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Angels' Offense: When Slumping Really Isn't That Bad

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent ISeptember 25, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 30:  Torii Hunter #48 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim reacts after a called strike while at bat against the Texas Rangers on June 30, 2009 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The very thing that has put the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in position to secure their third consecutive divisional title is now the only thing standing in the way of postseason success.

The offense has been in a terrible slump in September, and every time it looks like the bats might finally wake up, they go ahead and nod off again.

In their last two games, the Angels left a combined 25 men on base at home against the New York Yankees.

They went on to lose both of those games by one run each.

Including their last road trip, the Angels have dropped three of their last four against the Yanks and two of three to the Boston Red Sox for a record of 2-5 in their last seven games against potential playoff opponents.

After a tremendous two-month run in which they went from five games back in the division to standing alone atop the AL West, the Angels are looking soft, and worse, beatable.

However, if you're going to slump, you might as well do it when the games no longer matter.

During that same road trip when the Angels failed to produce against their Eastern division foes, they finally came through in a key series against their inter-divisional rivals, the Texas Rangers.

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For the first time all season, the Angels were able to take advantage of a struggling Rangers lineup and take two out three games in Arlington.

That series victory, combined with the Rangers' offense almost entirely disappearing down the stretch, has put the Angels firmly in the postseason conversation.

Coming into Friday, they are seven games up in the division with just 10 to play, and their magic number sits comfortably at four.

If the Rangers continue to flounder—and facing a spoiler-happy team like the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend, it's a definite possibility—and if the Angels can pick up a couple of wins against the cellar-dwelling Oakland A's, this division could be decided by Sunday.

That would certainly be a relief for the Angels, who start another tough four-game set on Monday night against the Rangers.

In essence, then, the Angels would be back-dooring their way into the playoffs, riding in on the failure of their closest divisional opponent.

And that's just fine.

It doesn't really matter what path they take, as long as it leads to October baseball. Playing poorly is alright if it comes at a time when the games don't mean a whole lot.

Sure, no team wants to appear weak between the lines, and fans certainly shouldn't be content with sub-par play, but getting all of the slumping and failing out of the way now might pay dividends later on.

Besides, limping into the playoffs never hurt anyone.

Just ask the 2006 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

The playoffs are a whole different animal from the regular season, and diverting some of that front-runner pressure off of your team with unimpressive performances down the stretch may turn into a huge advantage when it really counts.

And for all their offensive failures of late, the Angels still feature strength in those hallmark areas that help lead teams to postseason glory.

The starting pitching hasn't exactly held this team up for the majority of the season, but it's hung tough here in September. 

In a short series like the best-of-five American League Division Series, one or two strong starters can really dominate.

As things stand now, the Angels will have three.

Playoff rosters are far from set, and manager Mike Scioscia refuses to even admit he thinks beyond tonight's game, but it seems clear he'll go with a combination of John Lackey, Jered Weaver, and Scott Kazmir—a deadly mix when you only need three wins in the first round.

Even in the series loss to the Yankees at home this week, the pitching hung tough and kept the games close throughout.

The Angels also feature a few first-class defenders at some key positions.

Torii Hunter is a lock-down center fielder who catches everything within 100 yards of where he's standing, while Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar command with the left side of the infield with golden ability and poise.

Even Kendry Morales, the young first baseman who's become an offensive superstar, has shown surprising growth defensively, including an amazing snare of a line drive against the Yankees that he turned into an unassisted double play.

In the playoffs more than any other time, pitching and defense wins ball games.

Teams rarely dominate each other offensively in the postseason the way they do in the regular season.

Playoff-bound teams are simply too strong on the mound and in the field, hence their advancement into October. 

So the Angels' current inability to score at the same rate they did in July and August isn't as scary as it might seem.

Despite their lack of production, they've still managed to pull away in the AL West and even beat up on their closest divisional rival.

They'll no doubt carry that same lights-out starting pitching and steady defense into the postseason, and it seems unlikely this prolonged offensive slump can last much longer. 

If the bats can break out even a little, those beasts from the East will truly face the best the West has to offer.

And may the baseball gods have mercy if that happens.

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