They haven’t been for the last four playoff series. They weren’t in the last series of the regular season. What will make this year different?
Maybe nothing. It’s not a question of talent. The Angels have as much physical talent as Boston, maybe more. It’s a question of the one thing that separates the great athletes from the average ones, the losers from the winners.
Who can handle it and who can’t.
And that’s what’s going to decide whether west coast cool can beat east coast heavy in 2009.
The Angels young players have to be able to handle the pressure of the playoffs. And the biggest question marks are: Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Jason Bulger, and Kevin Jepsen.
They are the keys to winning the series.
For Morales, Aybar, and Kendrick, they have to resist the urge to press, to swing at Vladdy-type pitches, to let the buzz get them so juiced (not the steroid kind) they get out of their game. If they can stay calm, continue to be selective, find a way to block out the noise and the high stakes of the game, the Angels can and will beat Boston.
That's because the Angels are going to have to score runs.
None of this 3-1, 2-0, type games. Those tough grizzly Boston players like Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz are going to find a way to get runs across. The Angels have to be able to slug with them. At least a little.
They have the potential. They did, after all, break the club record this year for runs scored in a season.
Then there’s the back end of the bullpen. Bulger and Jepsen. Talk about life lessons. They’re going to get plenty of them from the Fenway faithful. They’re going to be squeezing the ball so tightly, you might just hear a “moo” from the cowhide. But they’re going to have to man up to the madness of Fenway. Of course, Fuentes has to do what K-Rod never could – shut Boston down and Red Sox nation up – or it won’t matter.
Let’s take a look at the Angels line-up and analyze.
Chone Figgins. He seems like he’s finally got it. He’s been through enough of these now, and tanked enough of them, that he will probably be able to handle the heat and continue to get on base. Not worried about Figgy.
Maicer Izturis. His quiet demeanor is just what the Angels need. He has been in a bit of a slump of late, but he inspires confidence. Should be okay.
Howie Kendrick. My guess is he’ll get priority over Izzy if he’s hitting. And whether he hits or not will be a KEY to the series. We all know how he stranded half of Orange County in last year’s series. But after his demotion this year, I think Kendrick is ready for the pressure. As with so many of the young players on the Angels, we’ll know right away by his pitch selection whether he can handle it or not. If he starts doing his Vladdy imitation, you can start making vacation plans for the second round.
Bobby Abreu. Ah, the calm in the storm. Even if he doesn’t hit, he’ll get on base. He relaxes you just by looking at him. A huge difference maker from years past, in that he can keep the kids from getting too jumpy. As long as he stays healthy, he helps.
Tori Hunter. A big game player all the way. He showed it last year, by getting some of the few clutch hits on the team. He’ll show up again against Boston. He’s got the mental toughness the rest of the team needs to feed off of. It’s a perfect combo, the calm of Abreu, the toughness of Hunter. The leaders of the team.
Vladdy. Your head starts to shake as soon as you say his name. Oh, Vladdy, Vladdy. We love him, but he’s an ulcer waiting to happen, especially in the playoffs. I’ve given up hoping he’ll shorten up his swing, become more selective. It’s never going to happen. Hopefully, and I’ve mentioned this before, his wild swings don’t rub off on the young players as they try to deal with the pressure of the games. With Vladdy, it’s impossible to know whether he’ll strikeout with the game on the line or hit the game winning homer. Love him, though. Just don’t want to see him up there with the series on the line. Not anymore.
Juan Rivera. The forgotten one. The quiet killer. He could be the one to win the series. He’s not spectacular, just solid day in and day out. That’s all that’s needed from him in the series.
Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis. Suddenly, instead of two good choices, it’s the lesser of two evils. One can’t hit, one can’t field. And the one that fields is still making errors. And the one that hits isn’t hitting. The key here is, if the rest of the line-up is performing, the Angels can afford for one spot in the lime-up to be a dead zone. This would be it.
Erick Aybar. I was on the fence about Aybar when he came up, mainly because of his inconsistent play in the field, but he has won me over. He is one of the keys to the series. He’s still young, but the experience of last year should help. If he can keep his cool at the plate and in the field – especially in the field – the Angels will win.
In terms of pitching, we know what we’re going to get. The starters will do their job. Ervin Santana is where he belongs. Fuentes is a coin toss, but one that still lands in the Angels’ favor. It comes down to Bulger and Jepsen. Especially Jepsen. This is Jepsen’s series to win or lose. He’s going to be key, just as Scott Shields was when he still knew how to win games.
So there it is. Here come the playoffs, ready or not.
Is this the year the new mini curse is broken? Can the Angels finally get past Boston and put the memory of Donnie Moore to rest? Can they avoid seeing David Ortiz jog around the bases with Red Sox Nation going nuts?
In just a few days, we get to find out. I can’t wait.