Los Angeles Angels' Playoff Preview: Are They Truly from Heaven?
Well, I think we all could see this coming.
In a division filled with an abundance of disappointments and surprises, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are October-bound once again.
Coming into a season where the Seattle Mariners were expected to test the perennial elite of the AL West, only to fall flat on their faces as the season started, the Angels were supposed to be put to the test for the first time in more than a few years.
Before the regular season even started, they were without their No.1 and No. 2 starters, John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, which prompted the sporting world to think that this might be the year that the Angels do not take the AL West.
Clearly, the Angels did not hear about this new widespread belief.
They acquired Torii Hunter, in a move to fortify the aging Angels in the outfield. They also acquired veteran righty Jon Garland from the Chicago White Sox for model citizen Orlando Cabrera, in an attempt to help shore up their already impressive pitching staff.
The Halos also made the biggest splash at the trading deadline, landing star first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Braves, giving them more pop to protect Vladimir Guerrero.
The Angels are known for playing baseball the right way: utilizing great pitching, fielding, baserunning, contact hitting, and baseball fundamentals in a formula that grants them a spot in the postseason year after year.
The formula is clearly working again this year, as they burst out of the gates with a 20-9 mark in April, and currently sit at 92-57 with the division under wraps.
So now the question comes: Can they actually succeed in the postseason?
They have made the playoffs five times in this decade, four times via a division title. The only time in their franchise's history that they got the AL Pennant was in 2002, when they came in as the wild card and knocked out Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.
Ever since, the month of October has not generated kind memories for them.
They were swept in the ALDS in both 2004 and 2007 by the eventual World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. In 2005, they lost in five games to the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS, who also went on to win the World Series.
The prime reasons for the Angels' postseason struggles have been their lack of protection for Vladimir Guerrero, a lack of overall pop in the lineup, and some relative inexperience of their younger players.
However, this year, the Angels are led by a core group of veterans that are infused with young talent. Youngsters Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Jose Arredondo, Sean Rodriguez, and Jeff Mathis could all play key parts this postseason.
Santana, Saunders, and Weaver are all candidates to be behind John Lackey in the playoff rotation. Arredondo teams up with veteran Scot Shields to bridge the gap to Francisco Rodriguez. Sean Rodriguez and Jeff Mathis are both starters, at second base and catcher respectively, and will have to produce to help out the offense.
Oh, and then there's that guy Teixeira. He has played in just six playoff games, hitting .591 (13/22), with a home run and six RBI.
The Halos will square off with either the Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, and as for that, only time will tell whom.
Against the upstart Rays, the Angels have the advantage of greater playoff experience, better all-around pitching, and the crucial home-field advantage. The Rays are a meager 35-38 on the road, compared to 53-22 at home. The Angels are equally tough at home and on the road, posting a 49-29 and 43-28 mark respectively.
Against the Red Sox, the Angels will have to get the monkey off their backs at some point. Having been swept the past two times they have met in the postseason, the Angels will still have it fresh on their minds.
The Red Sox, like the Rays, are not so good away from home. The Angels will have the advantage there and in their pitching depth, especially in the bullpen. The Red Sox have a more potent lineup, even without Manny Ramirez, and benefit from more playoff experience.
The Angels should beat the Rays in four, or the Red Sox in five.
In the ALCS, they will probably face the other AL East team who played the White Sox, since I do not believe that Chicago can manufacture runs as well as either team in tight situations.
The Angels will get to their second ever World Series, and will take on the Chicago Cubs.
In what will be one of the best World Series to watch in recent memory, the Angels will battle for six games before clinching their second ever title in Angel Stadium.
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