Angels Doing It with Defense, Primed for Postseason Success

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Chone Figgins #9 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim makes a diving play to prevent a double against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Angel Stadium on September 21, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim secured their 46th come-from-behind victory on the season.

Some of those wins have come on clutch home runs or big late-inning hits, as was the case on Sunday against the Texas Rangers, while others have been fostered by strong pitching from both starters and relievers in tight ball games. 

But the one constant in all of them has been spectacular defense.

The Angels have had a tumultuous season, to say the least. 

In the first half, trouble came from the mound, due in no small part to the tragic death of rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart.

Starters and relievers alike were giving up runs and blowing saves like it was going out of style.

The only thing keeping the Angels in the hunt for a third consecutive divisional title was their powerhouse lineup, which lead the league in team batting average, average with runners in scoring position, and runs scored.

Then in the second half of the season, the roles reversed.

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Suddenly, the bats cooled off significantly, but the arms finally came around.

The Angels currently lead the American League with a 2.53 ERA in the month of September, and have given up three runs or less in 14 of their last 20 games.

However, in spite of all the instability at the plate and on the mound, the gloves have always been there. 

Arms may fatigue and bats can go quiet, but defense never goes in a slump. If you've got quality defenders on your team, you've always got a chance to win.

And the Angels have some of the best in the game.

Torii Hunter, who has made one error in two years as an Angel, is well on his way to a ninth consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award and may go down as the greatest center fielder of all time.

Chone Figgins, the Angels' super utility man, has finally found his permanent home at third base, where he can't help but make highlight reel plays night after night. 

Those two should be in jail for all the extra-base hits they've robbed.

Erick Aybar may also earn his first Gold Glove at shortstop, where he's been nothing short of spectacular with his incredible range and a cannon throwing arm.

But it's not just the starters who have secured yet another 90-win season for this organization.

Rookie call-ups and bench-warmers have all pitched in with great plays to help lead the Angels to the top of the AL West.

In Monday night's contest against the New York Yankees, left fielder Reggie Willits made an incredible catch in the top of the ninth to save a potentially game-changing hit given up by closer Brian Fuentes, who went on to earn his 44th save of the season.

While it wasn't part of a come-from-behind win, Willits' play simply highlights what has made this team so strong in 2009.

When the bats aren't so hot, the defense holds opponents down. When the pitching falters, the gloves keep games close.

Angel Stadium is not exactly a home run hitter's paradise on its own, but factor in guys like Hunter, Willits, Juan Rivera, and Gary Matthews, Jr. patrolling the outfield, and it's darn near impossible to sneak anything over the fence.

In fact, if it weren't for exceptional defense, this team might not stand a chance in the postseason.

Neither the pitching nor the hitting has been consistent enough to be counted on in October, and it's anyone's guess how the Angels will perform on the mound or at the plate come playoff time.

It is only by the leathery skin of their gloves that they continue to have World Series hopes.

The Angels are first among playoff-bound teams in fielding percentage this season, having made two fewer errors than the second-place Yankees, and are third overall in the American League, making plays at a .986 clip.

If that trend continues, and there is no reason to think it won't, the Angels will be a formidable opponent throughout the playoffs, despite what the arms and bats have in store.

The only time the Angels had any trouble on defense at all this season was during their most recent road trip.

Against both the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, two playoff-bound teams who they'll likely face, the Angels looked weak-minded, booting several easy plays that guys would have otherwise made in their sleep.

But those rare mental gaffs were easily remedied when Hunter called his team out in the press, saying the Angels were playing “nervous baseball.” 

And as the de facto captain of this squad, he was right to do so.

Since then, the Angels have reverted back to their mentally tough play, going 4-1, including getting their first series victory of the season over the division-rival Rangers.

Now, with their magic number down to six and their lead in the division a season-high 7.5 games, the Angels are poised to face any and all comers in the postseason.

Whether they win or lose remains to be seen. But the Angels' defense ensures they'll never be out of any game.

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