – the Angels are loaded with quality players at shortstop and third base – but has shown clear signs in limited opportunities this season of putting it all together.
His first three starts this season have been at third base, where he has excelled spelling Chone Figgins. Wood made a superb back-handed stab on Saturday, robbing Johnny Damon of a hit in the fifth inning, and responded in the bottom half of the winning with a homer to right center against Andy Pettitte. It jump-started the Angels’ offense, and they went on to prevail, 14-8.
Wood had two hits against Sabathia in New York on May 2, including an opposite-field single that ignited a decisive rally.
“A play like the one Woody made can give you a boost of confidence,” teammate Reggie Willits said. “I’ve seen that carry over to your next at-bat – and you saw what happened. Woody has big-time talent, no question about it.”
Wood agreed that his defensive contribution might have sharpened his focus in his at-bat against Pettitte. He was ahead 3-1 in the count when he went after a pitch down and on the outer half of the plate and sent it rocketing into the seats in right center.
“He has ridiculous power,” Willits said. “I’ve seen him hit some shots you wouldn’t believe in the Minors.”
Wood, who swung at only two of Pettitte’s first 10 pitches on Saturday, walking in his first at-bat, is making an impression on the man in charge.
“Brandon is making significant strides, offensively and defensively,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s looked good at first in Salt Lake. He’s athletic, with good hands, and he is taking to it well, just as he did at third.”
Brandon Wood was in the Angels’ lineup on Saturday against Andy Pettitte, getting a start at third base with Chone Figgins awarded a day off his busy feet to serve as designated hitter.
Wood welcomes any chance to face anybody, even if it’s one of the game’s premier southpaws. He made one of his two starts for the Angels this season at New York against CC Sabathia, collecting a pair of singles in three at-bats. He went the other way with a single to contribute to a decisive rally against the Yankees’ ace.
The slugging gem of the Angels’ system for four years, Wood also had a single in two at-bats against Pettitte during one of his appearances at home last September when he got his first taste of consistent Major League playing time at shortstop.
“I’ll go check with Torii [Hunter] and some of the guys about how to approach him,” Wood said of Pettitte, who is known to bring his cut fastball in on right-hander’s fists. “Two at-bats help, but Torii has seen him a lot longer than I have.”
Wood, hitting .333 for the Angels with nine at-bats, was batting .313 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A Salt Lake when he was recalled on Friday with Hunter (strained adductor muscle) and Vladimir Guerrero (strained muscle behind his left knee) going on the 15-day disabled list.
“Woody can help us,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t want him sitting around getting one start every 10 days. There’s a role for him to get at-bats and contribute.”
A natural shortstop coming out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2003, Wood has made excellent strides at third base and lately at first in an effort to expand his horizons and make him more attractive to Scioscia.
He has sure hands, an accurate arm and an easy, gliding manner in the field calling to mind a young Cal Ripken Jr.
With a grin, Wood said, “All I can ask for is a chance to play and contribute. It’s exciting every time I get on the field.”